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Writing persuasive texts

Penny Hutton

The ability to use language to influence an audience has been highly valued for many centuries. In classical Roman and Greek civilisations the capacity to use spoken language to influence an audience was known as ‘rhetoric’ (literally meaning the ‘art of an orator’) and considered the most important attribute of an educated man.

Rhetoric referred not only to the specific language and grammatical choices that the speaker made in order to sway his audience but also the logic and structure of the argument being presented.

By the Middle Ages rhetoric had become a university discipline and the emphasis was shifting from skills in oracy to skills in writing.

Today the ability to use language skilfully and precisely to persuade and influence others continues to be highly valued within our language repertoire. This paper will consider how students can be supported to create and interpret a variety of persuasive texts.

Persuasive texts in and out of school

Every day we are bombarded with persuasive texts: oral, written, visual, digital and multimodal. These range from the advertisements that bombard us to the insistences of ‘shockjocks’; from the opinion columns and pages of our newspapers to the didactic narratives we read; from the speeches of politicians to the trial summations of barristers. Other texts, such as reviews of books, performances and exhibitions also include persuasive elements.

As readers, viewers and listeners we need to deconstruct these messages to determine what point of view is being espoused and how we might stand in relation to that point of view.

Within school settings, students are frequently asked to express opinions both formally and informally for a variety of purposes and to a range of audiences. For example, they engage in class discussions, where the topics are connected to what is going on in the classroom at the time and the audience is their peers and teacher.

As students move through schooling the topics of discussion may become distanced from their everyday experiences and more related to particular areas of learning, such as the role of women in Ancient Greek society or the safety of genetically modified food products. However, the topic of the discussion is still determined by the classroom context and the audience is still familiar.

The way students are asked to speak in class can vary greatly. One of the features of class discussions is the way an idea from one student can be picked up and elaborated by another, or a tangential or opposing idea might be introduced. The order in which speakers participate is frequently random.

Sometimes, however, students have to speak in a more ordered fashion.

Sketch of a robed man

Costume of the allegorical figure ‘Rhetoric’ by Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1585. Source: Uffizi Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

For example, they may participate in class or school parliaments, where the topics can range from the everyday (for example, whether additional bike and scooter racks should be provided) to the more abstract (for example, whether to increase the number of representatives in the school parliament). In these instances, the setting is more formal and the audience is a little less familiar, though still mainly their peers.

Students may also participate in debates. In this case the structure is formal. Speakers are ordered and have time allocations. As in the previous examples, there is an expectation that the arguments should be logically structured and presented. The language of the speaker will more closely approximate the written mode and the audience may be unfamiliar.

At the same time as students are participating in a variety of oral experiences, they are also encountering persuasive texts in print, digital and multimodal formats throughout their schooling. They will be required to both interpret and create such texts.

The Australian Curriculum: English requires that students can identify, form, justify and support their opinions from the first year of schooling. Students need to be explicitly taught how to analyse texts critically in order to determine the messages and assumptions being expressed and to recognise the grammatical and/or visual techniques and language choices that have been selected to convey the intended meaning. Some relevant content descriptors from the Australian Curriculum: English are included in this paper.

Structural features of persuasive texts

A persuasive text usually begins with a proposition or contention (often referred to as the ‘thesis statement’) that the speaker or writer wishes the audience to agree with. The position of the thesis at the beginning is important so that the audience is instantly oriented to what will be presented. However, sometimes a speaker or writer prefers not to lead the audience so directly. When this is the intention, the thesis is presented later in the text.

Depending on the context, the thesis may be mundane and everyday, for example ‘A child cannot expect to be happy and accepted by his/her peers unless he/she owns a “GoFaster” scooter’, or profound and abstract, for example ‘The parliament of Australia must alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic’.

Then the contention or proposition is elaborated upon using a series of logically sequenced arguments that are supported by evidence.

Imagine that the first example above is a multimodal text. The arguments would be presented visually and orally and would be supported by appropriate music — [Scene 1] happy, healthy children riding scooters in a park — a lone child observes from the sidelines looking forlorn and wistful — he is ignored by the group. [Scene 2] Child excitedly opens a colourfully wrapped box to reveal a ‘GoFaster’ scooter. [Scene 3] Exuberant child rides confidently into park and is welcomed enthusiastically by all. A final voice-over may reinforce the thesis by stating overtly or covertly that all kids need ‘GoFaster’ scooters to be part of the ‘crowd’.

