Kids form opinions on everything they encounter rather easily. The know what they like and what they don't like in an instant. But getting the students to dig in and really think about opinions that they have made based on what they read is rather difficult. They can tell you what they think about the reading, but pointing to the part that "proves" their opinion is a challenge.
So one thing I have done is have the kids make "Text-Based Opinion Posters". These aren't as hard to create as the title will imply (that does sound like a rather ominous title doesn't it???) in fact, all you need are some large pieces of construction paper, an article that lends itself to varying opinions, and some colored pencils/pens.
First, I had the students read the article on their own. I wanted them to be familiar with it going into the poster. (I actually used the same article that they used when we did the "Written Conversation" I wrote about in my last post. You can read it here. That way they were really familiar with it and already had some opinions built up about it.) Then, I asked the students to glue one copy of the article into the center of the poster paper.
All of the kids in the group (of 3) were doing this at the same time. The reason for this is three-fold.
1) It allows the kids to see that the opinions they have might be the same as others.
2) The evidence they use could support two differing opinions.
3) It is fun to write on a piece of paper at the same time as your friends. ;)
After the group write was done, the students then discussed the opinions they held about the article and the text evidence they used to back it up.
I find that the students are really connecting the opinions they hold to the actual text when we do this. They don't just think something just because, but realize that the opinions came from somewhere. It is just one more step in getting them to include it in their writing (ah....the ever elusive step to actually putting it in a paragraph!)