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public figure: A person who has assumed a role of prominence in the affairs of society and who has persuasive power and influence in a community or who has thrust himself or herself to the forefront of a public controversy. Courts have given journalists more latitude in reporting on public figures. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Lesson Plans

How can we craft persuasive editorials to make our voices heard?

Claire Fontaine of Brooklyn Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Claire M. Fontaine
Brooklyn Academy
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Title: How can wecraft persuasive editorials to make our voices heard?


Students, particularly those of minority status and/or from disadvantaged backgrounds, are often frustrated by feelings of powerlessness. These negative feelings can manifest themselves in destructive behaviors or be channeled into more productive exercises. This unit seeks to empower students who are normally silenced and to challenge them to articulate their concerns constructively and persuasively in the form of editorials.

Goals for understanding
  • Students will distinguish between fact and opinion.
  • Students will identify suitable topics for editorials.
  • Students will use a given formula to write their own editorials.
Essential questions
  • What is the role of opinion writing in a newspaper?
  • What are good topics for editorials?
  • How can readers be persuaded most effectively?
Critical engagement questions
  • What are the different purposes of different forms of opinion writing?
  • What are the "hot topics" our readers are interested in?
  • What strategies can we use to convince our readers to see things our way?
Distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • Distribute a handout with a list of 20 statements. Some possibilities include:
    • "Suzanne was an emotionally strong woman who overcame many obstacles in her lifetime"
    • "Suzanne’s bout with breast cancer did not stop her from pursuing her professional goals"
    • "Jose ran the Boston Marathon five times in as many years"
    • "Jose performed admirably as a member of the 2004 Olympic team in Athens"
  • Students have ten minutes to label each statement as a fact (F) or an opinion (O). Review answers as a class, making the point that under no circumstance should opinions appear in news articles, but that they do have a place in the editorial/op-ed/column section of the newspaper.
    • Define vocabulary words: editorial, op-ed and column.
  • Distribute copies of the editorial/op-ed/column section of The New York Times to students. Students attach a Post-It note with the appropriate label (editorial/op-ed/column) to each piece in the section.
  • Assessment (class work): Accurate completion of Post-It note assignment.

Brainstorming editorial topics

  • Assemble a large collection of publications, including national papers, local papers, newsletters, news magazines and trade magazines. These will be used as references to jog students’ memories as to the important and interesting events of the day.
  • Allow students one class period to peruse the various publications and create lists of five possible topics in five categories:
    • things people (your readers) are talking about
    • things people are happy about
    • things people are angry about
    • things people want to know about
    • and things people need to know about.
  • The following class period, group students in threes to share their ideas. Each group of three decides on three topics in each category to record on chart paper and share with the whole class. Charts are posted on the wall and each group shares its ideas. Class favorites are designated with a star and will be considered for inclusion in the student publication.
  • Assessment (class participation): Teacher informally evaluates students on the quality and consistency of their participation.
  • Writing editorials
    • The teacher selects a topic from the class list with which to model the procedure for editorial writing.
    • The teacher models a procedure for writing an editorial (summary and background, your stance, your solution, evidence supporting your stance, the other side of the story and conclusion), soliciting student input along the way..
    • Each student then selects a topic of his or her choice on which to write an editorial. The selection does not have to come from the class list, though if it does not it must be cleared with the teacher. See this handout for suggestions on structure: http://www.highschooljournalism.org/teachers/AuthorArticles.cfm?articleId=191
    • Assessment (homework & test grade): Students should come to class the next day with a completed flowchart for a homework grade. Class time is spent in writing workshop, and an outline is due the next day for another homework grade. Writing workshop continues for the remainder of the week, at the end of which editorials are turned in for a test grade. They are graded on compliance with the formula, persuasiveness and effort.
  • "Beyond Argument: A Handbook for Editorial Writers," Edited by Maura Casey and Michael Zuzel, National Conference of Editorial Writers, 2001.
  • Copies of the New York Times editorial/op-ed/column section

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