|Academic Writing: Persuasive - the persuasive essay, you must defend your side of an argument. You are no longer merely showing, you are convincing.
The persuasive essay must choose a side, make a case for it, consider and refute alternative arguments, and prove to the undecided reader that the opinion it presents is the best one. You must be aware of other sides and be fair to them; dismissing them completely will weaken your own argument.
It is always best to take a side that you believe in, preferably with the most supporting evidence. It can often be educational to adopt a different position from what you might normally choose (debating requires this kind of flexibility).
Persuasive Writing: Persuasive Writing, Pet Peeve Writing, Editorial Writing, Personal Commentary, Problem-Solution Writing, Essay of Argumentation Writing
In this persuasive essay, student writer Noelle Green argues in favor of bilingual education. Notice that this essay follows the traditional organization.
Introduce the topic: In your beginning paragraph, capture your reader’s interest and state your opinion.
Next, give background information: In the second paragraph, provide the reader with the information that is needed to understand your topic.
Then, support your opinion: In each of the next paragraphs, support your opinion. Try to cover one or two key points per paragraph. Develop these points with details from credible sources. (Each point should support and validate your opinion.)
Next, make concessions: Answer one or two opposing opinions to show that you have considered differing points of view. Then bring your reader back to your opinion. (Words: even though, while it is true that, I will admit, I agree that, admittedly, you’re right, I cannot argue with, granted, I accept the fact)
Lastly, wrap up your argument: In your closing paragraph, reaffirm your opinion to make sure the reader remembers it. You may also offer one last thought about your topic.
Speaking in Two Worlds
Getting a good education means being taught the skills that are needed to find success after graduation. A good education would never mean losing valuable skills. Unfortunately, that’s what can happen to many immigrant students. They often lose their native language while they learn English. In an age in which knowing two languages is so valued, bilingual education is more important than ever. Bilingual education benefits English learners and mainstream students. (The opening introduces the topic and identifies the opinion – boldfaced.)
Bilingual education has three main goals: to teach English learners new academic skills, to help them keep and improve their native language skills, and to ensure that they become proficient in English. This process can take anywhere from one to six years and can be carried out in many different ways. For example, English learners can be taught in their native language while they take English-as-a-second-language classes. Then they move into “sheltered” classes where translation is used as needed. Once English learners become proficient in English, they are taught in mainstream English classes. It is important not to do this too quickly or else they could lose their native language. According to a study by the United States Department of Education, students perform better in the long run when they are fluent in both their native language and English. (Background information is provided.)
All students should be given a fair opportunity to learn no matter what their background. The National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) explains that alternatives like “English-only” classes or “sink-or-swim” methods are unfair. Immigrant students are often held back a grade or more-not because they aren’t smart enough, but because they can’t learn new academic skills and English at the same time. Students can become overwhelmed and drop out of school. This can easily have a negative impact on their whole lives and society (Krashen 25). (Main points in support of the opinion are provided.)
Mainstream students in this country also can benefit from bilingual education. They have the opportunity to participate in sheltered classes with English learners to learn a second language. In today’s global market, bilingual ability is highly valued. The United States falls far behind other nations in terms of training students to be bilingual. This is partly because many immigrants feel pressure to learn English at the price of losing their native language. Why not use the great foreign language resource that immigrants bring to this nation at no charge (Snow and Hakuta 386)?
Some people are concerned that bilingual education is a threat to English and this country’s traditions. This is obviously not the case, since the ultimate goal is to teach English learners in mainstream English classes. James Crawford, author of Hold Your Tongue, writes that “bilingualism is as American as apple pie-and has been ever since this nation’s beginnings.” After all, members of the Continental Congress rejected John Adam’s proposal to make English the national language because they felt if threatened democracy and freedom. They realized that what brought the people of this nation together was not race, culture, religion, or language, but a shared desire to live in a land of liberty and equality. (Counter-arguments are addressed. A Direct quotation is cited..)
