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Encourage Persuasive Writing With Movie Reviews and More!

By Danielle Mahoney on May 3, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Let a trip to the movies inspire your students to write fantastic reviews that will persuade others to either see the movie — or skip it! African Cats is a great film that celebrates family and fits in perfectly as Mother's Day approaches. Is it too scary for kids to watch? Or does it perfectly balance the beauty of nature and the harsh reality of survival in the African savanna? Plan a trip to see it, and teach your students how to write up a review of it. Can't make it to the movies? No worries! I'll share some other ways to get your writers to express their opinions through persuasive reviews. Grab a tub of popcorn, and let's get started!


A Trip to the Movies Can Spark Persuasive Writing  


Scholastic began promoting the Disneynature movie African Cats in celebration of Earth Day. I clicked on the movie trailer and instantly fell in love. The cheetah cubs are precious. (Try watching the trailer without saying, "Awwwwww!" It can't be done.)

I spread the word about the educational resources available on the site and encouraged my teacher friends to plan a trip to see it.

My good friend Mrs. Zajac was instantly inspired to have her students learn more about these incredible cats and invited me and the entire 2nd grade to tag along. We accessed the online resources and together planned out lessons to teach her students prior to the trip. These lessons would support her English language learners (ELLs) by building up their prior knowledge. She sent out the consent forms, purchased the movie tickets, and it was official. We were going on a trip!

Photo below: Mrs. Zajac and her student Jesus are excited for the movie to start.


Most of your students have probably seen movies set in Africa, such as The Lion King and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. These animated cartoons feature animals who speak and act more like humans. It's great for students to watch a documentary type film featuring some of the same animals in their natural setting. You'll be able to weave social studies and science lessons into your curriculum as you prepare to watch this film.

Here are some of the topics African Cats will inspire you to explore :

 * Learn about predator and prey relationships.
 * Teach geography as you explore Africa. 
 * Find out what makes lion prides so incredible.
 * Appreciate how animal mothers take care of their young.
 * Compare and contrast the characteristics of the amazing animals that live on the African savanna.

Here are some of the things you'll want to prepare your students for: 

* Predators winning the fight. (As a vegetarian and an animal lover, I cringed through the fight scenes and the bloody gnawing of prey. However, I must admit that Disneynature did a GREAT job of keeping the gore to a minimum. It's the circle of life. . . .)
* Death and loss. (Without giving too much away, I should warn you that some of the cubs and older animals may not survive.)
* Sitting quietly for an extended period of time.

I encourage you to use the resources on the site before viewing the movie. With your guidance, your students will be engaged and excited to witness the adventures of African Cats!

Tips on Writing Reviews

Start off with a conversation. Remind your students that life is about making choices. We choose restaurants to dine in, video games to play, books to read, movies to watch, etc. With so many choices out there, how do we make the best decision? We may read a review in the paper, watch a movie trailer, or listen to the advice of a good friend.

We also help other people make choices. We may recommend a book to a classmate or tell someone what dish to order at our favorite restaurant. We also advise people on what to stay away from. We might warn someone about a restaurant with terrible service or a movie that is too boring to watch. Reviews can be positive or negative. They are based on an opinion.

Make a T-chart. List reasons supporting two different points of view. This will become a list of pros and cons. Include specific examples. This chart will serve as a scaffold for writers who need support with adding details to their writing and spelling content-specific vocabulary.

After the movie, I created a T-chart with Mrs. Zajac's 2nd grade writers. We started by listing a few reasons why people should go see the movie. Then, we moved on to reasons why people shouldn't see it. As you can see in the photo below, I'm feeling pretty sad as I listen to a student explain that there were parts in the movie that showed animals suffering. Don't be afraid to show some passion! Reviews are the expression of one's opinion. The more the students see you invested in this work, the more they will be invested in it, too. 


As you listen to your students' responses, list them on your chart.

Continue this process until you have a few examples supporting each point of view. If you look at our chart closely, you will see that I started off recording the phrases that the students used and then turned their phrases into full sentences. Writing down specific examples from the movie will help your writers when they need to add details to their own reviews during independent writing.


Create Star Rating Categories

We were excited to get started on our writing, but we wanted to make our reviews even more spectacular. So, we came up with a rating system to make our reviews look just like the ones real movie critics write. We came up with a rating system of four stars and categorized them like this:


You can imagine encouraging your writers to come up with their own rating system in future reviews. For example, if they write a review of a bakery, they can give the place four cupcakes instead of four stars. Cute, right? Encourage them to get as creative as possible.

