Category Archives: persuasive essay

What kind of writing should second and third graders do?

Here are what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) expect student writers  to achieve in second and third grade.

  • The CCSS expects second graders to “write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section; write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section; write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.
  • In my experience, by second grade, students learn the concept of paragraphing, or as the children understand it, collecting sentences about the same thing in a single paragraph. They learn to indent.  But most still write everything as one long paragraph and need to be reminded about paragraphing, punctuation, spelling, and upper and lower case use.
  • In my experience, by third grade students learn to write topic sentences for paragraphs, usually by asking a question (Do you want to know about my dog?) or by making a statement about the obvious (I’m going to tell you about my dog). They need help imagining other ways to start paragraphs.  Some students still need help separating a group of sentences into paragraphs although a few students might be writing longer and somewhat sophisticated passages.  They learn about different kinds of writing–informative, persuasive and narrative–and try their hands at each kind with varying success.”
  • For persuasive writing, the CCSS recommends that third graders should “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons;introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons;provide reasons that support the opinion; use linking words and phrases (e.g., because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons; and provide a concluding statement or section.
  • For informative/explanatory writing, the CCSS recommends that third graders should write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension; develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details; and use linking words and phrases (e.g., also, another, and, more, but) to connect ideas within categories of information; provide a concluding statement or section.”
  • For narratives the CCSS recommends that third graders “develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences; establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally; use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations; use temporal words and phrases to signal event order; and provide a sense of closure.

In second and third grade, the CCSS also expects students  to begin to use electronic equipment.

For more information, go to

What kind of writing should kindergarteners and first graders be able to do?

The ability to write well comes gradually and in stages.  This skill is a synthesis of many writing skills, each building on one another.  Here is what I see in practice and what the Common Core State Standards recommends for kindergarten and first graders.

  • In kindergarten children learn to write letters and words, and some advanced students may write sentences.  They might write with phonetic or invented spelling, backward letters, missing punctuation and haphazard  capitalization.  They use a combination of upper case and lower case letters.  They like to draw a picture of what they are describing.
  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ask kindergarteners to “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book; use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic; and use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.”
  • In first grade children’s writing ability varies widely, but teachers expect students to write in sentences by the end of the year. They might draw a picture at the top of a paper and then write one or more sentences under the picture telling what the picture means, and using many of the errors which kindergarteners use.  Many of the rules of writing and spelling are fluid for a first grader, but they are becoming formal than for kindergarteners.
  • The Common Core State Standards recommend that first graders “write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure; write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure; and write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.”

As you can see, a wide gap exists between what many children can do and what the CCSS expect them to do.  For more on the Common Core State Standards, go to

Should my child do reading and writing in the same lesson if the lesson is supposed to focus on writing?

EPSON MFP imageAs a tutor, this is an issue I have struggled with.  Most of the time, I combine reading and writing.  Here’s why:

  • A kindergartener or even a sixth grader has little personal experience to write about. They quickly exhaust “my dog” or “my family” as topics.  It makes sense for me to provide a topic to write about.  A quick and easy way to do that is to supply a picture book or a short essay.  But if I learn the student has taken an outing over the weekend, I switch gears and ask the student to write from his or her experience.  I might need to generate many questions about the outing to develop enough material to write about, but a personal experience trumps a reading experience, especially for young children.
  • Reading gives students a quick start. I might ask a young children to read part of a picture book (limiting the time spent reading to between five and ten minutes of an hour-long lesson).  For an older child, I might bring an essay or news story (again, limiting the time spent reading and discussing it.)  Our discussions focus on ideas related to writing, such as organization, characters, setting, suspense and conclusions.  Then we talk about the kind of writing I expect the student to write.
  • For students who don’t like to be told what to write, I might bring two reading selections, offering a choice. The child has a sense of control and I am happy with either choice.
  • Reading gives students various genres to analyze or to use as prompts. If the student is writing a persuasive essay, for example, reading one first offers ideas for organization and vocabulary.  I focus less on the content and more on the structure, details, figures of speech–the writing–during a writing lesson.
  • Reading offers excellent models for writing. If I am teaching how to write a formal essay with a thesis, obvious topic sentences and a good conclusion, reading such an essay first is a great way to begin the lesson.  We can talk about what makes the example good (or poor if it is poor) and how it could have been improved.

Everyone writes to be read, even if the reader is a later-day version of himself or herself.  We talk about this during our lessons, offering a solid reason to read before we begin and just as solid a reason to read the student’s work after it is complete.

Use a diagram to “see” the structure of the new SAT essay

When working with students learning how to write an essay for the new SAT exam, I draw diagrams of an essay pattern they can follow. The diagram acts as a prewriting organizer.  It shows students an overall perspective of what they must write.  Here is a diagram that is easy to follow yet leads to an effective SAT essay.

diagram-of-sat-essayThis diagram separates the persuasive techniques from the summary.  In the SAT workbooks, the best essay samples entwine the summary and the persuasive techniques, a more sophisticated pattern to follow.

What is important is to cover all three of the criteria which will be judged:  1) clearly showing that you understand what the essay prompt is all about (the summary), 2) recognizing and analyzing persuasive techniques, and 3) doing all this using excellent English (perfect  grammar, a variety of sentence patterns, advanced vocabulary and–most difficult of all–your own voice).

The new SAT writing essay is an improvement

Big changes have come to the SAT essay.

  • It’s optional, not required any more.
  • You have 50 minutes, not 25, to complete it.
  • It’s based on a reading passage, not an out-of-the-blue idea.
  • It will be judged on three criteria: your understanding of the reading passage, your ability to analyze the reading passage, and your writing skills.

It’s still not easy, but it’s certainly more like the writing students do in college.  Often college students need to read a book or a journal article and write a response to it.  Students need to show that they understand what the reading is about, that they can analyze the thinking that went into the passage, and that they can do so in clear, sophisticated English.  Rarely are college students ever offered a philosophical problem with no warning and no preparation, and rarely too are they asked to respond with an essay in one sitting.

The old, 25-minute limit was ridiculous.  Planning a response was reduced to three minutes; writing was limited to 20 minutes; and checking for errors lasted about two minutes, or more often, not at all.  When I work with students on writing anything we spend significant time on planning, developing details and ordering the paragraphs.  You can’t do that in three minutes.  And for most of the writing college students do they have overnight or longer to provide a response.  Good writers put their writing down, take a walk or a hot shower, and then return to the writing inspired.  At least with the new SAT there is breathing room.

Even though the reading selection might contain highfalutin vocabulary, you don’t need to understand every single word to get the gist of a reading selection and to analyze it.  The reading passage is long enough and contains enough persuasive arguments that the student can readily understand it with a strong high school vocabulary.

And the essay is optional.  For students who can write, this is their chance to prove it, adding another way to impress college admission officers.  For students who can’t write well, their lack of skill will show in the multiple choice section of the writing test.

Google the new SAT writing test to find websites offering greater perspective on the change.  See if you agree that the change has improved the test.