The second example would most likely be a formal piece of writing, which could either be presented in print or as a speech. The proposition would be followed by a series of arguments. These may refer to the maturity and independence of Australia; the incongruity of having a head of state who is not Australian and does not reside in Australia; that Australians do not have the right to choose who will be their head of state, the multicultural nature of modern Australia, etc. Each argument would be elaborated upon, perhaps by drawing on evidence from Australian history or the experiences of other nations. Finally, the text would draw all the arguments together in a conclusion that supports the original contention. Although the text could be either spoken or written, the register of the language would be quite formal.

In both examples the point of view that the author holds and wishes the viewer or reader to assume is quite clear from the selection of the arguments and supporting evidence.

Supporting students to interpret the propositions or positions advocated by texts

Students need to be given many opportunities to explore how points of view are conveyed through texts. One useful strategy is to use quality literature where the author clearly wishes to deliver a particular message or viewpoint and has chosen the narrative structure for conveying it. By examining the language choices and visual elements of the narrative, students will learn how texts are constructed to influence the reader.

A few examples of literary texts, grouped in broad themes, are provided below. They can be used in the classroom to springboard discussion about how authors and illustrators can influence the reader to a particular point of view through their choice of language and images.

The Text Analyst role

Following are some strategies for using the Text Analyst role (see below) from the Four Roles or Resources of an Effective Reader model to determine the ideological position taken by the author of the text and how the ideas, language and images in the texts influence reader perceptions.


The Four Roles or Resources of an Effective Reader are: Code breaker (the relationships between spoken sounds and written symbols, the grammar of texts, the structural features of texts); Text user (understanding the purposes of different texts and the structural conventions for achieving these purposes); Text participant (making meaning by drawing on prior knowledge and experience and knowledge of similar texts); Text analyst (understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners).

Examples of literary texts

Animal rights/Animals in captivity

Conservation/Endangered Species

Colonisation/Indigenous issues

  • Marsden J. (2002) The Rabbits

Refugees

While the texts selected could be approached using all four resources, only the Text Analyst role is addressed here. For more information on the Four Roles of the Reader see Holliday. M, (2008) Strategies for Reading Success. The strategies will relate to the following three example content descriptions from the Australian Curriculum: English, Literature strand.

Content descriptions

  1. Discuss the nature and effects of some language devices used to enhance meaning and shape the reader’s reaction, including rhythm and onomatopoeia in poetry and prose (Year 3, Examining literature ACELT1600)
  2. Recognise that ideas in literary texts can be conveyed from different viewpoints, which can lead to different kinds of interpretations and responses (Year 5, Examining literature ACELT1610)
  3. Reflect on ideas and opinions about characters, settings and events in literary texts, identifying areas of agreement and difference with others and justifying a point of view (Year 7, Literature and context ACELT1620)

Source for content descriptions above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

Text: The Fisherman and the Theefyspray (1994) by Paul Jennings, Illustrated by Jane Tanner

Addressing content description 1: ACELT1600

A fisherman in a small boat by a large fish jumping out of the seaAfter reading the book with the students, ask what they have learned about the Theefyspray. Possible responses may include:

  • at first there was one Theefyspray living alone in the ocean
  • the mother took good care of the baby
  • the Theefyspray is a very colourful and beautiful fish
  • the Theefyspray is only colourful when it is in the ocean.

Record these responses and tell students that as you read the book again they will be language detectives and look for words and groups of words that the author has used to describe the Theefyspray and its life.

One example is: … the last Theefyspray looked out from its lonely lair. If students are not already familiar with the term ‘alliteration’, it should be introduced and explained to students. Ask students to listen for other examples of alliteration as you continue reading, for example. … silent scream, … every fin fluttering in fear. As students identify further examples, ask them to consider how these language choices indicate what Paul Jennings is persuading the reader to think.

Read the sentence, They hunted together, mother and child. Ask students to suggest who is meant by the word ‘together’ and why the author then added the words ‘mother and child’. Introduce the term ‘emphasis’ and explain that authors will often use this technique to add strength to an idea they want to convey.

