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Exploring Verbal Persuasion

Page history last edited by Bill 9 years, 7 months ago

Exploring Verbal Persuasion


No matter what happens in our digital world, learning the skills of verbal persuasion -- being able to influence others with carefully crafted words -- will remain important.  As a result, Verbal Persuasion is one of the most important skills introduced in Teaching the iGeneration.  Readers explore the characteristics of convincing evidence.  They are also exposed to several specific strategies for teaching kids how to craft persuasive written pieces.  Finally, they explore the role that blogging can play in helping students to raise their voices.  


This resource page houses links to the handouts and services that Bill is using to teach the students in his classroom about verbal persuasion. 






Kids CAN Make a Difference


Quick question:  If you wanted to make a difference when you were a kid, how did you do it?


For me, "making a difference" meant setting up a lemonade stand at the end of the driveway and selling cups of sweet goodness to raise money that I would send off to the causes that I cared about.  And while I really enjoyed the entire process, I didn't make significant change in the world.  There were only so many neighbors willing to buy lemonade! 


Even as an adult, "making a difference" usually meant delivering food to a homeless shelter or serving meals to the needy on Thanksgiving -- and while both of those practices made a difference in the local community, both of those practices had a limited impact on life beyond my community. 


Things have changed for anyone who wants to make a difference today.   Using simple digital tools to raise awareness about causes in a process dubbed clicktivism, we can draw attention to the issues that we care about easily. 


While many question whether clicktivism is a productive form of activism -- clicktivists often have short attention spans and issues don't draw attention for long enough to result in sustainable change -- for kids with few real options for "making a difference" simply because of their age, using digital tools to get behind causes can be incredibly rewarding and productive.


Need some tangible examples of how kids are using digital tools to raise their voices and support their causes in public ways?  Here's several that cut across grade levels and content areas:


#SUGARKILLS - After spending a part of the school year studying the New York City soda ban, students in session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom decided that they wanted to use their voices to raise awareness about the amount of added sugar in the foods commonly eaten by teens and tweens.  The result:  A pretty engaging blog that is attracting the attention of teachers and students worldwide.  This link connects to an interview that Bill's students conducted with Middleweb magazine.  Worth noting is the sense of purpose and their determination to drive change in their words.


The Story of Malala Yousafzai - Growing up in the Taliban controlled regions of Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai -- a teen girl -- faced almost unimaginable challenges and a strictly regimented life that treated girls as objects instead of individuals.  At the age of 11, she decided to take action -- starting a blog on a BBC News website about just what life was like in her part of the world.  Her bravery quickly earned her the admiration of thousands of locals -- and the scorn of the Taliban.  Yousafzai -- now 14 -- was recently shot by Islamic militants. 


Westwood Middle School Makes a Difference - Sixth grade at Westwood Middle School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota is a year-long lesson in community activism, where social studies teachers Bob Schneider, Chris Clark and Dominic Martini assign their students a civics participation project every fall.  Students learn more about the role that local government plays in their lives and get involved in advocating for change that they believe in.  Whether they're sitting in on school board meetings, writing letters to the mayor or volunteering at groups dedicated to fighting hunger, WMS students care about their community -- and are taking action on their concerns.


High Tech High San Diego Bay Project - For juniors in Jay Vavra and Tom Fehrenbacher's science and Humanities classes at High Tech High School in San Diego, the issue that matters most is how to better protect the environment in and around the San Diego Bay.  The entire year is spent studying the habitats of the Bay area and the impact that humans are having on the environment.  Together, Vavra and Fehrenbacher's classes publish a field guide that is used by everyone from environmental scientists to local politicians interested in looking for solutions to improve the overall health of the Bay.  


#OsseoNiceThings - Tired of the constant stream of hateful messages that peers were posting about one another in digital spaces like Facebook and Twitter, Kevin Curwick -- a Senior at Osseo High School in Minnesota -- decided to fight back by starting a Twitter account dedicated to sharing positive comments and messages about the students and staff in his building.  Known as a #niceitforward movement, Curwick is proud of helping to change the culture at Osseo.  "When you see someone you care about get hurt," he writes, "sometimes you want to lash out. But I really believe using positivity is the way to combat it."


The lesson for teachers is a simple one, isn't it?  No matter how old they are, our students WANT to make a difference in their world.  Using digital tools to raise awareness is a great strategy for tapping into that desire to get involved -- and a great way to incorporate traditional academic skills into real-world activities that resonate with kids. 