Direct Teaching

Model the type of writing you want your children to produce. You might start off with an example of a positive review. Think of the strategies you want to teach your writers first. I started by teaching them to write a title that grabs the reader's attention and states the reviewer's opinion. I also taught them to write a topic sentence in the form of a question.

Remember, it's important for your writers to see YOU go through the process regardless of their grade level. Think aloud in front of them and record your thinking on paper. Once you think they've got the hang of it, send them off to write. This is a process. You won't be able to teach everything all at once. Plan for a series of mini-lessons over a certain period of time.

Here’s an example of a review that I used and will come back to over the next few days. I made sure it incorporated many of the strategies I want my students to try out. Download and print out copies of my special review paper and get started on writing reviews in your classroom!  


Time for Independent Writing 

Before you send your students off to write, ask them to take a moment to reread the T-chart and formulate their own opinions. Do they think people should see the movie, or should they stay away? Students can turn and talk to a partner about their opinion, or put a thumb up on their knee to signal that they are ready to write. Making a choice before they head back to their seats will give them a sense of focus and ensure that they get started right away.


Photo: Jessica and Ayleen began this work by coloring in their star ratings. 

Photo: Kevin starts his writing with a detailed drawing that illustrates the amazing way that cheetahs move. 


Photo: Many students got up to use the ideas on the T-chart. When creating your chart, be sure to include content-specific vocabulary that students may use in their own writing.

Writing Strategies for Persuasive Reviews

Here are additional mini-lesson ideas:

  • Create a title that lets your opinion be known. 
  • Draw a picture with details that support your opinion.
  • Craft a topic sentence that grabs the reader's attention. (Using a question is just one way to start. You may want to introduce other leads to your students as well. Get a few published reviews for specific examples.)
  • Use descriptions and specific examples to give the reader a visual.
  • Think about writing for a specific audience.(Would your review of African Cats change if you were writing to the mom of a very young child?)
  • Make comparisons. (One movie to another movie, or a book to another book.)
  • End with a closing sentence that restates your opinion.

Remember, the purpose of writing reviews is to persuade others. Eventually you'll want your students' reviews to get into the hands of people outside of your classroom. Since other people will be reading these reviews, you'll want your kids to go through the editing and revising process before they publish their work. Revisit my post "Writing List Poems That Are Better Than OK" to see how I’ve modeled editing and revising strategies with a group of 3rd grade students.

Other Resources 

Can't make it out to the movies? Launch this type of writing by trying out a special snack together or reviewing a book you’ve used as a read-aloud. The more opportunities you give your critics to write, the better they'll get at it. Below are a few resources to support your work in writing reviews.

Post online book reviews:


Watch movie trailers and read real movie reviews:


Read books that give two points of view on an issue:


Take a Break From Testing and Have Fun With Reviews

CheetahandcubsState testing starts this week and our upper grade kids are more stressed out than ever. I hope you will spend a few afternoons doing fun activities and connecting to the world beyond your classroom walls. Take your students on a walk to a local restaurant and then have them write a restaurant review. Plan a trip to visit a special exhibit at your favorite museum. Return to school and ask children to share their opinion about the exhibit with other classes in their grade. And try to get out there to see African Cats. The movie truly captures the beauty behind the harsh sacrifices mothers make to protect their babies.

Big hugs to all of the amazing mommies out there! Happy Mother's Day to you!

Comments (3)

today my teacher had me to find some reviews becauase that's my writing topic

Hi Kwana226! It's great that you guys got out to see the movie before all of this testing. If you play the trailer for your students, they'll be transported right back to the theater.

I'm so glad that your kids will be excited to get back to persuasive reviews! Isn't writing fun?!?!?

=) Danielle

Wow!!! This is awesome!! I am soooo excited to reintroduce persuasive reviews to my class this week! Ironically, we went to see African Cats last week (Friday) and since our NYS testing began this week, I had to put the movie in the back of our minds. We discussed the movie, but did nothing else with it due to the time restraints involving our testing. I am so grateful that you reminded me how important it is to allow the students to use what they know in the world as well, not just in the classroom. Write a movie review about African Cats.....of course!! Thank you again for the great idea! My kids are going to rejoice when they hear they will get a chance to write reviews again this week.

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