Ask students what evidence can be found in the first half of the story for their assertion that the Theefyspray were colourful and beautiful. Students will refer to the illustrations. Use this opportunity to talk about how messages and information can be conveyed in non-verbal ways.

Finally, ask students why they think the fisherman returned the little fish to the ocean and what is Paul Jennings persuading the reader to think and believe by this action.

This may spark a class discussion and further study on sustainability and the conservation of endangered species.

Text I Did Nothing: The Extinction of the Gastric-Brooding Frog  (2004) Gary Crew and Mark Wilson

Addressing content description 2: ACELT1610

Cover with the image of a frog, framedBefore reading the book with the class, discuss the possible meanings of the sentence ‘I did nothing’, for example:

  • It’s not my fault
  • I’m not to blame
  • It wasn’t me
  • I didn’t intervene
  • I should have done something.

Read the book to the students, excluding the epilogue. Discuss with students how they would now interpret the title from the perspectives of Zeek and Cory and how Gary Crew has used these differing interpretations to persuade the reader to a particular point of view.

Use the following focus questions to guide discussion.

  • How did Cory react when Alex stood on the frog?
  • Why did he feel unable to stop Alex?
  • What things did Cory do that show he was disturbed by the behaviour of Alex and Nigel?
  • What is Zeek’s response to Cory’s explanation; ‘ … all that was a long time ago … I was just a kid, eh’ ? Is his response justified from your point of view?
  • Why was Zeek less willing to accept that the frog was extinct than his boss?
  • Zeek’s boss could be described as cynical. What evidence can be found in the book to support this description?
  • What was Gary Crew’s intention when he titled the book ‘I did nothing’?
  • How has the author used the events in the story to persuade us to a particular point of view?
  • What is your position in relation to the issues raised by the author?

Read the epilogue and discuss the function of the epilogue in the context of the book. Introduce the term ‘didactic’ to describe texts that are written to teach a lesson and ask students to recall any other stories they have read that could be considered didactic.

Text: The Rabbits (2002) by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

The Rabbits in military garb on book coverAddressing content description 3: ACELT1620

Textual analysis of this allegorical picture book is best undertaken in groups that are small enough for each student or pair of students to have a copy of the book.

Ask students to read the book independently and reflect on what it means to them. Then ask students to offer their interpretation. These would typically include the:  

  • effects of human habitation on the natural environment
  • impact of feral species on an environment
  • impact of colonisation on indigenous peoples
  • effects of industrialisation on the environment.

Introduce the term ‘allegory’ and tell students that this is a figurative device used by authors, whereby an abstract idea is presented in a concrete way. Explain that it is a powerful way to convey a point of view or concept. Ask students to consider how allegory has been used by the author as a technique for persuading the reader to take a particular position in relation to the issues they have identified.



While writing didactic texts, such as these, is the province of a truly sophisticated writer, generally within the primary and early secondary school context persuasive writing will most often be expository in nature.

From talking to writing

Writing persuasive texts within the classroom should flow naturally from topics and issues that are relevant and of interest to the students. They should be preceded by focused learning activities during which students research the topic and gather evidence for the point of view they hold. Oral discussions should also precede writing so that students can try out their ideas, hear the views of others and refine their thinking.

A useful strategy is to record students during an oral discussion, then transcribe their interaction and use the transcription to demonstrate the movement from informal, spoken language to formal, written text.

Consider, for example, a senior primary class discussion on a council’s decision to demolish a heritage building to make way for a block of home units. The numbers below refer to order of individual speakers.

  1. They should protect it and not pull it down because it’s very old.
  2. Yes, it’s more than a hundred years old
  3. and it was one of the first houses built around here.
  4. Also, it’s in good condition so people can still live there
  5. or it could be used as a place where kids can go after school because we haven’t got much to do around here.
  6. If they want more units, they should choose another place to build them
  7. like along the main road.

Point out to students that the pronouns ‘they’ ‘it’ and ‘we’ and the demonstratives ‘here’ and ‘there’ can be well understood in the context of the classroom discussion, but need to be referenced or fully described for an audience that is removed from the immediate environment.

Jointly construct a text that conveys the same information as the students had volunteered in their oral discussion, but which would be understood by a distant audience, such as readers of the local newspaper, for example:

Greenslopes Council should save Tahlia House from demolition because of its heritage value. Tahlia House was built in 1899 and was one of the first residences in Greenslopes.