Verbal Persuasion Resources Worth Exploring


Before our students can fully take advantage of the ability to make a difference, they need to learn more about being persuasive.  Digital tools didn't make any of the students spotlighted in the activities above influential.  Digital tools just provided the opportunity to share their influential ideas with a wider audience than kids generally have access to.  The following handouts can be used by teachers who are working to teach their students more about the characteristics of effective verbal persuasion: 


Characteristics of Convincing Evidence - Session presenter Bill Ferriter uses this lesson to introduce his students to three types of convincing evidence – stories, statistics, and star statements -- that they must master before their digital change efforts will succeed. 


Recognizing Different Perspectives - One of the keys to being persuasive is the ability to understand the full range of perspectives that people may hold on the issue being studied. Before crafting the final copy of persuasive pieces, Bill has students use this handout to think through how others may feel about the same topic. 


Convincing Evidence Tracking Sheet - Bill asks students to use this handout to track the evidence that they are collecting while researching for a persuasive piece.  


Persuasive Writing Scoring Rubric - This handout can be used by parents, teachers and students to evaluate the quality of a persuasive piece written by a student.  




Classroom Blogs as a Forum for Verbal Persuasion


One of the best tools for giving students the opportunity to practice verbal persuasion are blogs.  Blogs are powerful because they provide students with a transparent forum to reflect around the issues that they care about.  More importantly, they provide a very public audience and a sense of empowerment and voice that resonates with kids.  Finally -- like collaborative conversations -- blog comment sections provide opportunities for authors to have their thinking challenged by readers. 


Classroom blogging projects aren't ALWAYS successful, however.  And they don't AUTOMATICALLY leave students motivated.  Like all of the tools shared in Teaching the iGeneration, successful blogging projects depend on good pedagogy.  The following tips can help teachers to structure successful classroom blogging projects.



Tip 1 - Create ONE Topic-Focused Classroom Blog 


A lesson that I learned early in my work with blogs is that they are far more vibrant — and attract far more attention — when they are updated regularly.  The challenge for student bloggers is generating enough content to bring readers back for more.


That’s why I recommend that teachers always START classroom blogging projects with ONE classroom blog that EVERY student can make contributions to.  Doing so takes the pressure of generating content off of individual students simply because there are dozens of potential writers who are adding content at any given time.


I also tend to create blogs that are focused on a specific theme or topic rather than general blogs that contain content across several domains and/or interest areas.  By focusing our classroom blog on a specific theme that is connected to a cause that my kids are passionate about, I can tap into the desire of students to “do work that matters.”


For an example of this kind of blogging project, check out the Sugar Kills blog — a site that is designed to raise awareness about the amount of added sugar in the foods that today’s tweens and teens eat.  You can also see how my students feel about their #sugarkills blog by reading this interview that they completed for MiddleWeb magazine and learn more about my rationale for using cause driven learning as a focus for blogging projects by reading this article that he wrote for Smartbrief.




Tip 2 - Develop Lists of Other Student Blogs for Your Kids to Read During SSR Time


Another mistake that I made during my early work with classroom blogs was thinking that “blogging” started and ended with WRITING blogs.  In reality, there is a TON of hidden power in encouraging students to become avid READERS of blogs as well.  Doing so gives students samples of the kinds of writing that blogs make possible.  They can spot topics for new posts and post styles that they might never have considered.


Along with READING blogs, encourage your students to become active in the comment sections of the blogs that they are reading.  Responding to the bits written by others is an important bit in developing student bloggers because it provides short, safe opportunities to craft first-draft thinking about important issues.  Each comment helps students to practice articulating thoughts in writing.  What’s more, each comment can serve as a starting point for a longer post on a classroom or personal blog.


To encourage students to become avid readers of other blogs, I used Netvibes — a free RSS feed reader — to create this collection of blogs that students might enjoy. By doing so, I made it easy for students to find blogs worth reading.  I also gave students time during sustained silent reading to explore his classroom blog collection.


To encourage students to become active commenters on other blogs, I required that any student that chose to read blogs during sustained silent reading leave at least one comment on another blog.  To help them master the skills necessary to leave good comments, I used this handout.



If you teach elementary schoolers, this video on composing good blog comments made by Linda Yollis's second and third graders may be an even better resource to explore.  It makes the principles of good blog commenting approachable for younger audiences.  

And if you teach middle grades students, you might consider sharing this reflection on the characteristics of bad blog comments written by a fifth grade student named Max in Pernille Ripp's classroom.  Written in an engaging style that will resonate with students, Max's post reminds readers that "cool" isn't a comment worth responding to!



Tip 3 - Recruit Commenters to Push Against Student Thinking


For any blogger, the ultimate reward is crafting a piece that resonates with readers and leads to a TON of comments.

