You Can Teach Writing

Persuasive writing replaces persuasive essay writing. 

You won't find the persuasive essay mentioned in the Common Core State Standards, but persuasive writing still plays a role in CCSS, although in garb English language arts and communications teachers may not immediately recognize.

These days writing intended to persuade may be for digital or multimedia production rather than for print distribution. And it may be combined with other types of writing.

Persuasive essays didn't persuade.

Even in the days when every ELA teacher assigned a persuasive essay, very few students wrote essays that persuaded anyone.

Did you actually expect your ninth graders writers to change your opinions about abortion or campaign financing in the time it took you to read a five-paragraph essay?

Of course not.

Those student essays typically were short on the evidence and logical reasoning required for intellectual persuasion. And few high school students have the maturity to present emotional elements in ways that would move adults to belief or action.

Teachers assigned persuasive essays just to put students through the process of learning how persuasive writing is different from writing for other purposes. Today you still need to teach that concept, but you won't need to do it through a persuasive essay assignment.

No persuasive genre exists.

Persuasion never has had any distinctive structure that qualifies it for genre status.

In this century, writing that's persuasive might be presented as:

  • argument
  • informative/explanatory text
  • narrative, or
  • through some combination of these three.

Persuasion is a nebulous combination of purpose, tone, and content that enables writers to achieve specific goals with a specific audience. If any one of those three elements is wrong for the selected audience, the writing won't succeed.

The purpose of persuasive pieces typically must be deduced by readers. 

While arguments and informative texts may state their purposes in their texts, persuasive writers are more oblique. I cannot recall ever reading a persuasive piece that stated its purpose was to get large cash donations from suckers, can you?

Emotional appeals don't equal persuasion.

It shouldn't need to be said that emotional appeals don't make a text persuasive, but, sad to say, it does need to be said repeatedly.

What is persuasive depends on the goal, the audience, and the tone.

  • Some audiences will immediately tune out an emotional appeal.
  • Some goals are incompatible with an emotional appeal.
  • Some writing tones will eclipse an emotional appeal.

It should be noted that some writers are tone-deaf to emotion.

Also, most boys go through a stage where they don't want any part of saying or doing anything that displays emotion.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Persuasive writing today

Instead of assigning persuasive essays, which typically were of no value to students, today's teachers can give students opportunities to write persuasively in contexts that mimic real-life communications situations.

Besides laying out grade-specific standards for three types of writing, the CCCS standards specify broadly that students in grades 6–12 be able to "produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience" [italics added]. That latter bit is where persuasive writing fits into the CCCS framework.

Example of persuasive writing in Common Core ELA

The ELA teacher can — and should — develop tasks or projects for students that will simultaneously address several course objectives.

For example, a teacher might have a project that includes some combination of the tasks listed below. Parenthetical references are to the Common Core ELA standards for students grades 6-12*.

  • reading a nonfiction text on a topic (RI)
  • reading a fictional text on the same topic (RL)
  • comparing a nonfiction text with a fiction text about a topic in an oral discussion (SL)
  • developing an infographic showing major facts about the topic (RI)
  • developing and conducting a survey to learn what some population group knows about the topic (W)
  • writing an argument about how fiction and nonfiction treatments of the topic differ (W).

I hope you noticed that none of those persuasive writing activities required an emotional appeal.

* Key to the Common Core ELA codes:

RL = Reading standards for literature.RI = Reading standards for informational text.  W = Writing standards.SL = Speaking and listening standards.

Content on this page was first posted at you-can-teach-writing.com on 2012-12-31 by Linda Aragoni. She posted this version to yctwriting.com on 2018-01-01.

Linda says this about teaching persuasive writing. .

Teaching writing is a lot like learning to write. You don't need to know much at the start, but you must be willing to learn. You must work consistently to improve and tolerate failures as you learn.

Linda's signature on a comment about teaching writing.