The building has been well maintained over the years and is still habitable. Without much work it could be converted to a Youth Centre. Currently there is little to occupy young people after school in this area and a place where they can meet and engage in interesting activities is needed.

If Council is committed to providing additional high-density housing, then other locations should be considered. Green Parade would be a far more suitable location because it has better access to public transport.

Before embarking on the destruction of such a fine and historic building, Council should consider the views of the community and the options available.

Analysing the structure of persuasive texts

As has been mentioned previously, an expository text begins with a proposition that the writer will then argue for with supporting evidence and using language that aims to convince the reader to take up the same position. Each argument will form a separate paragraph with the final paragraph summarising the arguments and/or reinforcing the position taken. Teaching students about these structural features assists them to understand how to paragraph their writing.

Content descriptions — analysing structure

Understand that paragraphs are a key organisational feature of written texts (Year 3, Language ACELA1479)

Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts containing key information and supporting details for a widening range of audiences, demonstrating increasing control over text structures and  language features (Year 4, Literacy ACELY1694)

Analyse how text structures and language features work together to meet the purpose of a text. (Year 6, Literacy ACELY1711)

Source for content descriptions above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).


Rhetorical features of persuasive texts

Writers employ a variety of techniques and language devices in order to make their writing more forceful. Some of these devices are in the next content descriptions below.

Language for expressing attitudes

Writers can express their attitude towards a proposition, person, action or situation in multiple ways.

Using emotive or affective language

This refers to the register of language that has been selected to ‘tug at the heart strings’ or otherwise invoke a strong emotional reaction. Nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs can all express both positive and negative attitudes and feelings.

For example, Residents are incensed … The devastating cyclone wreaked havoc … The winner’s jubilation …, … the last Theefyspray looked out from her lonely lair.

During shared reading sessions identify words that describe emotions, both positive and negative. Construct vocabulary lists of the words found, categorised by their word class, such as nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs.

Content descriptions — expressing attitudes

Identify language that can be used for appreciating texts and the qualities of people and things (Year 2, Language ACELA1462)

Examine how evaluative language can be varied to be more or less forceful (Year 3, Language ACELA1477)

Understand how to move beyond making bare assertions and take account of differing perspectives and points of  view (Year 5, Language ACELA1502)

Understand how authors often innovate on text structures and play with language features to achieve particular aesthetic, humorous and persuasive purposes and effects (Year 6, Language ACELA1518)

Source for content descriptions above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Encourage students to add to the list with words they encounter in their own reading. The list can then be a resource for students’ writing. Have students ‘play’ with the vocabulary lists to construct effective noun and verb groups.

Affective language can be quite subjective, so as students progress through the years of schooling, they need to be taught how to express their personal points of view in ways that make their opinion appear to be ‘world view’ and objective. Techniques for doing this will be described later.

Using language to describe or evaluate the worth or quality of things and processes

These are the language choices that indicate the speaker or writer’s view of the merit of something or some action, for example, Council’s response was quite disappointing … The inefficient use of scarce water resources …, … it was one of the most highly evolved amphibians that ever lived.

Using language to judge or evaluate human behaviour

This refers to the language resources that enable the speaker or writer to judge the behaviour of another in terms of:

(i) their social esteem, for example Her ground-breaking and innovative research … The councilor’s competence was questioned… The hard-working ants …; and

(ii) their social sanction, in terms of morality and ethics, for example, The wicked witch … The operation was conducted covertly … They won’t understand the right ways.

When discussing these language features with younger students, it is not necessary to use terms such as ‘social sanction’ but rather to use everyday terms. For example, after reading a text such as Rose meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham, ask students to identify some of the words that Bob Graham has used in the first part of the book to tell the reader what kind of person Mr Wintergarten was, for example, mean, horrible, growled.

Use of intensifiers

In addition to using specific words and phrases in order to convey a variety of emotions and opinions, we can also increase or decrease the strength of the message through the use of intensifiers. Consider these three statements: I am concerned. I am extremely concerned. I am just a little concerned.

