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Creative Ways to Teach Persuasive Language

Remember that time you watched a Facebook video and gave up sugar for a whole week? Or was it gluten? It was probably wine. OK, so that didn’t stick but don’t feel bad; you did agree to donate to that charity. And the proceeds from those cookies you bought went to a really good cause. 

Speaking of cookies, how often have you picked up a lifestyle magazine and convinced yourself you could be the next Martha Stewart? Also, why do they always put the health and fitness magazines right next to the check out? That’s where I pay for my candy bars! ‘They cancel each other out, though’. That’s what I tell myself when I add them to my basket. I know I’m not the only one guilty of impulse purchases. Be honest… what about those gorgeous, super uncomfortable shoes you never wear but bought because they were on sale? Or the time you ordered that exercise equipment with complete confidence that it would transform you into a supermodel/olympian. Oh wait, maybe that was me…

My point is (and I promise you, I do have one) – whether we’re aware of it or not – our choices aren’t as free as they seem. So many of our decisions, every single day, are guided by other people. Usually marketing executives. Sometimes journalists. Occasionally politicians and activists. More frequently celebrities and social media ‘influencers’. Even friends and family have the power to persuade us to change our behavior, think like they do, or ‘call your mother once in a while’. 

The fact that persuasion is so prevalent in every aspect of our culture means there are a ton of ways you can teach it using fun, relatable, and relevant examples that your students will respond to. In fact, I’ve got eight creative ideas right here!

1. Analyze print advertisements

Even in this digital age, printed advertising isn’t slowing down. Whether it’s giant billboards, or flyers through our letterboxes, you have thousands of persuasive examples to choose from. But I’ve found that one of the best way to engage teenagers is to bring in magazines that appeal to their specific areas of interest and comb through the many (many) pages of adverts. You know your students, so pick a selection of sports, exercise, music, fashion… whatever you think they’ll connect with!

2. Pay attention to current political discourse
Youtube is a modern goldmine for recorded speeches. Search for rallies, press conferences, debates, or state addresses to link your lesson to current affairs. But don’t limit yourself to politicians; activists are among the most savvy public speakers. Check the number of views and comments each speech has received for an idea of how effective and influential they’ve been.

3. Evaluate historical speeches
Analyzing persuasive language of the past is a great opportunity for cross-curricular projects. Have a chat with the history teachers and find out what they have planned for their lessons.

  • The Civil Rights Movement? An obvious choice would be Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis? Look to John F. Kennedy.
  • The Second World War? Look to Winston Churchill. 
  • The Women’s Rights Movement? You can’t do much better than Sojourner Truth.  

4. Embrace the season
If you coincide your lessons with seasonal celebrations, your students will carry on making connections and building awareness even outside the classroom. Big events like the Super Bowl, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the Olympics are all great opportunities to talk about the power of advertising. While your students watch seasonal commercials, get them to write down all the techniques they spot, like persuasive language bingo!

5. Look to Shakespeare
Your students might not realize that persuasive language techniques are prevalent in fiction too, but it’s a great way to interject a language lesson into a literature study. One of my favorite ‘cross-over’ lessons involves Macbeth; Lady Macbeth is the consummate manipulator. But there are so many other examples of Shakespearean characters who use persuasive language to devastating effect – like Iago in Othello, or Claudius in Hamlet, or Cassius in Julius Caesar.
6. Look to the big (and little) screen
In my experience, students love any excuse to watch TV in class! Which is lucky as TV and movies are full of fantastic examples of persuasive language. War films are always a good bet for rousing speeches, but my favorite clips to watch and deconstruct with my students are always the closing speeches in courtroom dramas.

7. Turn your students into Ad Execs
Encourage your students to learn by doing. Ask them to pick a product or an idea – something they’re passionate about – and design their own advert using persuasive language techniques. This is always a big hit in my classroom; my students jump at the chance to use their creativity in such a free and independent way. 

8. Host a debate 
No study of rhetoric would be complete without a debate. After all, Artistotle defined rhetoric as ‘the art of argument’ so it really is the cherry on top of the persuasive language cake. There’s no better way for students to practice and show off their new persuasive skills and knowledge of ethos, logos, and pathos than to craft their own arguments. And to really get them fired up, the first debate can be choosing the debate topic!

So, there you have it! Teaching rhetoric is one of my most favourite elements of teaching English because it is relevant, and all around us! What are your favourite ways for teaching persuasion?

Looking for more resources for teaching RHETORIC? 

