There are so many opinions about opinions that it can be confusing for students to know just what they are to do when their teachers ask them to write or present multimodally an opinion that is appropriate for the students’ grade level. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (2010) link opinion writing in elementary grades with the arguments they will construct in the secondary grades (6–12). Review the list of selected Common Core Standards (grades K–5) here, and you will notice that the word “opinion” comes up quite often.
Chances are, someone has said to you, or written on a social media post, “Well, that’s just my opinion.” It may mean that the speaker is inviting a different point of view, or it may mean that the speaker is not going to change his or her point-of-view no matter how you respond. After all, it is the speaker’s opinion, and we are all entitled to our opinions. But the authors and editors of the opinion and editorial pages of major newspapers write opinions about problems and issues in the news, and many people pay a lot of attention to those opinions. Supreme Court justices render opinions, and their opinions affect matters in important ways.
Students need to understand that, depending on context, a single word can mean different things. “Opinion” is one of those words. Help students think about just what an opinion means for them at school and in their specific grade level—help them understand that the term means something very specific when it comes to academic language. In some cases, an opinion is just a belief that may or may not be supported by evidence or facts. In other cases, an opinion is a reasoned analysis based on reliable evidence or sources. Sometimes, an opinion is based on a great deal of experience with the topic.
Give students in the upper elementary grades about 15 minutes to find as many definitions for “opinion” as they can using three or four online dictionaries. (Some good dictionaries for elementary students can be found here; click the link for “dictionaries” under “reference.” You may want to bookmark these, or link them on a class webpage so students don’t spend time looking for the dictionaries themselves.) Once students have compiled the definitions, ask them which of the definitions most closely match the standard for their grade level from the chart linked here.
If students are given the opportunity to realize that words often mean different things to different people under different conditions, they will be better armed to formulate the kinds of opinions that academic work demands of them. Even more important, their ability to think critically about the texts they read and the texts they compose will be enhanced. But that is just my opinion!
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: CCSSO & National Governors Association.