Intensifiers can be:

  • adverbs, for example, somewhat, certainly, really, definitely
  • adjectives, for example, scarce, abundant, exquisite, obnoxious  
  • nouns, for example, stench, furore, annihilation, anguish
  • verbs, for example,  abhor, renounce, refute

Students can be supported to recognise the gradations of meaning by constructing vocabulary clines. These may describe a concept or attribute from positive to negative, for example:

scent » perfume » fragrance » aroma » odour » smell » stink » stench

or an action in terms of its intensity, for example:

saunter » amble » wander » stroll » walk » pace » stride

Modality

Modality refers to the language choices that allow a speaker or writer to express degrees of probability, usuality, certainty or obligation of something. It is the language that allows the speaker or writer to open up or close down the options for negotiation. Low modality language expresses tentativeness and allows for negotiation while high modality language expresses certainty and closes off negotiation.

Content description — modality

Understand the uses of objective and subjective language and bias (Year 6, Language ACELA1517)

Source for content description above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).


Modality can be expressed through:

  • action verbs, for example, as damage, destroy, annihilate
  • modal verbs, for example, might, must; could, shall/will
  • modal adverbs, for example definitely, possibly; supposedly, certainly
  • modal nouns, for example, likelihood, possibility, certainty
  • modal adjectives, for example, possible, apparent, obvious

Learning how to use modality appropriately will not only assist students to be more effective speakers and writers but is also essential for understanding how the texts they hear and read are positioning them to a particular view. English as another language learners (EAL) may require support in recognising how modality can be used subtly to alter meanings (or not so subtly sometimes).

Vocabulary clines such as those described above will assist students to recognise the gradations of meaning that can be made.

Nominalisation

Nominalisation is the language device that allows verbs or clauses to be changed into nouns. Consider these two sentences from the sample oral and written texts above:

They should protect it and not pull it down because it’s very old.

Greenslopes Council should save Tahlia House from demolition


Content description — nominalisation

Understand the effect of nominalisation in the writing of informative and persuasive texts (Year 8, Language ACELA1546)

Source for content description above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

The clause ‘pull it down’ has been nominalised as ‘demolition’. Nominalisation is a feature of persuasive texts because it allows the writer to abstract ideas and concepts and to remove the ‘doer’ or agent from an assertion, thereby making it seem objective and therefore more difficult to refute. Consider these two sentences:

  1. National parks are being damaged / because campers are leaving their rubbish behind / and destroying the natural environment.
  2. The result of irresponsible human activity in national parks is the destruction of the natural environment.

Sentence 1 has three clauses while sentence 2 has only one clause. The information has been compacted and abstracted. Clause 1 has been nominalised as ‘the result’, clause 2 as ‘irresponsible human activity’ and clause 3 as ‘the destruction’. The agent responsible for the destruction (campers) has been removed, making the statement a generalisation and therefore appear objective.

Other language devices which can be used effectively in persuasive texts include the use of:

  • abstract nouns, such as problem, issue, opinion
  • repetition, for example, To lose this magnificent building is to lose an important part of our heritage. Up went the little Theefyspray. Up to where no fish should go.
  • exaggeration, as in Electing Joe Bloggs as mayor will be the end of life as we know it. People kill everything.
  • simile and metaphor, for example This government gives with one hand and takes with the other.
  • rhetorical questions, as in, Is this the future you want? Who will save us from the rabbits?

A New Grammar Companion book cover

Grammatical features of persuasive texts

For further information and examples grammatical features discussed to follow, including pronouns and other referring words, text connective, clauses and sentences, see A New Grammar Companion for Teachers by Beverly Derewianka


Cohesion

Cohesion refers to the grammar resources that enable relationships to be controlled and tracked through a text. They include pronouns and other referring words, text connectives and conjunctions.

Content description — cohesion

Understand how texts are made cohesive through the use of linking devices including pronoun reference and text connectives (Year 4, Language ACELA1491)

Source for content description above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)


Pronouns and other referring words

These are the grammatical items that are used to avoid the constant repetition of nouns, for example:

  • The councillors have voted to demolish Tahlia House despite protests from this community. They are clearly out of touch with our feelings. (personal pronouns)
  • Green Parade would be a more suitable location for the proposed development. The units should be built there. (demonstrative)
  • There are multiple reasons for retaining Tahlia House in its present state. These include … (demonstrative)
  • The mayor is in favour of the proposal and the councillors have a similar view. (comparative)
  • Australia’s rainforests are in danger. Such unique habitats … (substitution)

One way to teach students about how pronouns and other referring words are used appropriately in a text is to display a sample text on a whiteboard or overhead projector and, using different coloured highlighters, track the references. Students who are learning English as an additional language may require additional support in recognising the references, particularly less obvious ones, such as substitution.

