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Three Tips for Developing Persuasive Essay Topics Your Kids Will Actually Write About
Persuasive and argumentative writing is an important skill for students to develop in school. Compared to expository writing, it's also a more straightforward and enjoyable writing experience for most kids.
The trick is to develop persuasive essat topics that students will actually want to write about. Once you choose the right task or prompt, it's easy to get students to organize their thoughts and put them on paper.
Choose the wrong task and you'll have a hard time motivating your kids to write. And if they don't write... how can you help them improve?
Instead, follow these three tips to make sure that you give your students a good selection of topics from which to pick.
Use Persuasive Essay Topics Students Care About
Perhaps the most important step in choosing a good persuasive essay topic is to base it around an issue that students can actually care about.
I'm a teacher. Therefore, things like curriculum, tenure rights, professional development, educational philosophy, and charter schools all appeal to me. They're controversial topics in the news, and I could argue about them till I'm blue in the face.
Students, on the other hand, probably couldn't care less. Instead, you need to craft writing prompts around issues of concern for your students.
One obvious area to draw on here is school rules. The rules of your school have a direct impact on your students' lives, and students will definitely have an opinion about things like the use of cell phones and dress codes. Try this list of 20 persuasive writing prompts about school rules for inspiration.
Other areas of interest might include sports, movies, pop culture, entertainment news, etc. A student who likes rap would happily argue whether Eminem or Jay-Z was a better artist, while a student who likes Twilight might be happy to argue about whether the movies did a good job portraying the essence of the books. These are the things that will yield good persuasive essays.
Debatable Topics Are Good Persuasive Essay Topics
A second important thing to consider is whether the question your asking is actually debatable. The point of a persuasive writing prompt is to have students write an argumentative or persuasive essay.
But how do you argue vehemently about an issue that is clearly one sided? While you might be able to marshall a good argument and write a compelling essay, the problem is that one sided topics simply won't pique a student's interest. Thus they're not effective topics.
For example, a topic about whether or not the Holocaust was a genocide probably isn't very compelling. There's pretty much one acceptable answer to that question. Instead, you might ask students to write a persuasive essay about whether Hitler or Stalin was a "worse" dictator. Although this requires some level of background knowledge, reasonable people could make an argument for either choice.
This is especially important because one aspect of an effective persuasive essay is that students can anticipate and shut down counter arguments. That would be difficult to do if every rational person argued the same things as your students.
Choose Topics For Which Students Have Knowledge (Or Provide It)
Finally, you want to make sure that your kids actually have something to do. While persuasive writing is based on opinion, many persuasive writing topics do call for some level of background knowledge.
Take, for example, these ten persuasive writing prompts about political issues. They are all highly contentious issues in the news, and people across the country argue about them every day. An informed citizen would have no problem writing an essay in support of one side or the other. But if a student knows nothing about the federal budget, revenues, and expenditures, how can you expect them to make an effective argument about the best approach to dealing with the federal deficit?
This is one good reason to base writing tasks around topics with which students have personal experience. However, it's also a good reason to provide students with a background information through an assigned reading, a video clip, or a lecture. You could also develop a webquest, like these persuasive writing webquests, to guide students through completing research before they craft their argument.
Just remember that good arguments are based on both facts and opinions. So don't ask your students to write about persuasive writing topics on which they have absolutely no knowledge.
Choose Your Topic. Work on Organization.
Once you've selected a set of persuasive essay topics and writing prompts from which you students can choose, it's time to work on the actual writing and organization.
How to actually write a persuasive essay and how to teach the process is outside the scope of this hub. However, you may want to try using the interactive essay map described here. It's a nice tool that I've used with my students in the past to help them outline arguments for expository essays, and it should work just as well for an argumentative essay.
Just remember to choose a topic about which students care, choose a topic with multiple rational answers, and ensure that your students have some background knowledge. Do that, and you should be good to go.