8 Nonfiction Book Excerpts Worth Teaching in ELA

Let’s challenge some nonfiction norms for a moment.

Who says that books written for adults can't be shown to students?
Who says we have to assign the entire book for teaching and learning to take place?
Why not show students small bits of the most delicious nonfiction to shown them what's REALLY out there?

Whether you’re pressed for time, don’t have enough copies, or aren’t so sure you WANT students to read the whole book, there are serious benefits to giving students even just ONE chapter of a fantastic nonfiction book.

Reading plenty of nonfiction authors boosts vocabulary and critical thinking, but it also helps introduce students to new writing styles so their own essays and nonfiction writing can evolve. Not unlike the perks of an “article of the week” program, giving students single chapters or small samples of different authors’ arguments and writing styles is immensely beneficial… and, even better, you may persuade some of those students to go GET the book and continue reading the REST of it. (Some books are so fascinating that they sell themselves!)

(Plus, according to my school librarian, we can legally photocopy up to 10% of a book and give it to students under “fair use” educational guidelines. That’s often about one chapter.)

Check out this starter list of 8 nonfiction books that can easily offer a good chapter for a short read!

  • These vary greatly in length, content, and difficulty.
  • I tried to avoid some of the commonly recommended ones (like I Am Malala, No Summit Out of Sight, Nickel and Dimed, Bird by Bird, On Writing, How to Read Literature like a Professor, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and Freakonomics).
  • For even more ideas, you’re more than welcome to stalk my GoodReads shelves.

FREE Activity Page:
For any of these chapters (or other titles), you can use this "I Say/We Say" activity to help students independently and collaboratively react to a text! (There's also room at the bottom for you to add your own custom, text-dependent question.) Download it here!

Excerpt #1

Great Quote: “...the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (Gladwell 38).

Why I Picked It: It’s fantastic for showing students that dedication really does pay off, and that most celebs got where they are through serious investments of time and effort. (Growth mindset, anyone?)

FYI: This is a slightly long/difficult read for middle school, but not impossible. Gladwell uses a combination of (dry) storytelling AND statistics to make his points.

How to Teach It: Use this reading as your launchpad for a debate or discussion of what implications the 10k-Hour Rule has for teenagers. (For example: is it better for students to immerse in a skill/hobby, or should they be well-rounded?)

Excerpt #2:

Great Quote: “What factors inside our high schools would lead a senior to declare she is not really interested in books, pages, and words? What is causing readicide?” (Gallagher 5).

Why I Picked It: (Gasp) Yes, sometimes you can share parts of a book originally written for teachers! When students read all the statistics about how many students are bad at reading or don’t do it, the data may not only justify YOUR teaching practices but motivate them to not “be a statistic” themselves.

FYI: Since this chapter is critical of the American education system, you might hesitate to give this to students, but for me, the value here is in all of the data Gallagher gives.

How to Teach It: Perhaps teach this before a reading unit (or launch of an independent reading program); it could also be a debate-starter about what students should be required to read (and how often).

Excerpt #3:
Great Quote: “The simplest way to describe the development of HONY over the past five years is this: it’s evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog” (Stanton 1).

Why I Picked It: Yes, this book is more photos than text; most of the text is short photo captions (and not as long as the stories posted on HONY’s Facebook page). BUT, this book is a secret weapon for students who desperately need to see a diverse world.

FYI: Some pages are more appropriate than others. Preview and choose pages selectively if you teach in a conservative setting.

How to Teach It: This book is fantastic for multiple perspectives (right before To Kill a Mockingbird and walking in someone else’s shoes, perhaps?) and for INSPIRATION (like memoir, fiction, or poetry writing). Click here to see my memoir reading & writing unit!

Excerpt #4:

Great Quote: “The audience… suddenly grew silent as they took in his words. He was reaching their minds, but he could do that only after he had touched their hearts” (Gallo 44).

Why I Picked It: It talks about the great content AND style of storytelling, ranging from delivery to ethos/pathos/logos, all given through his examples and stories of real TED speakers.

FYI: Chris Anderson also has a really excellent book about how to give a TED Talk (and its ethos is better than Gallo’s), but Gallo’s book is an easier read for grades 7-12 in my opinion.

How to Teach It: Read this before your next speech unit (whether that’s WRITING speeches and learning what to DO, or READING speeches and learning what to CRITIQUE). For more public speaking lessons, check out my Intro to Public Speaking with TED mini-unit!

