I’ve started using debates in my opinion writing unit and it has been amazing! It’s all about the topics because a good topic can make it impossible for my 2nd grade students to contain their opinions. Seriously, ask your students if they think kids should get disciplined for not recycling. They won’t be able to contain their opinions! Put a pencil in their hands and let them express their opinions through writing.
A few years ago when I started at my current school, I was new to opinion writing. I read I Wanna Iguana only to find out that they had read it the year before. And then to find out the 3rd grade teacher also uses it in her opinion writing unit. As well as the 4th grade teacher. And the 5th grade teacher… Then when I looked closely at the standards, I noticed there is NOTHING about writing a persuasive essay. Persuasive seems more complex than writing opinions supported by reasons. For a 2nd grader, maybe basic is better?
But then I thought about how our kids are CONSTANTLY telling us their opinions about everything, i.e. “Miss Swanson, I liked it better when you had long hair.” Thanks Jimmy.
So the question became, “WHY do you think that?” I figured out that you need a deeper topic with room for strong opinions in an opinion writing unit.
We started doing actual debates in our class and it was an instant success! When students feel passionate about something, they can think up tons of reasons! If they are really passionate, they will be happy to write their opinions and reasons until the sun comes up as long as they know that their opinion will be heard.
For the past two years, I have started my opinion unit with a short scene from the Pixar movie “Up”. On both years, my class has divided nearly evenly on the question: “Should Mr. Fredrickson go give at Shady Oaks retirement village, or should he live his life on his own”. I have them separate themselves from what happens at the end of the movie and think about what is best for Mr. Fredrickson and the community. LOTS of opinions coming from 7 year olds!
I have started to find debate topics in nearly all of my fiction read alouds! Yesterday we debated whether or not The Little Red Hen should share her food. Then today, we read “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and the question came up, “should the ants help the Grasshopper?”. I am AMAZED by the deep thinking!