Another argument against bilingual education is that it sends the wrong message to immigrants. The claim is that immigrants will think they don’t need to learn English. However, the American Civil Liberties Union cites a study in which “98% of Latinos surveyed said they felt it is ‘essential’ that their children learn to read and write English ‘perfectly’” (qtd. in Fishman 82). Bilingual education provides the English education that immigrants want. At the same time, it validates their native language and gives them a sense of pride in their heritage.
The United States welcomes immigrants with the promise of opportunity, equality, freedom, and a better life. Bilingual education is the best way to fulfill that promise for immigrant students. It validates and celebrates the newcomers’ cultures while teaching them the skills they’ll need to be successful in this country. At the same time, mainstream students in this country have the chance to attain highly valued bilingual skills, right from the source. Bilingual education teaches newcomers not only English but also the language of freedom and equality for all. That’s a language everyone can understand. (In the closing paragraph the writer solidifies her opinion.)
Pet Peeve Essay:
When writing about pet peeves, you can react humorously or analytically to a common, everyday annoyance.
Katie, the writer of this essay, tries to be sensible and analytical about the mosquito in her bedroom but becomes (in her own words) “like a crazed wind turbine.” Watch for a second simile that works very well in this piece. Also notice how the writer feels about the breeze in the first paragraph and how her feelings have changed by the sixth paragraph—this change shows how stressed she has become.
I’m drifting off to sleep, listening to the summer night’s breeze rustling the leaves on the oak outside my window. Peaceful. Dreamy. Safe.
I’m almost asleep when a loud buzzing sound fills my ear. A disturbing annoyance cancels all thoughts of sleep, disturbs all peace. Buzzzzzzzz...buzzzzzzzz...buzzzzzzz. Only a mosquito can make that sound. How did it get in here? Buzzzzz...buzzzzzzz.
I swat and slap at this annoying creature. I’ll get it; I know I will. I’ll knock it down in midair and put it out of its misery. That itsy-bitsy pest can’t survive my powerful swipes. So I swing to the left, to the right, above my head, over my stomach, everywhere. I don’t miss an inch of the darkness. Nothing could survive this extreme attack of mine! I probably look like a crazed wind turbine. There, I’m certain now it has to be dead. I had to hit it, with my arms flying everywhere swatting and swiping. It is probably knocked dead, somewhere on the floor . . . I’ll just clean it up in the morning.
Slowly my panting ebbs. Tranquility is returning. Then I realize my body is tensing, tensing. It is becoming so tense my muscles start to weaken. It must be tense because I am listening, listening. I’m listening so hard my ears feel like they’re twitching. Silence. Blessed silence. No nasty creature here to bother me anymore. The breeze rustles the leaves; I’m on some beach—azure water, giant white clouds like full-blooming magnolias, warm sand. Suddenly, I snap awake: buzzzzzzz...buzzzzzz...buzzzzzz. No! No! No!
Okay, this time I will get it. I swing my feet onto the floor, turn on the light, pick up a T-shirt, and listen. Nothing. I peer everywhere like an eagle. Eagle Eye they should call me—I don’t miss anything. But, I look carefully into the light, and . . . nothing. Do lights attract mosquitoes? I think so. I scan the walls, the ceiling, my T-shirt gripped as hard as possible ready for the assault. Nothing. Silence. I watch the light. I stand still, listening and ready. Nothing. Silence. I wait, stiff as a board. Still nothing.
I decide to crawl back into bed, leaving the light on. I cling to the T-shirt. If that tiny pest is still in the vicinity, the light will attract it, and then I shall swat it, and then finally I shall have a peaceful night’s rest. I wait, listen. A car goes by. The breeze rustles the leaves. How can I hear the buzz with all this racket? I get out of bed, close the window, get back into bed, and pick up my deadly weapon. Yes, now I can hear better; I am ready. The breeze won’t disturb me now. I listen. I wait. First, I lie on my back. I can scan the space in my room now. Eagle Eye, that’s me. I tune up both ears to 100 percent capacity. This is good. I was born ready for this adventurous game.
