Teach Students To Support Their Opinions With Reasons

How do you teach students to support their opinions with strong reasons? Most students can tell how they feel or think about something and give their opinion. Some students struggle with supplying reasons that support their opinion. Here are a few teaching ideas that you can integrate into your opinion writing unit.

This blog post focuses only on supplying reasons. I also have blog posts that focus on teaching other aspects of opinion writing:

This blog post goes hand in hand with the post about stating an opinion. Many of the photos and ideas you see in this post are also in the stating an opinion post.

While students will supply reasons during the same week they are taught to state an opinion, the focus during that week is to state an opinion. Students will give reasons, but their reasons may not be strong reasons. That’s okay. The goal during that week is to state an opinion using academic language.

Gauge whether or not your students can work on both skills within the same week. If they are confused by the reasons, pull back and only focus on stating an opinion using explicit sentence frames. If they need more practice with supplying reason outside of stating an opinion, these ideas will deepen their understanding of how to do that.

Ask students Why
After students state their opinion one of the easiest ways to teach supplying reasons is to ask, “Why?”

Just asking students why they think or feel a certain way will generate a lot of reasons and more opinions. Asking why helps students brainstorm ideas. Some of the ideas and reasons students give will be weaker than others, but it’s a great starting point.

Explicitly Teach the difference between a reason an opinion
When you read through a list of students’ reasons you might see more opinions. It’s important to teach the difference between an opinion and a reason.

Before you elicit ideas from students consider explicitly teaching them how to supply strong reasons. Give many examples of strong reasons and give students examples of weaker reasons.

Students who have had little formal experience with opinion writing will give reasons such as, “It’s fun.” or “I like it.”. These simple reasons can be accompanied with more words, but they are still weak reasons.

Why? (See what I did there?)

“It’s fun.” and “I like it.” blur the line between an opinion and a reason. An opinion tells what the writer thinks or feels about the topic. A reason answers the question WHY. Why does the student think or feel that way.

“It’s fun.” and “I like it.” can be developed into concrete reasons by asking why. Students can expand on WHY it’s fun or WHY they like it.

Emphasize that the reasons are where students convince the reader of their point of view or opinion.

Opinion and Reason Sort
One way to teach the difference between an opinion and a reason is through a sorting activity. Use a pre-made one in our Opinion Writing Resource or use students own ideas.

If students have brainstormed a list of ideas on an anchor chart or graphic organizer, get out some scissors and cut apart the ideas. Have students list several reasons for each idea. Have a discussion about whether or not the reason is an opinion or can stand on its own as a reason.See an example of this below.

You can also play a two corners game where you read a statement and students stand in one corner if they think it’s an opinion or another corner if they think it’s a reason.

Rank the Quality of Reasons
Deepen the discussion by ranking the reasons. Some reasons have more depth and value than other reasons and can help students form and defend a stronger opinion. Play a four-corners game where students rank the reasons on a scale of 1-4 and stand in the respective corners.

If you choose to use student samples, be sure that the samples are several years old so that students can’t attribute weak reasons to specific individuals.

Rewrite Weak Reasons
As you present students with weaker reasons, have them verbally reorganize the statement to be a strong reason. After you have done this orally, take it to writing. Give students a list of weak reasons to rewrite into stronger reasons.

Use an Anchor Chart or Graphic Organizer to Record Ideas
In the Picture Books for Opinion Writing post I go in depth about using an anchor chart to record the opinion components of mentor texts. Most mentor texts will have some solid reasons and some weaker reasons. You record an opinion and reason from the books you read with students and also rank the quality of the reasons.

In this post about solidifying students’ understanding of opinion writing, I go into detail about using student samples with a rubric or a checklist. As you spend this week working on helping students write reasons for their opinion, gather samples and keep them year after year to support your opinion writing unit.

Free Digital Anchor Chart of Picture Books
Would you like a free digital anchor chart of the picture books in this blog post? Click the image below and sign up to receive a link to copy this fully-editable Google Slides file. Use it as a starting point to create your own classroom anchor chart for opinion writing.

Generate a Lot of Opinions and Have students Write Reasons for 1-2 Opinions
During our first week of opinion writing we create a word web with all the fun things students like doing at recess.

We cut it apart and in pairs students write about 3 reasons for each activity. You can read more about this process in the State an Opinion blog post.

This process can be repeated for many topics. In the Opinion Writing Unit are graphic organizers for several topics as well as a blank one where teachers or students can fill in their own topic.

Use Sentence Frames to Teach Students to Supply Reasons
Like all of opinion writing components, sentence frames help students express their ideas using academic language.

Encourage students to use sentence frames and practice them through cooperative learning strategies outlined in the post on how to solidify students’ understanding of opinion writing. A few more ideas are below.

Provide a Lot of Practice
Students need a lot of practice supporting their opinions with reasons. Practice both in whole group settings, with partners, and in small groups. The more students practice orally with the sentence frames, the easier it will be for them to take it to writing.

Here are a few more ideas for ways students can practice giving reasons to support their opinions:

* Provide half your students with an opinion printed on a strip of paper. Have students pair up with a student who does not have a piece of paper. Student A reads the opinion. Student B supports the opinion with a reason. Student A reflects on whether Student B used a sentence frame and gave a reason vs. an opinion. Student A gives Student B the paper and the two students find another partner to repeat the process.
* Give your whole group an opinion statement and provide them with sticky notes. Have students write 1-2 reasons, one per sticky note. Sort the reasons whole group and determine whether the reason fits the criteria and expectations taught.

Opinion Writing Unit
Are you interested an Opinion Writing Unit that develops students’ academic language through engaging games and activities? Here’s a blog post all about it.


More Opinion Writing Blog Posts
Would you like to read more about how to teach opinion writing in the classroom? Take a look at these blog posts.