It’s Convince-A-Parent time at Frog Hollow. This is where everyone has to think of something they really, really want, and make a convincing argument why they should get it. I want chickens. I want a sleepover with my best friend. I want a $2000 mountain bike. I want a sword. Convince-A-Parent does not bring out the altruistic or the ascetic in the kids. However, it does take essay writing from being abstract and scary sounding to concrete and commonsense. Even more, it reveals essay writing to be about something they are already skilled at: being convincing. I use this project with my teen writers as well, for all the same reasons.
Before the students write their own, we write a mock essay together. I like to use a ridiculous example like elephants. I want the whole exercise to have a little bit of a swashbuckling derring-do, or at least some humor.
First, we state what we want. I want an elephant. English teachers would call this our thesis. We just think of it as a burning desire.
Then we think of all the reasons why having an elephant would be so cool. We could ride it. It could spray us with its trunk. Elephants are smart and social and trainable. We’d be the coolest folks on the block.
Then we consider what our parents’ hesitations might be, and how we can address their concerns. Worried about the mess? Elephant manure is great for gardens! Worried about the cost? We could charge for elephant rides. Worried about legalities? What a great educational research project. Worried about animal cruelty? Maybe we could rehabilitate a rescue elephant. We get goofy, but more, we get creative.
After brainstorming the pros, cons, and rebuttals, we pick a couple of the best pros and most pressing cons, and we’re ready to write our argument. I encourage them to just start with their introduction. For the older students, this is a paragraph. Ease your parents in, I tell them. Get ’em hooked. Say, I know you and I share an admiration for elephants. We have talked about what amazing creatures they are. Then drop the whammy. Everyone agrees this makes better strategic sense than just starting I WANT AN ELEPHANT NOW!!!!
Then each main point gets its own paragraph. For many students, the argument unrolls so fearlessly that they have launched into this part when all I asked was for them to write their intro. With older students, I talk about organization, transitions, topic sentences — whatever the next thing seems to be for them. But no matter how far into essay technique we get, I keep it rooted in the pure, wily work of convincing their parents to give them their heart’s desire.
We do a second draft for neatness, spelling, and organization. Finally, a polished and Highly Convincing Argument is placed into their parents’ (pre-warned) hands. Good luck, parents.
And remember, kids, to only ask for things you actually want, because who knows? You might convince your parents.
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