Persuasive Essay Elements

This resource explores instructional practices for persuasive essay writing in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies classes.

This resource uses original content from the Texas Adolescent Literacy Academies: Focus on Writing (TALA Writing) professional development. Any handout numbers in this resource refer to the original TALA Writing handouts.

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Persuasive essay writing is a formal writing activity that can be used in all content areas.  Persuasive essays are written to influence the attitudes, thinking, or actions of the reader about debatable issues.

To write an effective persuasive essay, students need a basic understanding of the general structure of essays, including the following:

  • Every type of essay has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • The focus should always be on the development of ideas related to the topic, rather than a predetermined number of paragraphs (e.g., the five-paragraph essay).
  • The topic, purpose for writing, and audience drive an essay's structure.

Content area teachers also need to provide explicit instruction on the unique characteristics or elements of the persuasive essay.  

Locate Handout 30: Persuasive Essay Elements and Handout 31: Persuasive Essay Elements Mini-Chart from the handout packet.

Read the handouts. The mini-chart can be posted in a classroom or placed in students' writing folders or notebooks.

Use mentor persuasive texts and explicit teacher modeling to introduce these elements to students. It is important, however, to introduce only one or two elements at a time—more can overwhelm students.

When selecting a mentor text, keep in mind that it should align with the content you are teaching and should illustrate the specific elements, patterns, and forms of writing that you want your students to emulate in their own writing. When possible, use texts that students have previously read. The familiar content allows students to more fully concentrate on how the texts are written.

Locate the Analyzing Persuasive Writing Tool handout from the handout packet.

Read the questions posed for each persuasive essay element.

As you can see, this tool is similar to the one for expository essays. The questions guide an analysis of a mentor persuasive text. With this tool, students learn to read like writers as they interact with a mentor text and notice how it is written.

Next, use the questions on the Analyzing Persuasive Writing Tool to help you select a mentor persuasive text that would be a strong model to introduce and teach the elements of persuasive essays. In your teaching journal, write the title of this text and explain how it aligns with your curriculum.

Determining Purpose and Audience

Because persuasive and expository essays are both types of informational text, students may confuse the two and even switch from one type to the other within a single essay. Understanding the purpose of an essay is one way to help students match a form of writing with its unique elements to their purpose.

In persuasive writing, the primary purpose is to persuade or convince the reader of something—the writer's position or opinion about a debatable issue. But there is also a secondary purpose—to inform the reader about the issue. When students focus more on informing than on persuading, their essays become expository. Their primary purpose for writing changes.

Teachers can help students distinguish the types of essays by explicitly discussing the differences and comparing and contrasting content area mentor texts in each genre.

Locate the Differences Between Expository and Persuasive Essays handout from the handout packet.

Read the handout, which can be used with mentor texts to teach students the differences between these two types of informational essays.

Both purpose and audience determine the type of words, language, and level of detail needed to communicate a position effectively and persuade the audience to consider the writer's point of view. Teachers who provide explicit instruction on how to establish the purpose and identify the audience help their students get off on the right track before they even begin to write.

Locate the Writing Persuasively: Purpose + Audience = Word Choice handout from the handout packet.

Read the handout.

Now it’s your turn. Think about the content you currently teach or will teach during this grading period. What are two or three debatable and interesting issues that you could use as topics for persuasive essays? Record the topics in your teaching journal.

Plan and prepare a teacher think-aloud lesson to model how to use this persuasive prewriting handout for one of your topics. Teach the lesson to your students.

Then, have students work in pairs to complete the handout before they begin writing their own persuasive essays.

Noting Reasons and Researching Evidential Support

After the purpose, audience, and tone are determined, students can formulate supporting reasons and evidence to convince their readers to agree with their position or opinion.

Locate the Noting Reasons and Researching Evidential Support handout from the handout packet.

Read the guidelines on the handout.

One way to introduce the Reasons and Evidential Support Chart from the handout is to model for students how to complete the steps. Explain that the information may change as you research an issue and your position. For example, you may not be able to find evidence to support one or more of your reasons. Or you may find a more compelling reason or more supportive evidence.

In addition to reasons and evidence to support a writer's position, persuasive essays need at least one counterargument that presents a differing viewpoint.

Locate the Sample Lesson: Teaching Counterpoints in Persuasive Writing handout from the handout packet.

Read the sample lesson, in which a teacher models how to complete the "Yes, but . . ." section of the Reasons and Evidential Support Chart.

Once the chart is completed, students organize the information before they begin drafting their persuasive essay. Reread Step 2 of the Noting Reasons and Researching Evidential Support handout, which details a procedure to organize information.

Think about the following questions and record your thoughts in your teaching journal.

  • How often do you incorporate persuasive essays into your content area instruction?
  • How do you plan to incorporate these resources into your curriculum?