What's the Problem?

Unit Plan

Jocelyn Holden
Adapted by Linda Scott
4 weeks

California Language Arts Content Standards
Standards Addressed in this Unit
1.0Writing Strategies
  Students write coherent and focused essays that convey a well-defined perspective and tightly reasoned argument. The writing demonstrates students' awareness of the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process as needed.
  Evaluation and Revision
1.9 Revise writing to improve the logic and coherence of the organization and controlling perspective, the precision of word choice, and the tone by taking into consideration the audience, purpose, and formality of the context.
2.4Write 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.
Written and Oral English Language Conventions
 Grammar and Mechanics of Writing
1.3Demonstrate an understanding of proper English usage and control of grammar, paragraph and sentence structure, diction, and syntax.
 Manuscript Form
1.4Produce legible work that shows accurate spelling and correct use of the conventions of punctuation and capitalization.
Supporting Standards


The aim of this unit is for students to develop their persuasive writing and information gathering skills using various forms of information and communication technology. It is hoped that the context of 'teenage problems' will provide an authentic and personally relevant purpose. The final product is an opinion essay which answers the questions: 'What is a major problem facing teenagers today? What can be done about it? '


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

  1. Starter Activity using Teen Newsweek, newspaper letters, a TV documentary clip or something similar as a starter, ask students to identify the opinion offered and any supporting details given. Students can discuss the item in groups then each student should write an opinion essay in response to the item studied. Use their essays and the rubric as a diagnostic tool to identify any special individual goals.
  2. Find a good current event item to introduce the theme: 'What is a major problem facing teenagers today and what can be done about it?' Check the list of resources and Web sites. If using a video documentary, students should view with the questions in mind. A two column chart could be drawn up with the headings 'Problem' and 'Solution'. The students progressively fill in the columns as they view. An alternative would be to ask students to collect items from the newspaper or magazines relevant to the questions and these could be shared with or presented to a group or the class with the same kind of notemaking process. Explain the steps involved in the unit of work. Issue the Checklist of Steps involved and assign the target dates for each step with the students.
  3. Form groups of about four students. Each group should brainstorm a list of problems facing teenagers. The following group of resources will help students develop a list of suitable topics:

    Each group should choose one topic they are interested in researching and writing about. Negotiate so that all groups have a different topic.

  4. Gathering information about the chosen problem and the help available should be undertaken using a range of technologies. All groups can be required to organize and carry out an interview with an expert using a speakerphone, videoconference or a 'live' interview with the school guidance counselor. Interviews should be conducted so that the whole class can hear the questions and answers. If possible, tape the interviews so that the interview technique and the value of the information gathered can be evaluated after each interview. Audioconferencing and faxing skills will need to be taught/revised. Use of school library resources such as books and CD ROMs can be incorporated. The Internet has a wealth of helpful sites for teenage problems if your students have access to it. See this Resource for more on Interviewing for Research.
  5. Designing workable but interesting questions is a key skill to work on. Students in groups should develop about six questions which will give them the information they need to answer the focus question (see number 2) in their essay. Ask students to evaluate their question design against a question checklist and then to redraft the questions if necessary.
  6. Getting organized for writing. Once all the information gathering and sharing is completed the students should be asked to decide on one problem to write their persuasive essay about. Teacher shares a model essay with the class, discusses/teaches the structural features and explains conventions visible in the model. The students revisit the writing criteria and goals set at the beginning of the unit and the final deadlines are set for Draft One, Draft Two and the final copy to a publishing standard.
  7. Students study the Assessment Rubric then write their Draft One. Using the Writing Process as their guide, they make adjustments to their draft then submit it to a student evaluator who adds helpful comments. The teacher does the same and returns the draft to the writer and student evaluator in a conference if possible. Any whole class or small group teaching required eg. revision of sentence structure, formal language, topic sentences can be carried out before students work on their second draft. If necessary, a paper copy of the Proofreading Guide could be printed off and adapted as a bullet point checklist for student evaluators - especially the sections on sentences, capital letters and paragraphs - if access to the internet or an intranet with the guide on it is limited or not available.
  8. Draft Two is word processed if possible, attached to Draft One with the first checklist and is handed back to the student and teacher evaluators as before.
  9. Final word processed copy presented for scoring with the rubric. Essays may be collected into a class booklet for reading. Letters of thanks can be written by each group to the expert interviewed with copies of the essays (if the writers agree!) Selected essays could also be published online.


Publication of a piece of persuasive writing which argues a researched point of view suitable for publication in a class magazine.






  1. The unit highlighted the need to do further work on:

    • sentence structure
    • logical organisation of ideas into paragraphs
    • all areas of proofreading!

  2. Letters of thanks will be sent to the experts interviewed with a copy of the best group letter on the expert's topic. A class magazine will be made with all the essays.