I feel my back growing stiff. Suddenly I am not comfortable on my back anymore. I need to turn. I’ll turn toward the light. The light should attract this pestering nuisance. All I really need to do is watch the space around the lamp. I wad up the T-shirt. New strategy. Good strategy. I’m ready and waiting. One swipe and this war will be over. That mosquito will never bother anyone ever again.
Then I see it, clinging to the wall like super glue, waiting for me to just smack it. On the count of three, I am going to kill it. One . . . two . . . THREE! SWAT! SWAP! SMACK! SWIPE! Ahhhhhh, at last!
Finally, I’ve put that little bug out of its misery—and out of mine. And I guess I’ll just clean it up (along with the broken lamp) in the morning.
Pet Peeve Essay:
In the following essay, a student outlines how he and other teens are treated in local businesses. His unique writing voice truly engages the reader.
A Crime I Didn’t Commit
Imagine that someone in your neighborhood broke the law, and a judge put the whole neighborhood on probation. How fair would that be? Well, it happens every day to high schoolers. Just because some students have shoplifted, all of us are treated like shoplifters. Even though I’d never steal, store employees look at me like I’m some kind of criminal mastermind. (The opinion introduces the topic and states the focus – boldfaced.)
For example, during one lunch period, my friend Danny and I went to the Grab ‘n’ Go on chili dog Tuesday. We arrived to find a line of students waiting outside. A new sign in the window told the story: “NO MORE THAN TWO STUDENTS AT A TIME.” After 15 minutes, we finally got in, but the store manager laid the evil eye on us. I asked him about the new sign, and he said, “You kids are lifting too much stuff.” You kids? Too much stuff! Not only were we assumed to be shoplifters, but brilliant, greedy shoplifters!
The Grab ‘n’ Go isn’t an isolated case. Earlier this year, a department s tore worker told me to leave my backpack at the front of the store. When I asked who was going to keep an eye on my stuff, she said, “Don’t worry. It isn’t going anywhere.” In other words, I had to risk losing my stuff so that the store wouldn’t have to risk losing theirs. “Don’t worry,” I replied, “I don’t need to shop here anymore.” (Anecdotes explain the problem in an engaging way.)
The most annoying thing, though, is the way employees watch my friends and me. It’s almost spooky. Once, at a drugstore, I went down an aisle and found a guy standing on a crate, stocking the shelves. He was watching my hands more than he was watching his own. I showed him that my hands were empty. He got down off his crate and rushed off, as if he was going to get the store manager. How crazy is that?
You know, this kind of prejudice can go both ways. I work at the CED Crib, and every day I see adults commit a terrible crime. They put on a set of headphones and sort of dance to the music. Talk about bad! Tomorrow, I’m going to put a sign in the window: “NO MORE THAN TWO ADULTS LISTENING TO MUSIC AT A TIME.” (The closing gives an amusing suggestion that helps make the point.)
In an editorial, you present a brief essay of opinion about a timely and important topic. An effective editorial suggests a new course of action or a possible solution to a problem. When writing an editorial, make sure to state your position clearly and directly and provide solid evidence to support it. Some ideas: school, sports, entertainment, environment.
The writer of the following editorial argues that art classes actually improve student performance on test. She cites many sources.
Let There Be Art
The Clintondale School Board is proposing to eliminate art classes next year. Last week’s Clintondale Gazette quotes the board president, Bill Howland, as saying, “The board needs to decide which programs are necessary and which ones are not” (A5). Superintendent Melvin Ambrose adds that the district should focus on preparing students for exit exams. These concerns are important, but the board should consider just how necessary art really is for the students’ success. (The opening introduces the topic and states the writer’s opinion – boldfaced.)
