Grandville — “Stop smoking now!”
“Let kids have more sleep!”
“Above-ground trampolines are the best kind!”
Waving carefully hand-lettered and illustrated signs, the fifth-graders made their way through the halls of East Elementary as though they were on a picket line. Marching single-file and weaving in and out of second-, third- and fourth-grade classrooms, they chanted messages that mirrored the words on their signs:
“Kids should have cell phones!”
“No more plastic bags!”
“Orcas should not be in aquariums!”
Teacher Samantha Iciek had the fifth-graders stage the in-school “protest” as a culmination of their persuasive writing unit. After spending so much time researching and writing their essays, she said she wanted to give them an activity that was “a little bit more realistic” to help them share their arguments with their peers.
“You’re trying to persuade people to believe your thoughts, and it’s not realistic for them to just read their essay in front of the class, which oftentimes is the celebration for persuasive essays — there’s nothing super-authentic (about that),” Iciek said. “We talked about different protests they’ve seen in the past, from any movement, and how protesting can be a type of persuasive claim. We also went back and talked about (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) as a tie-in to the holiday, and the ways he protested to persuade others.
“The biggest thing we talked about is that persuasive writing is meant to have your voice be heard and help others understand why you believe what you believe.”
Research and Reasoning
Every fifth-grader got to pick their own topic for their persuasive essay. To put together a cohesive argument, they had to research evidence supporting their claim, paraphrase information, include direct quotes, interview other students and use their own personal knowledge to support their reasoning. They also learned about revisions and editing, how to type up their information and how to structure an essay.
While a handful of his classmates picked similar topics, like “Dogs are better than cats,” or “Kids should have cell phones,” Maxwell Tett-Williams went in a different direction. His topic? Why above-ground trampolines are better than in-ground trampolines.
“I have a trampoline in my backyard and so I decided to write about that,” he explained, clarifying that his family’s trampoline is, indeed, an above-ground model. “One of my reasons (above-ground) is better is because on an in-ground trampoline, you have to wear socks or shoes, and on an above-ground trampoline, you don’t — you can be barefoot if you want to.”
In researching his topic, Maxwell said he only found a few articles that discussed safety, so he had to supplement his essay with a fair bit of personal knowledge to support his claim. He also interviewed a classmate who had helped his father put together a trampoline.
Read more: Lola and Maxwell shared the final drafts of their persuasive essays with School News Network; read them here.
By contrast, classmate Logan “Lola” Wallace found lots of articles and evidence to support her argument — almost too much, she said, which made it hard to whittle things down for her essay.
“My topic is that smoking should be banned, because it’s very dangerous and I just felt really strongly about it,” she said. “It damages your lungs and it’s the leading cause of lung cancer in the entire world, and also, even without it being bad for you, it’s a fire hazard, and that can be very dangerous. When you smoke, it doesn’t just affect you, it affects everyone around you, so I just really wanted to go with that topic and tell everyone.”
The Power of Persuasion
On “protest day,” Maxwell said he wasn’t too nervous to present his topic to other classrooms, and even saw some students nodding and making the “I agree” hand sign when they saw his poster.
While she was nervous to present her topic to the younger students at East, Lola said she liked the idea of peacefully protesting as a way to spread information.
“I think it’s a good way to get people to hear your ideas, as long as you’re not, like, violent or anything, and all we did was walk around the classroom so that people could hear us,” Lola said. “I feel like, if a kid were to read (my essay), I think they would be thoroughly convinced that they weren’t gonna smoke when they’re older.”
While her students didn’t actually need to convince anyone of anything to complete the assignment, Iciek said she hopes they’ve all learned the importance of both thorough research and sharing their voice.
“I think so many kids don’t feel like their voice is valued, or think their ideas aren’t good enough because they’re young,” the teacher said. “So the idea we carried through this (assignment) is asking, ‘How are you going to prove your point? How will you get others to believe you?’ Not everyone will agree with you, but you do have the power to change opinions and the power to change the world by using your voice.
“You don’t have to wait until you’re a grownup to change things.”