Text connectives

Text connectives serve to guide the reader through a text by linking and making connections between sections of the text and signalling to the reader how the text is developing. They serve a number of purposes, such as:

  • clarifying, for example, in other words, in fact, for example
  • showing cause and effect, for example, therefore, for that reason, consequently
  • indicating time, for example, then, meanwhile, finally
  • sequencing ideas, for example, subsequently, at this point, briefly, to summarise
  • adding information, for example, furthermore, likewise, too, apart from that
  • expressing a condition or concession, for example, otherwise, however, in any case, despite this.

Conjunctions

Unlike text connectives, which operate at a whole-text level, conjunctions can only operate within sentences to link clauses. Teaching students about how the different types of conjunctions operate in sentences is one way of assisting them to write clear and accurate sentences. There are two types of conjunctions, coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions link two main or principal clauses, for example:

The building has significant historical value and it is an asset to the community. (The main clauses are in green.)


This sentence could have been written as two sentences, for instance:

The building has significant historical value. It is an asset to the community.


It could also have been correctly written as:

The building has significant historical value and is an asset to the community.


In this case the pronoun ‘it’ has been omitted because it is clear that both clauses provide information about ‘the building’. The omission of the pronoun in this case is known technically as ‘ellipsis’ and is an example of another aspect of cohesion.

Examples of coordinating conjunctions include: and, but, so, or, nor, yet.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions initiate a dependent clause, that is, a clause which is dependent on the main clause for its meaning, for example:

The council passed the development application despite receiving complaints from the community. (Main clause in green, subordinate conjunction in bold, and the dependent clause is italicised).


This sentence could be rewritten as:

Despite receiving complaints from the community, the council passed the development application.


Writers and speakers will choose which clause to place at the beginning of the sentence depending on which part of the message they wish to emphasise. Note also, the use of the comma to separate the dependent clause from a main clause in this example.

Examples of subordinating conjunctions include: when, whenever, because, for, if, although, as, while, whereas, unless, before, after

Learning about clauses and sentences

Sentences can be simple, compound or complex.

Simple sentences

A simple sentence consists of one independent clause. Independent clauses are sometimes referred to as main or principal clauses. Each independent clause is a complete message and usually has three elements: a subject (the doer) a finite verb and an object (the done to).

Content description — clauses and sentences

Understand the difference between main and subordinate clauses and that a complex sentence involves at least one subordinate clause (Year 5, Language ACELA1507)

Source for content description above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)


A finite verb is one, which can be located in time, for instance the present, past or future (build, built, will build). Verbs that cannot be located in time are known as non-finite.

The following sentence is a simple sentence in the past tense demonstrating a subject-verb-object pattern.

The council rejected the application
 doer  verb  done to
 subject  verb  object

A simple sentence may also consist of the subject (or thing), a relating verb and a description. In sentences such as these, the description, sometimes referred to as the ‘complement’, completes the meaning of the subject. For example:

The building has significant value
 thing  relating verb  description
 subject  relating verb  complement

Other simple sentence structures have only a subject and a verb. For example:

Council  is  meeting
subject  verb  

Commands have yet another structure. They omit the subject (or doer) and begin with the verb followed by the object (done to). For example:

 Read  the  petition
 verb  done to
 

A simple sentence may also contain an adverbial element such as a prepositional phrase. For example:

 The building
 at the corner of Park and Brown Streets
 has  significant historical value
 subject  prepositional phrase
relating
verb
 complement

Compound sentences

A compound sentence has two (or more) independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. For example:

 The residents felt strongly about the council’s actions  so  they decided to take up a petition
 main clause
   main clause
 and   deliver it to the next meeting
   main clause

It is essential that the ideas expressed in a compound sentence are logical and related.

Note: Students need to understand the difference between a successful compound sentence and one which contains too many clauses joined by conjunctions such as and and and then. Such sentences are often referred to as ‘run-on’ sentences and are not successful.

