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The Struggle for Time: Using Persuasive Essays to Teach Elementary History

Screencap, Persuasive Essay Chant video, 20 Aug 2012, youtube

Educators are all too familiar with the unfortunate truth that what is tested drives a teacher’s instructional focus, energy, and time. Unfortunately, because history/social studies is not a formally tested subject in elementary schools in many states it frequently becomes the neglected subject. Additionally, with little to no sense of urgency to teach history thoroughly, it is easy to rely on “sound bite” instruction rather than quality, in-depth teaching. It can be a constant challenge for elementary educators to designate significant amounts of time for social studies instruction.

Another concern related to time constraints but specific to English Learners is the reality that frequently they receive less social studies instruction than their fluent English classmates. Some might argue that this is largely the result of state mandated ELD instructional minutes. In order to meet the required minutes many schools implement an ELD rotation block. During this rotation, while ELLs are receiving specific ELD instruction, their classmates are receiving social studies, art, or music instruction. This rotation block becomes the main time for social studies instruction, resulting in English Learners receiving minimal, if any, social studies instruction.

Including English Language Learners

Perhaps a successful remedy to this dilemma is the practice of fusing social studies, English language arts, and ELD instruction. Because so many historical issues have more then one side to argue, what better marriage than persuasive writing (a major ELA strand) and social studies content? For example, students could roleplay and engage with the following prompt: Should the colonists declare independence? Persuade the Loyalists to join in the struggle for independence or convince the Patriots that they should remain loyal to the King. When students have to effectively argue their point of view they are forced to thoroughly understand the historical background or context. They think critically while mastering academic language.

Engaging English Language Learners

Two strategies that can help students learn persuasive writing are using a chant and using a persuasive writing frame.

The Chant:

    • Students rhythmically repeat words and phrases. Chants are an essential element in supporting students in English Language Development as they increase fluency and facilitate the practice of language skills.
    • Chants help students learn because of their musical nature. The repetition of patterns helps students develop English fluency as well as memorize important academic writing patterns.
    • Through the use of repetition and having fun together (be as silly as you like) students will increase their automaticity with the language as well as memorize the persuasive frame, thereby creating a portable tool students can access at any time.
    • Using a chant is straightforward. The teacher (or leader) stands up in front of the class and 'chants' the lines. It's important to be as rhythmical as possible because these rhythms help students learn and remember.

See here for an example of students engaged in the persuasive essay chant. Also, click here for a sample format for the chant.

The Frame:

    • English Language Learners often have difficulty finding just the right words to explain, describe, and clarify what they are thinking. One way to help and further engage students in class discussions and improve their writing is to provide sentence/writing frames. See the Persuasive Essay Frame for an example and also this entry for more examples of writing frames.
For more information 

This is just a slice of a much broader work entitled, Freedom to Express: Promoting Civic Literacy, Reading, and Writing for the English Language Learner. This curriculum uses the First Amendment, namely, Freedom of Expression, as a frame of reference to launch and systematically teach ELLs how to successfully write a persuasive essay. To secure a copy please contact Michelle Herzog at Herczog_Michelle at lacoe dot edu.

 
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