The back and forth discussion went like this: “Make your writing convincing.”

“Get others to agree with your opinion.”

“An opinion is how you feel about something.”

This was not a discussion about debate prep or a high school English class. It happened in a first-grade classroom at Westlake Elementary School and the speakers were students responding to questions posed by their teacher.

As a result, there was no shortage of opinions expressed by the 6- and 7-year-olds who were engaged and enthusiastic about their persuasive writing projects.

Some might wonder how first-graders would know what an opinion is, much less how to write a persuasive piece about why a certain place, book, restaurant or game is better than the rest, the right choice or the thing you must buy. Yet, this is exactly what students did over the past month as their teachers introduced them to this form of writing.

Natalie Beaudry wrote about slime. She loves it. She loves the 10 colors it comes in and that you can't break it. “You can stick it back together. That's the cool thing about slime,” she opined before asking, “Don't you just love slime? Well, I do.”

Classmate Luci Zocchi set out to convince others that Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh” was downright great. “He does some funny stuff in his gloomy, old way,” she said.

Some students were fine-tuning what they'd written, strengthening their arguments and checking spelling. Others were seated on the floor in the middle of their classroom talking with their teacher, Jenny Larcey, about new topics they wanted to research and write opinions about. They included yummy pizza, playing soccer and scary dinosaurs along with a favorite game and restaurant.

Larcey carefully asked questions about a selected topic. Her goal was to have the students decide for themselves how to approach the topic and persuade others to agree with their point of view. She did not tell a student what to do.

Deb Wadden, International Baccalaureate coordinator, explained that the teachers give children choices and encourage them to actively participate in their own learning. “It builds enthusiastic readers and writers,” she said.

It also builds the attributes of the International Baccalaureate Program, or IB for short, while meeting Ohio Academic Standards.

In just over 100 days of school, first-grade students learned to focus and describe in detail a small moment in their lives and to research and write chapter books about penguins.

Besides learning how to conduct research, they learned how to cite sources and create tables of contents for their books, drawn from units of study from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

Wadden said students are engaged and learn because they can choose their own topics and create original art for their projects.

William Fortner, Ayah Abu-Ukkaz and Reece Cottle may not be aware of the planning their teacher, Jen Medved, and other first-grade teachers, did to facilitate their enthusiasm. William wrote about Pearl Harbor, explaining he developed an interest in World War II from watching television shows. Ayah wrote about “The Lion King” and Reece set out to offer a review of Westlake.

“There's a lot of nice friends and a lot of nice people,” he said. “Everything here is great!”

As he launched into the finale that extolled the good things about his community, he leaned forward, threw his arms out to the side and wore a big smile.

Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com.

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