Be Heard! - Through Formal Writing

Unit Plan

Patrick Boyle
Adapted by Linda Scott

California Language Arts Content Standards
Standards Addressed in this Unit
2.0Writing Application (Genres and their Characteristics) 9/10
2.3 Write expository compositions, including analytical essays and research reports:
 a. Marshal evidence in support of a thesis and related claims,
including information on all relevant perspectives.
 b. Convey information and ideas from primary and secondary sources
accurately and coherently.
 c. Make distinctions between the relative value and significance of
specific data, facts, and ideas.
 e. Anticipate and address readers' potential misunderstandings, biases,
and expectations.
 f. Use technical terms and notations accurately.
2.4 Write persuasive compositions:
  1. Structure ideas and arguments in a sustained and logical fashion.
  2. Use specific rhetorical devices to support assertions (e.g., appeal to logic through reasoning; appeal to emotion or ethical belief; relate a personal anecdote, case study, or analogy).
  3. Clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, and expressions of commonly accepted beliefs and logical reasoning.
  4. Address readers' concerns, counterclaims, biases, and expectations.

Resource Requirements
Students require access to an Internet capable computer with printer and print resources.

This unit encompasses a range of formal/expository writing skills including; the expression of ideas in formal writing and the correct use of a writing style and structure appropriate to the audience, purpose and text type.

This unit is divided into four parts

Each part describes the skill group it covers and provides leaning covering how the skills are applied. Students are then asked to apply the skills themselves in a number of exercises.

Once competence is demonstrated, the teacher will invite the student to move on to the next part and study another skill group.

When all the skills have been covered in their respective parts, students are given the opportunity to apply them as a group. This Assessment Readiness Activity should provide clues as to any areas of weakness. At this point students can be directed back to the relevant part(s) to review the skill(s) causing concern.


Smiley Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:

This icon represents actions of the teacher.
This icon represents activities for the student.

Introduction - Formal Writing

Ask the class, "What does the word 'formal mean?' Record their replies on the board.

Explain: The Dictionary defines formal as 'according to form or established mode'

Ask the class, "If something formal is done according to form, what is a 'form'? Record their replies on the board

Explain: The Dictionary defines form as 'a pattern, style and arrangement'

Ask the class, "So what is formal writing?' Seek agreement on a definition similar to:
Writing within the established conventions of a particular form.

Part 1: Being 'on form'

Direct Students to the 'The Formats of Formal Writing' resource and have them complete the 'In Form' worksheet.


With the class.

Brainstorm: "Occasions where important decisions (affecting us) are made by others.'



There are many occasions where decision making bodies will make decisions that affect the student directly. These are usually highly structured bodies with a great many rules and conventions governing how they operate. (Make links with formal meeting procedure).

In our democratic society, we are always given the opportunity to provide input into this process. However - just as the decision making body operates under a number of rules and conventions, any submission we make must also adhere to certain rules and conventions. If we are to be heard - we must make sure our input is presented in the appropriate manner. Generally we will have our say in writing. We might call this 'a written submission'.

Key points:

Direct students to the Frequently Asked Questions about Submissions to the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification website and have them use it to complete the 'Submission Guidelines' worksheet.

Part 2: Style, Structure and Conventions


Many people feel very strongly about issues such as genetic modification, if these people want to be heard, their submissions must be made within the established form. Such a submission can be called a piece of 'formal writing'. There are 3 main elements to consider when we use formal writing:

Direct students to the Formal and Informal Style web page and have them copy the material into their books.Explain that students will refer back to this table to check that their writing conforms to the formal style.


Style is the control of language, making it appropriate to the purpose, audience, and context of the writing task. The writer's style is often shown through word choice.


Create a table on the blackboard to compare writing styles.

Restrained style Emotive style
Modified foods
Resulting organisms
Genetic engineering
Escape from the laboratory
Frankenstein food
Abominable creations
Meddling with Creation
Contamination of the environment

Question: Which style and word choices are appropriate for formal writing restrained or emotive?

