Lesson at a Glance

Students continue to work with the editorial topics about which they feel most passionate. As a strategy to focus their topics even further, students develop and respond to a series of “should” questions that help them identify whether or not their topics are sufficiently controversial to be appropriate for an editorial.

Note: At this point, it may be beneficial for you to do a quick Internet search to “test” your students’ more esoteric or controversial topics. This way, you can be assured that students will be able to easily gather enough information to write their editorials. Occasionally a student will select an excellent editorial topic that turns out to be hard to research because of Internet filtering or because there is simply not much information available. If this is the case, you may need to gather print resources or have students complete their research at home. Speak to your Educational Consultant for more assistance.

Prep & Tech

Technology: LCD projector, laptop, Internet access or Writing Editorials CD, student computers with Internet access
Differentiated Instruction Handouts: 1.3a: Topic and Questions
Other Materials: Student folders, writers’ notebooks, your list of topics from Lesson 1.2, and a list of questions focusing your topic for the Teacher Model

Limited Tech Options

If there is no access to the technology needed for this lesson, try the following options:

  1. Mini Lesson: Show JT’s Think Aloud: Focus Your Topic during the mini lesson with speakers instead of asking students to watch it during Writer’s Work Time.
  2. Sharing and Lesson Summary: Instead of having students post their “should” questions and opinions, ask them to have a discussion about their work with their table group.


Students will select one focus for their editorials by asking and answering a set of questions emphasizing the controversial nature of their topic.

Focusing Question

How can you narrow the focus your editorial topic?

Mini Lesson (10 min)

Show lesson visuals, Focus Your Topic.

Tell students that the purpose of today’s lesson is to narrow the focus of their editorial topics from a general concept into a specific question that their editorial will answer.

Explain that editorials express opinions, and that they are often about controversial real-world topics. Define the term “controversial,” explaining that controversial topics are those about which people have strong differing opinions. Remind students that in this unit their opinions will be the basis for their written work. Describe how they will be trying to persuade their audience to agree with their opinion about a topic.

Students can identify the controversial aspects of their topics by asking thoughtful questions that begin with the word “should.” Good “should” questions have more than one reasonable answer and concentrate on smaller issues within the topic. The various answers to these questions reflect the different opinions about the topic.

Using your editorial topic, demonstrate how to narrow the focus of your topic by writing four or five “should” questions. Ask students to contribute questions that will help you to narrow your topic. Let students know that you will answer some of these questions later.

Have students follow your lead by reviewing their own topics and writing a list of “should” questions to narrow the focus.

Teacher Model

  1. Remind students of the topic you selected at the end of the previous lesson.
  2. Model how to create several controversial “should” questions on the topic you selected.
  3. Identify how your “should” questions are controversial because they have more than one reasonable answer.
  4. Write your questions on chart paper or using a computer/LCD projector.
  5. Model one non-example of a question that is not controversial. Ask students to assess why this question is not helpful for evaluating your topic.
  6. Ask students to contribute additional “should” questions to help you further assess your topic.


The topic I decided to focus on is “overcrowded subways.” Now I am going to write some “should” questions to help me find the controversial issues within the topic. I could write, “Should the subway be overcrowded?” but I can’t imagine that anyone would answer ‘Yes, the subway should be overcrowded!” That is not controversial. I need to find questions that have more than one reasonable answer.

What about, Should there be a legal limit to how many people can get on one subway car?
That’s an interesting one. Should the NYC Transit Authority add more cars to the trains?
Should people who take up extra seats with their bags get tickets? I think so, but I bet there
are a lot of people who disagree. Should it cost less to ride the subway when it is too crowded
to sit down?

Preparing for Writer’s Work Time

Ask students to:

  1. Find their topics in their writers’ notebooks.
  2. Go to Step 1 of the Online Classroom and watch JT’s Think Aloud, Focus Your Topic.
  3. Generate four or five controversial “should” questions related to their topic.
  4. Write the questions in their writers’ notebooks.

Writer’s Work Time: Part I (10 min)

* There will be a midworkshop interruption after students have developed a list of questions.

Students work independently to generate controversial questions on their selected editorial topics.
They write four or five “should” questions in their writers’ notebooks. Circulate among students,
prompting them to write questions about which there is more than one reasonable answer.

Midworkshop Interruption (5 min)

After students have worked on this task for 10 minutes, have them stop for an explanation of how to “test” their questions to determine their appropriateness as an editorial topic. Choose one of your questions. Write a preliminary response, including your current opinion and some relevant evidence you already know. Think aloud about who your audience would be, if you wrote an editorial on this question. Ask yourself whose actions, thoughts and feelings you want to change. After writing, think aloud about whether or not this would be a good issue to focus on for your editorial. Ask yourself if you know the topic well enough and if it still interests you.

Ask students to “test” their own questions by answering two or three of them in their writers’


I have some interesting questions here. Now I’m going to test a couple of them out by writing a few sentences and seeing how it goes. I’ll start with my question about giving tickets to people who take up extra seats. Should people who take up extra seats with their bags on the subway get tickets? My answer is that I think that people who use up extra seats with their bags should get tickets. First of all, it is really inconsiderate to make other people stand just so that they don’t have to put your bags on their lap. Second, the NYC Transit Authority could take the money from the tickets and use it to buy more subway cars.

OK. I definitely feel strongly about that one. Now I need to think about who my audience is. If I want people to stop hogging seats, then my audience would be other subway riders. If I want the law to be changed, my audience is probably the NYC Transit Authority since they are the ones who make the rules. I am going to test out another one of my questions and then compare them before I make a decision on what my issue will be.

Writer’s Work Time: Part II (10 min)

Students work individually, selecting two or three of their questions to answer. They write preliminary responses that include their current opinions and any supporting evidence they already have in mind. They also write a sentence describing the intended audience for their editorial. Circulate among students, encouraging them to include details from their personal experience that support their opinion. When there are five minutes left of Writer’s Work Time, have students review their responses in order to select the specific issue that will be the focus of their editorial.

Individual Conferences: Review the questions students generate to make sure they are
controversial enough to form the basis of their editorials. Remind students to include a sentence about whose minds they want to change (the audience). Have students test out potential audiences by role playing different possibilities with you.

Differentiated Instruction Strategies

  1. Difficulty using the writer’s notebook? Distribute Topic and Questions (Handout 1.3a) to guide and scaffold students’ responses. Students can also look at DD and JT’s Notebooks in the Online Classroom to see how they completed the same task.
  2. Struggling to generate controversial questions? Form a guided writing group in which students can brainstorm “should” questions together.
  3. Having trouble coming up with responses? Ask students to tell you about experiences they had with this topic and why it makes them mad. Jot down notes based on what they say and have them use your notes as a starting point for their own writing.
  4. Ready for more? Students may visit the Study Center for additional activities such as What’s The Message?

Sharing and Lesson Summary (10 min)

Reconvene the class. Have students log into the Online Classroom. Model posting your “should” question and opinion in the activity called, Share Your Opinion. Ask one or two students to respond to your post online by stating a different opinion. Instruct students to go to Step 1 in the Online Classroom to post their own “should” questions and opinions. If time permits, encourage students to respond to each other’s posts by commenting on whether or not they agree as well as what their opinion is. Encourage students to continue responding to each other over the next few days as their responses will help other students develop counterarguments in lesson 3.3. Monitor the posts to make sure that each student has received at least one response and that comments do not stray off topic.


Review students’ issues and opinions that are posted in the Online Classroom. Make sure to review each student’s post, because students will begin researching their issues in Lesson 2.1. Use the Teacher’s Checklist to evaluate what students have completed at this point.

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