Now that we have all of the evidence and data, how do we format and fit it so we can use it to support our claims? Students spent a week creating bar and circle graphs detailing the results of their student surveys to use as supporting evidence in persuasive essays. As the saying goes, we are data rich, but how do I dig through it to find the evidence? This is a high-level skill, sifting through graphs or through complex text to find the evidence to support a person's thinking. That's why politicians have hundreds of people on their staff who do nothing but find just the right evidence then use it to support a claim. Fifth graders only have themselves and a teacher to guide them.
One clear example is a student's use of a circle graph from our student survey. He initially wrote: "As you can see from the graphs, some people don't get to sit with their friends if they get hot lunch." This was an awesome teachable moment, so I stopped and demonstrated how to make a stronger statement. Instead, what if we say it this way? "As you can see from the graph, 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that 32% of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table." Students were able to clearly see and hear the difference, and we were dealing with the same evidence. It's not necessarily the evidence; it's how you interpret and use it that counts.
The skill of using text evidence is now being taught in all grades. However, the analysis piece is difficult for most kids and may take years to master. Students may argue that they used evidence from the text, but for what purpose? Most students think that just adding a graph to their writing is using evidence. I stress to them that they need to be doing the thinking, not their reader. We need to continue to model the analysis piece of the evidence, not the mere quoting of information.
As with all writing instruction, it's about seizing teachable moments and modeling, modeling, modeling. During the analysis of evidence, word choice becomes increasingly important. In the above example, I then modeled how to use word choice to the writer's advantage. Adding just a few words can bump the persuasive impact significantly. "As you can see from the graph below, only 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that a whopping 32% or almost one third of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table!"
Example of a whole-class teachable moment after conferencing with a student. Notice the original sentence edited out and the revised sentence after the impromptu mini-lesson..
With the six to a table rule people with hot lunch can’t sit with their friends because they have to wait in line to get their food. and Wwhen they get to the table where their friends are sitting there are already six to a table so you have to sit by yourself. As you see in the first graph only 68% people with hot lunch get to sit with their friends that means 38% of people don’t get to sit with their friends that is A LOT. In the second graph 48% of people want the rule graphs some people don't get to sit with their friends when they have hot lunch. In the second graph Most people in 6th grade don’t like the rule.
Persuasive writing continues to be a challenge for adults and kids alike. Academic persuasive writing must be viewed as a unique genre and very unlike op-ed writing. Organizing a compelling piece of academic persuasive writing must include "weaving and thinking" the evidence into the argument. The most effective way to help children hone their persuasive writing skills is to demonstrate this weaving of and thinking about the evidence.