Excerpt #5:

Great Quote: “Students who graduated on schedule were grittier, and grit was a more powerful predictor of graduation than how much students cared about school, how conscientious they were about their studies, and even how safe they felt at school” (Duckworth 11).

Why I Picked It: Yes, I’ve seen Duckworth’s TED talk (below), but I find the book to be even better. It’s the ultimate argument in favor of hard work and why ALL students should try hard, even if they don’t feel smart.

How to Teach It: There’s more than one great application and infinite timing possibilities (new year?), but from a writing standpoint, this is a great chapter to raise the question, “How did the author gradually build her argument?”

Excerpt #6:

Great Quote: “Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful” (Meyer 27).

Why I Picked It: Even if you’re not an Ohio State fan like me (O-H!), this book is still critically relevant for any class that needs to hear messages about perseverance, leadership, and self-monitoring behavior. I was so impressed by just the first few chapters that I wished I could buy a class set. It may also pull in some of my reluctant male readers.

FYI: Though there are anecdotes based on his 2014 championship football team, you don’t have to understand football to understand and appreciate this chapter.

How to Teach It: Time this strategically in a moment of perseverance or growth mindset, which could include the beginning of the year, the start of second semester, or any other time when such qualities in your students are lagging.

Excerpt #7:

Great Quote: “Take at least 20 minutes every day to be still and quiet. Reflect. Dissect your thoughts and feelings. Relive any mistakes from the day before. Decide how to be smarter and tougher, how to be more committed and considerate of others” (Beyonce).

Why I Picked It: This book is an anthology of chapters from different celebrities, which will appeal to many students. There’s something to be said for a book that gives wisdom straight from the mouths of experts!

FYI: Kind of like HONY, some chapters are better (and cleaner) than others, so hand-pick what you want YOUR class to read instead of just passing around the entire book. For example, Mario Batali’s chapter is great one and just has one swear word that you could easily Sharpie out.

ALSO, this book is from 2011, so there are some authors featured who are a little controversial now (like Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, etc.), but so many of the OTHER celebs are SO good that I can’t omit recommending this book anyway.

How to Teach It: There’s SUCH a range of stories in this book that you can either 1) find one that suits what you’re teaching now/next, 2) pick several to match to different students, or 3) choose a few to read at set intervals (like article of the week 2.0).

Excerpt #8:

Great Quote: “I accept [the Nobel Peace Prize] on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice” (King 105).

Why I Picked It: We do a great disservice to Dr. King when we only teach his “Dream” speech. Each text in this book could be its own lesson, if not unit! You can’t go wrong with teaching any of these as your excerpt.

How to Teach It: The sky’s the limit. Annotate for grammar (parallel structure), rhetorical or literary devices (hypophora or allusion), or just the content itself. (For more teaching resources about reading, writing, or giving good speeches, click here!)

Want even more nonfiction ideas?
You might also be interested in...

Do you have other book suggestions?
Tell us in the comments!

Discussion Activities

There is nothing better than a deep and thoughtful discussion or friendly classroom debate, but as we know things don’t always go as planned. In classroom discussions, I'm sure we have all been faced with both a sea of blank stares with no response as well as out-of-order chaos.  Below are some of the activities you can use to strike a good balance, keep control, engage students, and break away from the traditional whole-class discussion.  These activities allow for more reflection, interaction, and thoughtful expression.      

The silent discussion method allows everyone (even your most reluctant students) to share their ideas.  It gives time for students to reflect on their own thoughts as well as learn about the perspective of others before sharing out loud.
-       Develop a variety of discussion questions related to what you are teaching.  Write them or project them on the board.  If you have 25 students, you’ll probably want at least 12 questions.

-       Number students off and have them write the discussion question connected to their number on a piece of paper, or you can use this free template from my TpT store: Silent Discussion Template

-       Students respond to the question they wrote with their own opinion.  When they are done, they get up, circulate the room at their own pace, and find an available seat with a new discussion question. 
-       Students read the new question, the responses already made to it, and add their own thoughts to the “discussion” in writing.

-       This continues for as long as you like.  When you are done, you can have a whole-class open discussion on all of the topics, or put students into small groups to discuss.

If you want to read about how I use this method in more detail you can read this blog post I wrote: SILENT DISCUSSIONS

If you have a class that doesn’t engage well in discussion or debate, ethical dilemmas or what if? prompts are the perfect way to bring out their opinions.

-       Ethical dilemmas are situations where a person has to make a choice based on a moral situation.  What If? prompts are situations where a person has to consider how they would react if something in their life or the word were different in some way.