Every comment left for a blogger is proof positive that they DO have an audience and that they ARE being heard.  Just as importantly to classroom teachers, however, every comment is an opportunity for student bloggers to have their thinking challenged — and the tension that results whenever thinking is challenged ALWAYS leads to new learning as students are forced to refine and polish their positions on topics that they care about.


Need an example of this intellectual revision and public challenge in action?  Then check out this comment, left on a post that my students wrote about the amount of sugar that teens and tweens can eat on a daily basis.  Then, check out the action that the comment provoked in my student writers.


The challenge, however, is that classroom blogs won’t AUTOMATICALLY generate enough attention to receive comments.  The simple truth is that in a digital world where there are thousands of new blogs created every hour, “being heard” isn’t nearly as easy as “getting published.”


To address this challenge, I always recruit volunteer commenters when my students are working on a blogging project.

Most of the time these volunteers are parents or PTA members who want to help at school but can’t find the time to get away from work during the day.  I ask them to monitor the blog for a month at a time and to leave two or three comments a week that are designed to challenge students. Doing so generates momentum, ensuring that students feel the reward that comes along with having an audience.


If you are interested in establishing relationships with other classrooms that are blogging, spend some time poking around the growing collection of blogs at the Comments4Kids website.  And if you are trying to generate comments for individual blog entries, consider sharing a link to the post in Twitter using the #comments4kids hashtag.  Finally, if you are willing to commit to a longer term relationship with other classrooms that are blogging, consider signing up for a run at Quadblogging— a group that partners four classes together for cycles of reading and commenting on one another’s blogs.




Additional Resources for Structuring Student Blogging Projects


Like any other digital project, classroom blogs require structure in order to be successful.  Simply creating a blog and then keeping your fingers crossed hoping that kids will create the kind of content that you can be proud of is a strategy that is bound to fail.  The following handouts can be used by teachers to provide structure to classroom blogging efforts:


Teacher Tips for Blogging Projects : Over the course of his time blogging with students, session presenter Bill Ferriter has learned a TON of lessons about how to successfully manage classroom blogging projects.  This handout details 10 important tips that you might want to consider before starting your own classroom blogging projects. 


Teacher Checklist for Blogging Projects : Before successfully implementing any classroom blogging projects, teachers have to think through a broad range of technical and pedagogical considerations.  This list of questions can help you to do just that.  


Tips for Leaving Good Blog Comments : One of the mistakes that teachers make when setting up blogging projects is overlooking the role that comments can play in the blogging lives of their students.  This handout is designed to help students find ways to contribute to classroom blogs through comment sections. 


Blog Entry Scoring Checklist : This handout is designed to help teachers -- and potentially other students -- to spot the kinds of traits that define the best blog entries.  It is useful for helping to define the characteristics of quality content for students in the early stages of their blogging lives. 





Additional Blogging Resources Worth Exploring


Annotated List of Classroom Blogs to Explore



For many teachers, imagining the role that blogging can play in their instruction is difficult simply because they haven’t seen enough samples of what classroom blogs look like in action.  This Annotated List of Classroom Blogs to Explore  -- developed collaboratively by Bill Ferriter, William Chamberlain and Pernille Ripp -- might make a good starting point for teachers who are curious about just what a classroom blog could be.



Edspace Do Now Project



If the notion of teaching verbal persuasion by getting students involved in efforts to raise awareness around important local, national and international issues appeals to you but you're not QUITE ready to start your own classroom blogging project yet, the Edspace Do Now website might be the single best starting point for you to explore.


Maintained by KQED -- a public television station in Northern California -- the Do Now site uses short text selections and/or videos to introduce students to a new controversial topic every Friday afternoon.  Then, students are asked to take a position on the topic -- either by leaving a comment on the Do Now blog or by Tweeting their thoughts out using the #KQEDDoNow hashtag.


By regularly responding to the Do Now prompts -- and by reading the responses left by other participants -- your students will have a ton of simple opportunities to begin practicing the skills necessary to articulate their thinking in writing.  Better yet, regularly responding to the Do Now prompts will give your students a collection of first-draft thinking on important topics that can easily become longer blog entries at a later date.



Pernille Ripp's Classroom Blogging Resources



One of the most articulate advocates for classroom blogging is Pernille Ripp -- a fifth grade teacher in Madison, Wisconsin.  Her professional blog -- called Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension -- is full of practical ideas, suggestions, strategies and tips for making classroom blogging projects work.  If you're new to classroom blogging projects, you might dig this bit sharing six tips or this bit sharing fourteen steps for structuring successful blogging projects. 