First of all, art improves visual literacy. The International Visual Literacy Association defines visual literacy as a group of competencies “fundamental to normal human learning” (Avgerinou 1). Art helps students better under visual information presented in math, science, English, and social studies. Art also equips students to understand the images they see on TV and the Internet. In addition, art teaches students how to present their ideas in a visual way. Whether they are creating graphs for science or diagrams for social studies, students need art.
Art also prepares students for business. The Business Circle for Arts Education in Oklahoma states the following: “Businesses understand that art education strengthens student problem-solving and critical thinking skills …” (“Facts” 3). Art courses require students to solve problems in order to create a finished project. This project-based training is important in the real world, where employers ask workers to come up with creative solutions to problems.
What about those all-important test? Who needs art to pass them? James Catterall, education professor at UCLA, says that students who are highly involved in the arts have higher standardized test scores than those who are not as involved. Results on college entrances exams like SAT show a similar pattern. Dr. Catterall adds that this trend applies to students of all economic levels, including those from low-income backgrounds (Lerous and Grossman 10).
(Each middle paragraph deals with a benefit of art. Information from other sources is cited.)
My own experience in art supports what these experts are saying. I learn best by doing. Of course, the school board has to figure out how to stretch school funds, but it should be careful not to make cuts that will do more harm than good. Preserving art in the schools is a necessity. (The ending recognizes the opposing viewpoint and ends on a strong note.)
In a personal commentary, you react thoughtfully to some aspect of your life. In this way, a commentary is one step removed from an editorial. An editorial expresses a specific opinion about a newsworthy event, often calling for a particular course of action. A commentary makes a more even-handed and reflective statement about life. Andy Rooney is famous for the personal commentaries he shares on television. Some ideas: school life – athletes; popular culture – tattoos; or life in general – growing up.
In this personal commentary, student writer Matt Ostwalt focuses on the pressures of high school athletics. It is his contention that the emphasis on winning takes most of the fun out of participating in sports. See if you agree.
The Demands of Winning
As a wrestler, I know how much fun it is to win. In fact, there are few things that I enjoy more. However, I think it is important that we teach athletes how to love a sport and enjoy it for all it has to offer. Competitiveness is great, but sometimes the pressures of being the best can overload teenagers. (The opining connects with the reader and states the focus – boldfaced.)
I see and hear wrestlers day in and day out talk about how hard it is to love the sport because of the demands it takes to be the best. Pressure to win is laid upon wrestlers in many different ways. For example, our coach is a great coach, and I know that he cares about every one of his wrestlers, but every time that I walk out on that mat, I hear his words echoing in my mind: “You are a West Lincoln wrestler; and you will win.” How can I not feel pressure to win, and anguish after losing, with hat in mind? So if I do lose, I go home and mope around because I feel that I have let me coach and myself down. However, this doesn’t last long because homework has to be done, and I have to sleep sometime, too. Then there is the never-ending concern with making weight for the next match. (Personal reflections enhance the commentary.)
I often wonder what I am doing to myself. I wonder if it would be any different if I still loved what I did, or if I were not as good as I am. If I had a penny for every time I have these thoughts, I could balance the budget.
I remember how much fun wrestling was in eighth grade, even though I did not win a single match. I always loved practices, and I always though they ended too quickly. I know I would miss wrestling if I decided to quit. I just wish I could return to the time when making weight was not a problem and when losing did not matter as long as I gave 100 percent. Now when I walk off the mat, I know I have given 100 percent, but it never seems to be enough.
In a problem-solution essay, you provide the reader with a detailed analysis of a topic-from a clear statement of the problem to a full discussion of possible solutions. It is important to examine your topic for a number of different angles before proposing any solutions. Some ideas: homework, school spirit, jobs, grades.
In this essay, student writer Terrance Masters discusses the very real problem of conflict and violence in schools. He convinces the reader of the seriousness of the problem and the value of the solution.
