How to Start an Opinion Writing Unit: Brainstorming Reasons


I love doing an opinion writing unit, but I tend to get students in my classroom that struggle to write with any substance. Watch the video below to see a walkthrough of the first part of my opinion writing unit: brainstorming and forming opinions.

Use a writing prompt that has substance.

Try to choose a prompt that has meaty arguments on both sides. If your students can’t discuss the issue for more than 5 minutes, then your prompt doesn’t have enough substance.

No substance: Which is better, chocolate or vanilla ice cream?

Great substance: Should bullies be arrested?

I like the latter prompt because it’s a very complex issue. You can even delve deeper, discussing what degree of bullying would deserve jail time. Bullying is also a very relevant issue for your students.

Let students form their own arguments.

Use discussion as a way to have students form their own arguments in the beginning. Don’t go straight to a mentor text, or you’ll get thirty essays with the exact same reasons and evidence. I use an organizer that has them brainstorm some of the reasons behind both sides of the argument. This is a great way to prepare them for when they have to write a counterargument in sixth grade, and it’s just a good idea in general to know what the opposing side might be thinking when you choose your own argument.

Watch the video above to see the organizer I use for this, then enter your email below to get a free copy of the resource.

Color code text.

When it’s time to go to the text for supporting reasons and evidence, have students color code. It doesn’t have to be green for yes and red for no (since not all prompts are yes or no answers), but that’s what I use as an example in this video. You can do purple for one side and blue for another.

Reasons and Evidence:

Yes, bullies should be arrested. green

No, bullies should not be arrested. red

GMOs are not necessary, and are actually harmful. blue

GMOs are necessary for our growing population. purple

Spending a good deal of time on the first step, brainstorming, will help you get better quality opinion pieces from your students. You can find the entire process in my Complete Guide to Opinion Writing resource.


April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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