Comments4Kids Project



One of the biggest challenges for teachers new to using technology in the classroom is imagining just HOW new digital tools can blend nicely with the kind of existing work that they are doing with students.  For teachers interested in making blogging a bigger part of their classroom practice, the Comments4Kids project -- and its Twitter Hashtag -- can be an invaluable source of inspiration. 


Started by William Chamberlain, Comments4Kids is an online home for classrooms that are passionate about blogging.  Visit the site to find a TON of sample blogs from across grade levels and curricular areas.  Just as importantly, visit to find blogs for your students to read and comment on as they learn more about the power of blogging.



Blogging in the Elementary Classroom



For elementary school teacher Linda Yollis, blogging was originally designed to be a way to give parents updates about what was happening in her second and third grade classroom.  She quickly realized, however, that blogging could be a powerful literacy experience for her primary grade students.  This bit -- written for the Smartblogs Education site -- describes the hows-and-whys behind blogging in the primary grades.  Most interesting are the suggestions about specific blogging activities and projects that Yollis runs on a regular basis.  



Blogging in the High School Classroom



For high school English Teacher Nicholas Provenzano, giving students the chance to write creatively about any topic is simply a must in a world where kids are constantly told what to write and when to write it.  That's why he's changed his own approach to classroom blogging this year.  Instead of asking students to focus on pieces related to the curriculum, he's asking students to focus on a series of interesting visual prompts.  Learn more about Nick's strategy for creating writers through creative blogging posts in this piece.



Blogging in the Math Classroom



Math educators often wonder just how blogs can be used to drive student thinking and participation in their classrooms -- and while there's no single answer that will fit in every classroom or at every grade level, session presenter Bill Ferriter often recommends that math teachers encourage their students to begin carefully evaluating the statistics that surround them in the form of graphs and charts. 


That's where the Let's Graph blog might play a role.  Originally introduced to Bill by High School Physics Teacher Sergio Villegas, the Let's Graph blog shares a collection of really funny graphs that are created quickly on the back of cocktail napkins. 


Math teachers interested in making a place for blogging in their classroom could get their kids to create a similar project, couldn't they?  Couldn't students create their own graphs sharing interesting information in an interesting way -- and then couldn't students review and evaluate the graphs being created by other students?


On a similar note, couldn't students collect examples of INACCURATE or MISLEADING graphs and statistics that they find in popular media sources and then blog about why those graphs and statistics are mathematically incorrect?  Couldn't they then revise the incorrect use of statistical information and create a new graph?


In the end, manipulating statistics -- and being able to identify when statistics are being used incorrectly -- is an essential skill for surviving in today's world.  Blogs are a great way for students to share what they are learning in this area.



Blogging in the Health and PE Classroom




One of the groups of people who feel that they are left out of conversations about classroom blogging are health and PE teachers, who don't automatically see a connection between the causes that kids care about, the writing skills that they are mastering in other classrooms, and the curriculum that they are required to deliver.  While he's not tangibly blogging with kids in the health and PE classroom, session presenter Bill Ferriter often recommends that PE teachers consider getting their students to create school-based Eat This - Not That blogs. 


The Eat This - Not That concept started with a series of books sponsored by Mens' Health magazine that detail ONE unhealthy food that people like to eat followed by ONE healthier option to replace it with.  Given the struggles that students in schools often have with making healthy eating choices, a school-based Eat This - Not That blog could be a cause that kids rally around. Creating an online home for knowledge about healthy eating would give students in health and PE classes the chance to make a difference AND study content related to the curriculum all at the same time. 




Blog Services Worth Exploring


While there is no single blog service that is perfect for every teacher in every school, several are popular with educators.  Here are three worth considering:



Wordpress -- Wordpress is one of the most popular blogging services used both in and beyond schools.  It's got a ton of really clean themes and layouts which authors enjoy and appreciate.  It also gives students experience with a tool that is widely used beyond school for publishing. 


Blogger -- Blogger is Google's blog service, which makes it another tool that is worth introducing to students who are likely to spend their lives working with Google's products.  While Blogger has many of the same features of both Posterous and Wordpress, the visual layout of Blogger blogs is not as polished or interesting as the other two services.


Kidblog -- Kidblog is a blog service that is specifically recommended by and for elementary school teachers.  One of the primary advantages of a service tailored for younger students is that you can find sample blogs worth exploring and the safety features are customized for individual age groups.  Here are some step -by - step directions for getting a Kid Blog off the ground.




What Will YOU Take Away From These Lessons?


Now that we have spent time exploring verbal persuasion, it is time to do a bit of reflecting. What lessons did you learn here that you think you will be able to use in your classroom immediately? Was there anything that made real sense? Is there anything that you’re still struggling to understand? What questions about verbal persuasion remain unanswered for you?







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