Grace Under Fire
“The passions are the same in every conflict, large or small.” –Mason Cooley (A quotation helps the reader focus
on the problem.)
Two friends have an argument that breaks up their friendship forever, even though neither one can remember how the whole thing got started. This tragedy happens over and over in high schools across the country. Conflict may be unavoidable, but when people lose sight of the real issues, their arguments can become personal and spiral out of control. In fact, according to “Youth Violence,” a report by the surgeon general, “In our country today, the greatest threat to the lives of children and adolescents is not disease or starvation or abandonment, but the terrible reality of violence” (2). Given this is the case, why aren’t students taught to manage conflict the way they are taught to solve math problems, drive cars, or stay physically fit? The best solution to the problem of youth violence is to teach students strategies for conflict resolution. (The opening identifies the problem and introduces the solution.)
First of all, students need to realize that conflict is inevitable. In the report “Violence Among Middle School and high School Students,” the United States Department of Justice indicates that most violent incidents between students begin with “a relatively minor affront but escalate from there” (2). In other words, a fight could start over the fact that one student eats a peanut butter sandwich each lunchtime. Laughter over the sandwich can lead to insults, which in turn can lead to violence. The problem isn’t in the sandwich, but in the way students deal with the conflict. They need to learn that conflicts may be unavoidable, but they also can provide an opportunity to improve friendships. According to safeyouth.org., “If resolved positively, conflicts can actually help strengthen relationships and build greater understanding” (2). (A key point from a report is paraphrased and another key point is quoted.)
Once students recognize that conflict is inevitable, they can practice the gold rule of conflict resolution: stay calm. Escalation begins with strong emotions. Pausing a moment to take a deep breath inflates the lungs and deflates the conflict. A person can also maintain control by intentionally relaxing his or her face and body. After all, in any conflict, it is better to look “cool” than “hot.” Once the student feels calmer, he or she should choose words that will calm the other person down as well. Profanity, name-calling, accusations, and exaggerations only add fuel to the emotional fire. On the other hand, neutral words spoken at a normal volume can quench the fire before it explodes out of control.
After both sides have calmed down, they can enact another key strategy for conflict resolution: Listening allows the two sides to understand each other. One person should describe his or her side, and the other person should listen without interrupting. Afterward, the listener can ask nonthreatening questions to clarify the speaker’s position. Then the two people should reverse roles. (The solution is carefully analyzed.)
Finally, students need to consider what they are hearing. This doesn’t mean trying to figure out what’s wrong with the other person. It means understanding what the real issue is and what both sides are trying to accomplish. For example, a shouting match over a peanut butter sandwich might happen because one person thinks the other person is unwilling to try new things. Students need to ask themselves questions such as these: How did this start? What do I really want? What am I afraid of? How can this conflict be resolved? As the issue becomes clearer, the conflict simply fades away. Even if it doesn’t careful thought helps both sides figure out a mutual solution.
There will always be conflict in schools, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be violence. When students in Atlanta instituted a conflict resolution program, “64 percent of the teachers reports less physical violence in the classroom; 75 percent of the teachers reports an increase in student cooperation; and 92 percent of the students felt better about themselves” (“Esr National” 3). Learning to resolve conflicts can help students deal with friends, teachers, parents, bosses, and coworkers. In that way, conflict resolution is a fundamental like skill that should be taught in schools across the country.
Essay of Argumentation:
The purpose of an essay of argumentation is to convince the reader to accept your point of view on an important topic that you have strong genuine feelings about. The quality of your argument depends on your ability to support your point of view with solid facts and details and to counter significant opposing viewpoints. 1. Beginning: get your reader’s attention, introduce the topic, and provide your opinion statement. 2. Middle: provide background information the reader needs to understand, give each of your supporting points, and answer major objections to your viewpoint. 3. Ending: revisit your opinion and leave the reader with a final thought.
