We are in the middle of our opinion writing unit. In my district we have decided to have kindergartners focus on sharing opinions about books, and the kids are meant to do it in the form of letters. There are lots of lessons that are required for this, but I find that the most important is to get kids to begin to support their opinions with some sort of reasoning or evidence.
I want to share a simple and authentic way that I have been using in my class to encourage my kids to use support for their opinions. We often take votes in class. Sometimes I have the kids vote on whether they want big blocks or little blocks open during free play. We might vote on which game we are going to play as part of our morning meeting. We might vote on whether we want a longer indoor recess, or a longer outdoor recess. I think voting is an important part of running a democratic class, and it helps kids to understand both how to have an opinion, and that their vote does not always win. We start voting early in the year, and I make sure to periodically hold a vote to keep the kids in practice. Our method is simple: I write the two options on the board and have the kids think of their choice. I then call on kids one at a time to tell me their choice, and I make tally marks on the board. We then count together and determine the winner.
Once we get to our opinion writing unit, I change the voting process slightly. Everything is the same, with one simple addition. Now, when kids tell me their choice they must also tell me why. For example, before they might just say “big blocks.” Now they would have to say, “I choose big blocks because I like building houses that I can fit in.” Before they might say, “outdoor recess,” whereas now they would have to say, “I choose outdoor recess because I want to get some fresh air.”
This simple change is huge in terms of helping kids understand how to support their opinions. Once they get used to this (after one or two votes), they are ready for me to take things one step further. Since my kids are ultimately going to have to write letters that contain their opinions about books, I begin to have my kids vote on which book they would like me to read aloud. Once again they must tell the class their choice and why.
This process is wonderful because the kids naturally use a wide variety of evidence. Last week I asked my kids to vote between reading “I Wanna New Room” and “Tooth Fairy’s First Night.” Without any additional prompting other than that they needed to use the word “because,” these were some answers I got:
“I choose “I Wanna New Room” because I like the part when Alex tapes up his brother’s side of the room.”
“I choose “I Wanna New Room” because I have to share a room just like Alex does.”
“I choose “Tooth Fairy’s First Night” because I have a wiggly tooth right now.”
“I choose “I Wanna New Room” because we have only read it one time, and we have read the other book twice.”
“I choose “I Wanna New Room” because I like the part when Alex’s little brother can’t get out of the room to take a bath because the door is on Alex’s side of the room.”
These were all genuine responses which I was able to teach from. My kids naturally came up with personal connections, specific examples from the books, and even comparative strategies to help them make their opinions. Ultimately I want my kids to learn how to cite specific evidence and back their opinions up with worldly and personal reasons in their writing, and here they are doing it!
It is always incredible to see how small, simple changes like this can create powerful teaching. How do you help your kids support their opinions?