Complex sentences

A complex sentence has a main clause and one or more clauses that are dependent on the main clause for meaning. For example:

 The building should be preserved  until a proper heritage plan is developed.
 main clause
 dependent clause

As shown earlier, the dependent clause could be placed at the beginning of the sentence to shift the emphasis, in this case to the fact that council has ignored the residents’ wishes. For example:

 Ignoring the wishes of local residents,  the council appears bent on development at all costs.
 non-finite (dependent) clause  

 If council does not listen to reason, residents will block the street on Monday,
 finite dependent clause
 
causing chaos for commuters
 
non-finite dependent clause
 

Students can be assisted to recognise and construct effective complex sentences by identifying them in the texts they read. Local newspapers are a good resource for finding model persuasive texts. Since they also deal with issues that are often pertinent to the lives of the students, they can stimulate oral discussions. These discussions can then form the basis for constructing more formal, written texts on the topic. Jointly constructing the texts on electronic whiteboards enables the teacher and students to experiment with different ways of combining and linking ideas and altering the language choices to strengthen or soften the message being conveyed. 

Assessing students' writing of persuasive texts

The purpose of assessing texts that students have independently constructed is to determine what students know and can do and to identify areas where additional instruction is required.

The writing task that you design must be one that will allow all students in the class to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. It is also important to ensure that it is one that all students are able to respond to. That is, it should not require field knowledge that students do not have. /p>

Having established the task, consider the criteria that will be used to assess their work. Remember that the criteria you establish should relate to the teaching focuses that you have had. Since the purpose of the assessment is diagnostic, only develop criteria related to the areas that you intend to follow up with further teaching. Criteria may be related to whole-text features, sentence level features and word level features.

Consider also the type of marking schema you will use. Will it be simply a ‘not demonstrated’ / ‘demonstrated’ schema or will it have a range of score points, depending on the extent, quality or frequency of the demonstration. National testing programs use the latter schema. If this method is to be used then clear descriptions of the standards or quality or frequency of demonstration at each score point need to be established. When using a multi-score (polytomous) grading system, it is important to consider the range of ability in the class to ensure that the achievements of both high and low performing students can be captured.

Once the criteria and marking schema have been determined, they should be shared with students so that they know the expectations of the teacher, the tasks and how their work will be evaluated.

Suggested assessment criteria

Below are some suggestions for criteria that might be used for assessing a piece of persuasive writing. They have been organised using the three broad areas listed above. However, other rubrics might be used. This list is quite exhaustive and it is not recommended that all criteria be used to evaluate a single piece of writing. As mentioned earlier, the criteria should be selected to reflect the teaching focuses and the expectations of the task.

Whole-text features

Criteria related to this aspect might include:

1. Text organisation, for example:

  • The piece of writing addresses the topic.
  • The register of the writing is appropriate to the intended audience.
  • A thesis or proposition is introduced.
  • A series of arguments is introduced.
  • Each argument is elaborated.
  • Opposing views are acknowledged and refuted.
  • A conclusion summarises and/or reiterates the position taken.

2. Rhetorical and other language devices used to enhance the writing, for example:

  • Affective language
  • Intensifying language
  • Modality
  • Nominalisation
  • Other figurative devices, such as simile and metaphor and rhetorical questions.

3. Cohesion demonstrated across the text by, for example:

  • Correct use of pronouns and other referents where necessary
  • Correct and varied use of text connectives
  • Correct use of conjunctions to link clauses

4. Paragraphs organise the text meaningfully

Sentence level features

Criteria for assessing sentence level features, for example:

  1. Sentences are correctly structured, for instance, all sentences include an independent clause.
  2. A variety of sentence types are correctly structured, for example, simple, compound and complex.
  3. Subject-verb agreement is correct.
  4. Prepositions are used correctly.
  5. Articles and plurals are used correctly, for example, an argument.
  6. Punctuation has been correctly used where necessary.

Word level features

  1. Spelling is accurate.

Note. When assessing this criterion is it important to take account of both the accuracy of the spelling and the level of difficulty of the words that have been spelt correctly.

Creating texts

The content descriptions below from the Australian Curriculum: English, Literacy Strand may help guide the development of teaching programs and consequent assessment tasks.

Teaching students about the particular structural, language and grammatical features, including visual and other nonverbal elements, of a variety of persuasive texts is an essential life skill. The ability to recognise how the creators of such texts manipulate all the elements above in order to influence their audience to a particular belief, action or point of view is important for negotiating our way in the world. Equally important is the skill of being able to use language precisely and appropriately to influence others and ensure our meanings are understood.

