Teaching Persuasive Writing in High School—Theory and Practice
Teaching different writing skills to high school students is crucial if you want them to develop the soft skills they’ll need in life. When considering the reasons why reading and writing skills are important, it’s a mistake to think only in terms of language conventions and an excellent GPA.
Your students will have to use different writing skills and strategies in life. For example, they will need to write personal statements to get into the college of their choice. When they are enrolled, they will do college essays and write motivational letters to get internships. Adolescents enjoy coming up with creative ways to express themselves in their personal lives too. Research shows high school students enjoy writing—93% of them do it for pleasure.
Your students will benefit from learning persuasive writing strategies in a variety of ways. Not only will they need to master persuasion for everyday exchanges, but also for their personal statement essays and college applications. To that end, let’s see what persuasive writing encompasses and how you can teach it to your students effectively.
Take the Right Approach to Teaching Persuasive Writing
Persuasive writing is used in any text that aims to nudge readers to form an opinion or take action. While it’s a given that most persuasive writing belongs to the non-fiction genre, fiction writers can use persuasion to influence their readers’ worldviews too.
Even though your students read persuasive texts, they don’t necessarily know how to write an effective persuasive essay themselves. This means that you need to teach them the specific skills that go into composing a persuasive essay one by one.
In your teaching, you cannot miss a lesson on effective opening and closing paragraphs or the importance of outlining. You also have to teach students how to do research effectively and choose the right words to construct their sentences. Only when your students know each of the techniques used in writing persuasive texts can they compose a solid persuasive essay.
Characteristics of Persuasive Writing
Credit: Elijah Macleod
Readers are more likely to believe a professional in the field than someone who has no connection or experience with the subject of a text. Experienced writers know that the first step to writing a persuasive piece is gaining knowledge on the topic.
To do it, your students have to know how to do research first. When it’s clear from their essays that they know what they are writing about, their texts will be more effective and convincing. Whether they can write persuasively depends on the techniques of persuasive writing that you teach them.
Some of the most common characteristics of persuasive essays are:
- Current statistics that support the author’s argument
- Examples from real life
- Observation of current events and phenomena
- Acknowledgment and rebuttal of the opposing argument
- Additional research from reputable institutions
These characteristics contribute to the validity of the statements in an essay and the credibility of the author. Sound, well-researched arguments should sway the reader to take the author’s point of view.
Essential Persuasion Techniques
Whether it’s used in writing or speech, persuasion has three essential elements:
Take a look at the table demonstrating what each of the three is:
|Persuasion Technique||What It Appeals To||How It’s Accomplished|
|Ethos||Credibility||Many methods can be used to showcase the author’s credibility. His or her profession and years of experience alone can convince the reader their argument is valid. Appropriate tone, language choices, and credible citations can also present the author as worthy of the audience’s trust.|
|Pathos||Emotion||Authors often appeal to their readers’ emotions. When stirred appropriately, readers are motivated to take up the author’s side of the argument. Your students need to be careful not to overuse pathos.|
|Logos||Logic||Logos is the most effective persuasion technique. Authors can make sure their argument is seen as valid, logical, and reasonable by presenting facts and ordering their information clearly. That way, they make sure their line of reasoning is flawless.|
You should teach your students about ethos, pathos, and logos to show them why it’s important to use those elements of persuasion. They will not only learn how to use them to their advantage but also be more successful in recognizing when their intellect and emotions are being appealed to.
Teach Your Students Persuasive Writing Skills
Credit: Kelly Sikkema
Ethos, pathos, and logos are the backbone of persuasion. There are many techniques your students can employ to use these three elements effectively.
Teaching your students persuasive writing isn’t much different from teaching them critical or argumentative writing. Some skills—such as an excellent command of vocabulary and critical thinking—are needed for any type of writing.
