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Arts of persuasion
Strategies for teaching middle school students to think critically, analyze persuasive arguments, and use speaking and writing to persuade others.
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Students excel at oral communication. Talking, talking, and more talking! How can you make use of all that talking? Persuasive speaking can direct students to extend and to expand their loquacious talents in a constructive manner.

Making listeners feel a certain way about an idea or a product, convincing them to agree with an opinion, or encouraging an action or a response is the goal of persuasive speaking. To effectively persuade someone, an awareness of his or her perspective is essential. Imagine a student trying to persuade a teacher to plan a field trip to the state fair. Food, games, and rides say it all for students, but not the teacher. To convince the teacher, the student needs to understand the teacher’s perspective. Curriculum goals, hands-on learning and educational exhibits might persuade the teacher that going to the state fair is an excellent learning opportunity.

Preliminary activities

Selecting a topic

Guide students in selecting a relevant topic. The topics can be the outgrowth of a lesson or can be a current issue of interest. Current issues can be extracted from the newspaper, internet resources, television or radio news programs, or be based on a community issue. Motivating students is half the battle.


  • Inform students of available resources. Visit the media center for an overview. Subsequent visits are recommended to access three to five sources. Books, magazines and newspaper articles are examples of secondary resources. Examples of primary sources include interviewing a person or reading documents, journals, or letters. The internet can provide information on current topics.
  • Emphasize the importance of reading and interpreting information. Writing in your own words will be a challenge for most students. Therefore, we suggest teachers model this skill. Inform students copying word for word, plagiarism, is not acceptable. Stress that summarizing is an important and relevant skill.
  • Documentation of sources is required. A simple format might include the title, author, date, and publishing information. Recommend to students that notebook paper or index cards can be used to record the research. At the top of the paper or index card, students should write the source before the actual note taking begins. Every source requires a separate paper or card.

Organizing a speech


No one likes to be bored! The speaker should use a technique that introduces the topic and captures the audience’s attention immediately. As we know, first impressions are inevitable. Therefore, it is imperative to be creative, and maybe somewhat provocative. Just as a spider lures its prey, the persuasive speaker needs to lure the audience into his/her web of thought.

Raise test scores, decrease discipline problems! Are school uniforms the answer? Can school uniforms as simple as plain white T-shirts and khaki pants raise test scores and lower discipline problems?

Rhetorical questions, such as these, require no reply, but do arouse interest and direct the audience to the topic. A challenging question, lines from a song, a quotation, a humorous anecdote or a fact that elicits human passion grabs the attention of the audience. Reading a poem, telling a joke, referencing a current event and using analogies are also effective techniques for hooking the audience.

“If students are forced to wear uniforms, it is like living in a communist state where freedoms are limited or totally nonexistent” clearly illustrates how a simile can create a strong emotional impact.

Quickly and assuredly, an effective speaker employs a technique to begin entangling the audience in his/her web of persuasion.


Factual information, statistical data, and sensory details comprise the body of the speech providing specific evidence to support an opinion. Layering of facts and giving examples, providing statistics and referencing authorities develop ideas logically and persuasivel y. Language choice and delivery are important in influencing the audience. “Juvenile offenders do know right from wrong” is more definite and convincing than “Most juvenile offenders probably know right from wrong”.


The conclusion should emphasize the main arguments as they were outlined in the body of the speech. Main points are summarized, and recast for emphasis. Rhetorical questions, quotations, referencing a famous person or current event and other techniques delineated in the introduction are also effective in the conclusion. As the speech concludes, the audience should be completely entangled in the web of persuasion.

Critical Thinking and Listening

Sometimes speakers use persuasive techniques that are based on emotions, not facts. Statements that slant the truth may be very convincing but totally false. It is important to teach students to listen attentively and to determine the validity and reliability of information. Distorting the facts leads to erroneous conclusions.

Political ads and speeches, editorials, product advertisements, and news commentaries target specific audiences. It is up to the listener to determine whether the message being presented is valid. Indeed, critical thinking is required to determine the factual content and credibility of information presented.

Recognizing bias

Here are some examples of biased statements.

  1. He’s one of those troubled kids from Green Street. (stereotyping — uses unfair images of a person or group)
  2. Anybody who is somebody wears those jeans at Carver High. (band wagon effect — suggests you need to agree with the majority)
  3. If people elect John Smith as our student council president, there will be no dances this year. (scare tactic — describes images that influence others to act out of fear)
  4. Janice is friends with those kids who stole my money. Mark my words — she’ll be in trouble sooner or later. (guilt by association — a type of stereotyping)
  5. No American citizen would ever support that candidate for senate. (appeal to Patriotism — questions a person’s love for country)
  6. If Reagan liked jellybeans, that’s the best choice for candy. (testimonials — uses the opinions of well-known people to sway decision-making.)
  7. Lose weight in 10 days with this diet plan. (partial truth--results are too good to be true.)

For practice in recognizing bias:

  1. Identify bias in current advertisements from magazines and newspapers. Students bring in the examples.
  2. Recognize bias techniques on radio and television by students recording commercials, etc. and discuss in class.
  3. Students create print and visual advertisements using bias. Classmates identify the persuasive techniques used.
  4. Students locate advertisements on the internet, present them to the class, and identify persuasive techniques employed.

To avoid inappropriate ads, advise students “to keep it clean.”

Speaker Etiquette

Speaking in public can be scary. However, it can be a very rewarding experience. Developing skills and confidence as a speaker requires practice.

Speaker Do’s

  1. Stand up straight. Do not slump, lean, or sway when speaking,
  2. Speak slowly and clearly pronouncing words correctly.
  3. Look at the audience. Speakers will be viewed as better informed and more sincere if they have eye contact with the audience.
  4. Emphasize main points by letting your voice rise and fall.
  5. Use gestures and facial expressions to express an idea and to show enthusiasm for your topic.
  6. Use note cards to guide you in speaking.
  7. Practice your speech.
  8. Be excited and motivated. The audience will “catch” your enthusiasm.
  9. Dress to compliment your speech, not to detract from your delivery.
  10. Relax; be proud of your accomplishment!