As George Orwell wrote:

‘A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?’

Politics and the English Language, 1946

Content descriptions — creating texts

Create short imaginative and informative texts that show emerging use of appropriate text structure, sentence-level grammar, word choice, spelling, punctuation and appropriate multimodal elements, for example illustrations and diagrams (Year 1, Literacy ACELY1661)

Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts demonstrating increasing control over text structures and language features and selecting print,and multimodal elements appropriate to the audience and purpose (Year 3, Literacy ACELY1682)

Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, selecting aspects of subject matter and particular language, visual, and audio features to convey information and ideas (Year 7, Literacy ACELY1725)

Source for content description above: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

About the author

Penny Hutton has been a classroom and ESL teacher in primary schools. She is currently teaching within the Bachelor of Education program at The University of Sydney and is the professional development consultant to PETAA. She has extensive experience as a senior education officer in the fields of English, literacy, middle years pedagogy and assessment. She has previously managed the English Language and Literacy Assessment (ELLA) and the literacy components of the Basic Skills Test (BST) for NSW DET, and was Senior Manager, Assessment and Research for Educational Assessment Australia, within the University of New South Wales.

PETAA Paper 178 was first published as e:update 016 in 2011 and was republished and updated February 2014.

References

How this content relates to AITSL teacher standards

Standard 2: Know the content and how to teach it

  • 2.1.1 Graduate Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts, substance and structure of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Developing detailed content knowledge of subject area — text detail and analysis in English<

  • 2.1.2 Proficient Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. Apply knowledge of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area to develop engaging teaching activities.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using a Dictagloss to support EAL/D students

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Building the field in science to assist students to make connections

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Developing social media profiles to build and represent content knowledge in geography

  • 2.3.1 Graduate Curriculum, assessment and reporting.Use curriculum, assessment and reporting knowledge to design learning sequences and lesson plans
  • 2.3.2 Proficient Curriculum, assessment and reporting. Design and implement learning and teaching programs using knowledge of curriculum, assessment and reporting requirements.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using images as a summative assessment tool to synthesise learning

  • 2.5.1 Graduate Literacy and numeracy strategies. Know and understand literacy and numeracy teaching strategies and their application in teaching areas.
  • 2.5.2 Proficient Literacy and numeracy strategies. Apply knowledge and understanding of effective teaching strategies to support students’ literacy and numeracy achievement.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Improving Sentence Structure knowledge using oral language in Year 1

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using storyboards to develop multimodal texts

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Achieving multiple literacy outcomes through developing and composing multimodal texts

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Developing early literacy through explicit connections between meaning in text, oral language and image

Standard 3: Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

  • 3.3.1 Graduate Use teaching strategies. Include a range of teaching strategies.
  • 3.3.2 Proficient Use teaching strategies. Select and use relevant teaching strategies to develop knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

Standard 4: Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

  • 4.1.1 Graduate Support student participation Identify strategies to support inclusive student participation and engagement in classroom activities

AITSL Illustration or Practice: Approaching differentiation in the early weeks

  • 4.1.2 Proficient Support student participation. Establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all students in class activities.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Differentiating language access to engage a variety of students in learning

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using student roles to differentiate language demands and support student access in speaking and listening tasks

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using drama and performance based approaches to explore and engage with texts

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using music to support inclusion and language development in early learners

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Holistic care to support learning

Standard 5: Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

  • 5.1.1 Graduate Assess student learning Demonstrate understanding of assessment strategies, including informal and formal, diagnostic, formative and summative approaches to assess student learning.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using success criteria to support and track student progress

  • 5.1.2 Proficient Assess student learning. Develop, select and use informal and formal, diagnostic, formative and summative assessment strategies to assess student learning.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using formative assessment practices with students in the classroom

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Approaches to ongoing informal assessment

Standard 6: Engage in professional learning

  • 6.2.1 Graduate Engage in professional learning and improve practice. Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers.

Illustration of Practice: Using professional learning to improve teaching with ICT resources

  • 6.2.2 Proficient Engage in professional learning and improve practice. Participate in learning to update knowledge and practice, targeted to professional needs and school and/or system priorities.