Dear Literacy Coach,
Though my students seem to have a multitude of opinions about everything these days, I feel very insecure about my ability to teach writing, especially argument (opinion) writing as required in the Utah Core (Common Core). The basic five-paragraph essay I used to teach isn't often used in the real world any more, and I don't know what else to do. Do you have any suggestions?
I can relate to how you feel! I too had difficulty thinking of real-world ways for students to write their opinions and supply evidence to support them. One thing I discovered while looking for suggestions was to have students write reviews for books, video games, apps, toys, movies, etc. They definitely have strong opinions about these!
There is a wealth of free material available to provide both strong and weak examples of reviews that have already been written. Students often learn best when they are able to critique the work of others, which ties reading and writing together. You can go to sites such as Amazon.com, the iTunes store, etc. to find a multitude of reviews.
A good way to begin is to print several different reviews, both negative and positive, of the same book. This could be a book you are about to read to the class. In groups of three or four, have the students look at the reviews, underlining the spots where the reviewer stated his/her opinion. Then have the students find and highlight the evidence the reviewer provided to support this opinion. Next have the students discuss which review was the strongest (most persuasive perhaps) and why. Finally, as the groups share their results with the class, you may want to list what the children felt made some reviews stronger than others. You could also have them vote on whether they think they will like the book (thumbs up or down) based on the reviews they read.
Read the book to the class the next day, and have them vote on how well they actually liked it. Taking the most popular opinion, write a book review with the class. Make sure the review states the students' opinion, lists reasons supported by facts and details in the text, and restates their opinion at the end.
Next, revise the review using the ideas the class listed the day before for making reviews stronger. You can even post the review on the website of your choice. The students will be thrilled to see their class review on the web! After this group process you can have your students write reviews in small groups or pairs until they have solidified the process; then you can have them write independently.
As you can see, writing opinion pieces can be fairly simple (and fun!) when support and examples are provided along the way. Best of luck to you!