Question: In what other context (form) might the emotive style be more appropriate?


A formal writing style will use precise language, words like, 'things' and 'stuff ' are not precise. Precision in writing will avoid:

Formal writing will have an even, appropriate tone.
To understand tone in writing, we need to think about 'tone in speaking'. In speaking we use tone to communicate our attitude and feelings to the listener. Vocal tones can be:

Tone in writing can communicate the same attitudes and feelings.

Have students complete the 'Tone in Formal Writing' worksheet.

Have students complete the 'The Structure of Formal Writing' worksheet.

Direct students to the "Guidelines for Submissions to The Examined Life" web page, and ask them to complete the 'Conventions of the Form' worksheet.

Direct students to 'The Elements of Written Communication' web page and ask them to copy the material into their books turning it into a checklist that can be used to evaluate their own formal writing.

Part 3: Expressing Ideas.

Explain: A submission made to The Examined Life should be written with this in mind

(Write on blackboard) 'Your submission will be more effective if it is well organized and to the point, supports your views with adequate information and provides a clear, thorough analysis of the issues.'

Analyze the statement looking at the implications of:


We provide a written submission to a journal to explain all or some of:

To do so we express our ideas. This is sometimes called 'providing an argument'. When we argue a case we need to provide proof or support of our ideas.

On blackboard:

Ideas supported by details

I believe this Because of this
I believe that the problem of Evil is not an academic question .... .... because in order to answer this one needs to have the attention of whole arsenal of human faculties at all levels.

In supporting your argument, imagine yourself as a lawyer defending a client. The more evidence you can provide in support of your case, the more convinced the jury will be. Use examples, statistics, quotations from authoritative sources, or scientific evidence to support your statements.

Have students complete the 'Expressing Ideas' worksheet.

Have students complete the 'Building an argument' worksheet using the argument (thesis) 'Smoking should be banned from all public places'.


We have been looking at formal writing using the example of a submission to a philosophical journal. However the rules of formal writing are the same for all applications. If our formal writing is to be successful we need to stick to the rules of style, structure and form that we have discussed. We need to clearly express our ideas and support or develop them.

There is one last piece to the formal writing puzzle. That is the checking of our work before submission. No matter how good our formal writing may be, errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar can undo all our good work. Consider - would you take a submission seriously if it were loaded with errors?

Part 4: The Writing Process

Direct students to the '5 step writing process' webpage. Ask them to make a list of the 5 steps and provide a 1-2 sentence description of each step.

Select a (small!) topic that can be used for a submission to either a school board or regional/city council. Work through the 5 steps in the writing process with the class, this might include.

Examiners have commented that in the past a significant number of papers were let down by intrusive errors in the writing. This being so, further activities involving step 4 (above) will probably be required. If students are not displaying competence in editing for spelling, grammar and punctuation direct them to the proof reading resource asking them to use it as a checklist for appraising their own work.

This less comprehensive article on revising work is more useful for students having difficulty with the process of revision, rather than its details.

Students having trouble with grammar should consult this article on revising prose.

The article How to Proofread and Edit Your Writing is an excellent resource and very comprehensive. As it is so large, teachers may wish to direct students to the most relevant sections rather than to the entire document. Individual students, or groups can make notes on the section they are looking at and present their findings to the class by way of an oral or written report.

Direct students to the 'Have your say' resource listing submission topics to school boards and local bodies. Ask the learners to write the submissions using the submission form template.

There are 14 submission topics listed in the Have your say resource. Check each student's progress at the completion of each submission. Use as many or as few of the submission topics as necessary. Allow students to develop their own topics. Set time limits for the completion of the submission ultimately aiming for students to be able to complete their submission within 50 minutes.


When students are consistently showing competence, invite them to complete the assessment readiness activity. The teacher's copy of the rubric and the student writing samples for each scoring point will help you assess the essays.

Familiarize yourself with the California High School Exit Exam test questions [pages 108-112].




The Thinking Critically about Research Sources unit on English Online New Zealand provides possible extension work with strong links to this unit.