-       These prompts can be used in a variety of ways.  I use them as a weekly bell-ringer to spark a short discussion in small groups at the start of class.  Although discussions are not always used to start a class, I find it a great way to warm up student brains for the lesson ahead.

Gallery discussions are an effective way to get students out of their seats and collaborating in small groups.  All you need are a few pieces of chart paper, some markers, and 5-6 discussion prompts.
-       Create 5-6 discussion questions about the content you are studying and write them on a piece of chart paper.  Hang them around the classroom in stations.  

-       Put students into small groups and have them elect a scribe.

-       Students circulate to each of the stations for a specified amount of time.

-       Have each group elect a speaker.  This person will share with the whole class the topic that brought out the most discussion for them and what their thoughts were on it.  

This method is useful for tackling controversial topics and helping your students prepare for a debate or persuasive writing.
-       Put up 4 signs around your classroom that read Strongly Agree / Agree / Disagree / Strongly Disagree

-       Make a controversial statement and have students write down on a small piece of paper whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree (so they make an independent choice instead of following their friends).  

-       Students move to the corner of the choice they made.

-       Students spend 5-10 minutes discussing the topic and making point form notes on their thoughts.

-       Afterwards, have a member from each group summarize their discussion for the whole class.

-       As a final activity, have students write a paragraph on their opinion on the statement now.  Have them consider if they feel the same way they did when they started, or if the other groups were able to sway their opinions.

If you want signs to print, you can check out these free ones from Stacey Lloyd: Opinion Signs.  She uses these signs as a creative and engaging way to poll her whole class during discussions, but they can also work for the 4 corners activity!

Short video clips are an excellent way to engage your students in discussion.  I use videos as journal writing prompts, but they could also easily be used as small group or pair discussion starters.
-       Put students into small groups or pairs and show them a short video clip based on the content you are teaching (or I like to just use a general topic of interest to engage students).

-       Provide the related discussion prompt and give them a certain amount of time to discuss.  Everyone should respond to the discussion prompt in the small group.

-       Have each pair or group share what they discussed with the rest of the class.

Pyramid discussions are useful when you want to scaffold to make a whole-class discussion less intimidating for those students who are more reluctant to speak.  They are also useful in preparation for debate or persuasive writing.
-       For this activity, you’ll have to develop topics where students must come to an agreement on a particular topic.  For example, you could provide a list of survival items and students must determine which three are the most useful.  You could also have a more general prompt like “What are the three greatest inventions of all time?”

-       Have students start in pairs.  The two students discuss this prompt and must work together and compromise in their discussion to come to an agreement.

-       Once each pair is in agreement, two pairs move together to form groups of four.  The new larger group must then share their ideas and again all come to agreement.

-       The groups of four then move into a larger group of eight and again must share their ideas and come to an agreement.

-       After groups of eight, have students move back to their seats and have a whole-class discussion on the topic. 
Discussion Speed Dating is a fun way for students to share their own thoughts on a topic and also hear multiple other perspectives.   If your students don’t know what speed dating is, you could start by showing them this short clip from Gilmore Girls to give them a sense of what a speed dating session looks like: The Gilmore Girls Speed Dating Clip . Be sure to first preview the clip to ensure it is appropriate for your particular students.  Get this free activity here: Speed Dating Discussion

-       Arrange the classroom so that two desks are facing each other in a line.  Each student gets this free speed dating discussion sheet that they will need during the activity.  Have students choose any seat.

-       Give each of the two rows a letter (A & B).

-       Give students a persuasive topic or statement to discuss or debate with their partner for 3-5 minutes.  Set a timer!

-       Have students spend 1 minute filling in the first section of the speed dating discussion reflection sheet.  This is meant to be quick, point-form thoughts to remind them of their discussion later.

-       Tell all of row A to move one seat over so they are facing the next person.

-       The discussion continues and this process is repeated as many times as you would like.

-       In the end, have students write a paragraph on their own thoughts on the topic using their reflection sheet as a reference.  They may refer to the other members of the class that they spoke with in their writing.  For example, “I agreed with ____ when they said…” or “While _____ made some strong points, I disagreed with their thought that ….”

Looking for other discussion activities?  The other Coffee Shop ladies have you covered!  Check 
them out by clicking the links below:

The SuperHERO Teacher - Literature Interviews: A Whole-Class Discussion for Any Novel

Room 213 - Speaking and Listening as Part of the Pre-Reading Stage

The Daring English Teacher - Fishbowl Discussions
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