In the following essay, Sarah King argues that standardized exit exams do not fully measure what a student has learned. She uses quotations, paraphrases, and analyses to build her argument.
An Incomplete Picture
The exit exam is coming, and like many other high-school students, I wonder if it is the best way to prove that I deserve to graduate. Teachers have warned us about this test, saying our futures depend on it. Politicians have praised the test for making sure that no child gets “left behind.” However, many professional educators feel that exit exams show which students have crammed rather than which students have learned. I have to agree. We need to consider better ways to measure student abilities than the current exit exam. (The writer outlines other opinions before stating her own.)
The main problem with the exit exam is that it is an objective test, with true-false, multiple-choice, matching, and fill-in-the-blank questions. As a result, teachers prep their classes by teaching strategies for answering these kinds of questions. Students who score well often know more about test strategy than about the material covered. In his paper “The case for Authentic Assessment,” educator Grant Wiggins writes, “What most defenders of traditional tests fail to see is that it is the form, not the content of the test that is harmful to learning … students come to believe that learning is cramming” (3). Wiggins feels that “authentic assessment” is a more realistic way to evaluate learning. (The writer quotes and paraphrases what others have written in order to support her argument.)
What is authentic assessment, and how can our exit exam be changed to include it? Authentic assessment requires students to demonstrate knowledge by doing something “real” rather than by simply answering questions. For example, according to the Center on Education Policy, many state tests ask students to write an essay in response to a prompt. The essay is a form of authentic assessment, and it gives a more complete picture of the student’s ability to think and write. However, writing an essay on demand is still a somewhat artificial exercise, and it adds a great deal of cost and time to the grading process. (The writer anticipates the reader’s questions and uses them to build her argument.)
Is there a form of authentic assessment that would show true student ability without costing the state a lot of time and money? Many educators suggest using portfolios. A portfolio is a collection of work that shows how well a student has learned certain concepts and skills. For example, a writing portfolio can include a student’s expository, persuasive, and narrative essays. A science portfolio can include experiments, demonstrations, and presentations.
As an assessment tool, portfolios have many benefits over exit exams. Portfolios allow students to create real products over an extended period of time. They also provide many assessment opportunities throughout the process. Since the grading is done by the teacher throughout the year instead of by the state at one particular time, the portfolio does not require a lot more time and money. The skill of putting together a portfolio can help students apply for colleges and for jobs. Portfolios also encourage students to demonstrate their ability in many different media. (The writer provides thoughtful analysis.)
Some schools would suggest an even more radical form of authentic assessment. Walden III, an alternative school operating in Wisconsin since the early 1970s, outlines its basic ideas on its Web site:
Assessments are based on ‘benchmark’ standards that students must achieve;
assessments are individualized for each student;
rigorous research is expected; and
each student must complete a major project, called a ‘rite of passage,’ in order to graduate. (Mission 2)
At school like this, assessment isn’t something done on one Thursday morning during the student’s senior year, but all through high school.
Of course, authentic assessment has its critics. Some people say that it doesn’t provide precise statistics about which students and districts are doing better than others. While objective tests provide these statistics, it’s debatable whether these tests really show knowledge and ability. Other people claim that authentic assessments are more expensive and harder to manage than traditional tests. This is true only if the state tries to shoulder the whole load. Instead, by trusting the assessments done by the teachers who are already assigning and grading the students’ works, the state doesn’t need to do any of the paper shuffling. (The writer counters objections to her opinion.)
Our state needs to rethink its assessment policy. While objective tests can be useful, they aren’t a fair basis for deciding whether students can graduate from high school. Even worse, if succeeding on traditional tests becomes the only focus of schools, students will be less prepared to function in the real world. The state should consider adding an essay to provide some authentic assessment. Better yet, the state should ditch the exam format altogether and use student portfolios. Then teachers and students can stop cramming and start learning. (The closing reviews the writer’s main points.)