Learning to defend opinions is big part of learning for young writers

Avery Lantzer makes comments on another student's essay

They may be only 10 or 11 years old, but they have words of wisdom to share. Fourth-graders spent over a month researching, writing and editing personal persuasion papers.

The unit didn’t end with the writing. Students left their essays out for view as they moved from desk to desk and classroom to classroom to read, evaluate and make comments on other papers.

Big discussions popped up around the cluster of tables in Katie Coxen’s classroom on evaluation day. “I really agree, you shouldn’t drink alcohol,” said Joey Russo, “because it is bad for you and adults can have problems with it.”

Katelynn Veenendall added a personal story about a time when her parents invited a stranger into the house. “Some people just can’t handle it (alcohol),” she said. “Dad let the lady in who wanted to use a phone, but it was awful.”

John Carlos’s essay on eating healthy dished up a wealth of statistics. “I chose it because I think lots of people struggle with eating healthy,” he said. “But I learned a lot while I was working on it and I didn’t know that 35 percent of people are overweight.”

That essay generated other ideas from the critics.

“More kids should play more sports,” said Austin Tyecs. “It helps them get more exercise and they are less likely to get diseases and die of cancer.”

Fourth-grader John Carlo shows off his essay

Sharing a passion

Other topics covered by the students included “Parents Should Not Get Divorced,” “People Should Not Abuse Animals,” “Donald Trump Should Not Be President” and “Children Need More Play Time.”

In the 28-lesson unit, students are required to state a claim, present three strong reasons and research the reasons, Coxen said, adding that this year’s topics were particularly deep.

“We really try to push the kids’ thinking to find a topic that provokes a strong emotion about which to write.”

Many of the young writers had personal reasons for subject choice.

“I noticed my aunt was smoking and I am really worried about her,” said Zoe Huizingh, whose essay was “People Should Not Smoke.”

“We have friends that foster,” said Lizzie Leach, whose essay was titled “People Should Become Foster Parents.”

“It just got into my heart,” Lizzie said. “I wanted to write about something that mattered.”

The day they share their work is a great celebration, Coxen said. “They are very proud of what they have accomplished and learn from reading and being able to comment on the other papers. They just love this event.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. Recently retired from a fulltime staff position with MLive, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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