The next time you are planning a persuasive writing activity, think about how you can teach these techniques to your students:
- Establishing tone
- Targeting a specific audience
- Using the right words
- Locating evidence
- Presenting data
- Telling a story
- Refuting an argument
- Appealing to the readers’ emotions
- Rephrasing effectively
Outlining is a prewriting activity that your students should employ when creating any type of essay. Your students should learn that a clear outline will help them in each stage of their writing process. Outlining makes it easier for them to organize their ideas into specific parts of the essay and serves as a reference they can use to check whether they are straying off topic.
If time and curricula allow, you should have a lesson dedicated to writing effective outlines only. You can distribute a sample outline of a persuasive essay to all your students to introduce them to the technique. They can see that an outline consists of:
- The introduction—in which authors determine how they will present the topic, opposing views, and thesis statements
- Body paragraphs—in which authors decide how they will back up their claims
- The conclusion—which summarizes the thesis effectively and calls to action
When students have studied the outline structure, give them a sample essay to examine how well the author executed their plan. You can have a class discussion about the usefulness of an effective outline.
An interesting exercise is to allow your students to construct outlines for already written essays before they make outlines for their texts.
When your students compose outlines for their persuasive texts, make sure you give them feedback on their work. Help them see if they are on the right path.
Tone is essential for persuasive writing. The tone your students set in their essays will build trust more than the topic of the assignment. Teach your students what tone they should use to sound confident when defending their arguments in essays.
For example, imagine your students are arguing against the rule of wearing uniforms in high schools. Rather than writing “wearing uniforms in high schools may impact the students’ self-expression negatively,” they should write “wearing uniforms in high schools eliminates the students’ self-expression.” The second sentence is more confident, and the essay assumes a stronger stand and convinces the reader that uniforms aren’t a good idea.
Targeting a Specific Audience
Instead of aiming to appeal to as many people as possible, persuasive writing is more effective if targeted at a specific audience. Depending on the argument that your students want to support or the field for which they are writing, the type of audience will vary.
When your students hand in their persuasive writing essays, you will be their only judge, but they shouldn’t see you as their target audience. Teach your students they should also appeal to a specific audience rather than the masses. You can give them a list of questions they can go over, such as:
- Who will benefit from what I have to say the most?
- What problems do people I address experience?
- Who is this issue important to?
- What has the best chance to trigger emotions in my target audience?
Using the Right Words
A careful selection of words can influence readers to feel more deeply about the problem students present in their essays, so make sure you work with them on expanding their vocabulary. Having a large number of synonyms and topic-specific vocabulary in their arsenal will help them pick the most efficient word for what they want to express.
You should also equip your students with the words and phrases that are commonly used in persuasive writing. Give them a reference list of phrases they can use and show them how specific vocabulary helps their essay convince the reader that they are knowledgeable on the topic.
An excellent exercise is to have a quick vocabulary brainstorming session with the whole class based on the topic of the essay your students need to write. For example, if they need to write a topic on pollution, your class should brainstorm on the topic-related words and phrases. This gives your students useful vocabulary for the essay, ideas on what to write about, and in turn, how to outline their texts.
The best technique to prove a point is to refer to concrete evidence that supports it. Your students may not be familiar with academic research yet, which is why it’s a good idea to teach them how to do research in high school. They will not be overwhelmed when the same is required of them in college.
Make sure your students know these rules of effective research:
- Knowing which keywords to use to get the results fast online
- Checking whether the information is relevant and up-to-date
- Choosing statistics published by reputable institutions
- Selecting the most relevant type of information for their essays
Same as outlining, research is part of almost all longer writing. If possible, dedicate a lesson to teaching the importance of research to your high school students. Another lesson should be devoted to teaching your students how they can locate data successfully.
You can start with a fun topic that is interesting to your students. For example, if there are rumors about their favorite celebrities, you can tell them to research the validity of those rumors.
If the research your students do involves data, they need to present it in their essay effectively. Knowing how to present data in a persuasive essay might be more work for your students than finding it in the first place. If they clutter their essays with numbers for the sake of having them, they will probably do their writing a disservice.
The best course of action is to give students a text that presents statistics clearly and effectively. They should also learn the vocabulary that is used to explain data. Your students can then practice presenting data themselves in their essays.
Telling a Story
Telling a story can be a great way to connect with readers. Your students need to learn how to use narration to their benefit. Make sure they don’t turn their persuasive essays into fiction, though. A story element should appeal to the reader’s emotions and influence them to take the author’s side.
Providing examples from real life can back up your students’ arguments as effectively as presenting a precedent or striking statistics. Relating real-life experience can be a neat way your students can start a speech in a school competition, for example. Teach your students they don’t have to tell stories from their personal lives if they don’t have any they would like to share.
Refuting an Argument
Acknowledging the other side of an argument is essential for successful persuasion. Readers will hardly be convinced to side with a certain opinion if the opposite one isn’t refuted.
You should make it clear to your students that they must not run from opposing viewpoints. When they present them in their persuasive essays and explain why those arguments are not as valid as their own, their essays will be that more compelling.
When you present the topics for the essay to your students, have a class discussion on the opposing views first. Each student can pick one side of the argument and practice how to refute the opposing one with their partner.
Appealing to Readers’ Emotions
Your students can appeal to their readers’ emotions by the use of narration or the right word choices—but these aren’t the only techniques. Others include:
- Creating an effective hook in the introductory sentence
- Addressing the reader directly
- Making the reader relate to the author’s experience
- Using direct questions to make readers think about what they have read
When your students master these nuances of persuasive writing, they should use them to a steady degree. Logic should be the primary focus of their essays rather than emotional manipulation.
You should also engage your students in acknowledging how other writers do it. The best example would be the advertisements that your students are bombarded with on the daily. The ads your students see on their phones or in the newspapers use persuasive language and appeal to their emotions. When your students recognize it, they can get ideas on how to use persuasion in their own essays and be more mindful when they are the target of persuasive writing themselves.
Your students will have to repeat themselves in their persuasive essays. Most notably, their concluding paragraph will have to restate their thesis statement. You should teach them how to paraphrase it effectively.
Teach your students to express the same idea again in other words. When they are invested in the topic of their assignment and have researched it thoroughly, they should have no problem doing that.
When you devote one lesson to closing paragraphs, give your students other authors’ intros to rephrase. They need to connect their conclusions to the hook in the original intro, but they mustn’t introduce new concepts in that final paragraph.
Activities for Teaching Persuasive Writing
You can come up with various activities to teach your students persuasive writing, but make sure to have one main goal for each activity.
To practice persuasive writing through class activities, your students can:
- Watch and learn from other writers
- Look for relevant sources
- Outline their essays
Watch and Learn
For this activity, pick a good example of persuasive writing and distribute it to your students. They should single out the specific techniques the author used to influence readers.
Ask your students which persuasive methods are prevalent in the text. You can also tell them to jot down any words and phrases they believe are there for a specific reason—to make readers adopt the author’s viewpoint.
Look for Sources
If your students have little experience with research, prepare an activity that can introduce them to it carefully. You can give them a list of specific questions they can find answers to. Their answers should be backed up by relevant sources.
Organize Your Ideas
Having your students create an outline for their persuasive essay should be an individual activity. Teach them the main parts of an outline and let them try their hand at writing one.
Here’s an idea of what a persuasive essay outline should cover:
|Essay Parts||What Is Included|
How To Teach Persuasive Writing—Your Ideas
If you have ample experience in teaching, you might be familiar with many of the points mentioned in this article. Perhaps you would like to add your own.
Many believe that high school students don’t learn writing skills effectively. Despite wanting to unleash their creativity, your students often don’t have sufficient tools to do so. If you feel it’s time for that to change, we want to hear what innovations you would bring to American education.
Write to us, and we’ll be glad to share your ideas with our readers.