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Thomas Paine and Persuasive Writing

Introduction

This lesson may be used in a social studies class learning about the American Revolution or in a language arts class studying persuasive writing. Students examine excerpts from two pieces of persuasive writing penned by Thomas Paine in 1776, and analyze his use of facts and opinions to appeal to both the logic (heads) and emotions (hearts) of American colonists. Students then write their own persuasive paragraphs about the American Revolution, a current event, or some other topic of choice.

Materials

Strategy

1. On the board or overhead write the quotation "The pen is mightier than the sword." Ask students for their reactions to the statement:

  • What does it mean?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the statement?
  • Can you give any other examples from history where an writer was more influential than a soldier? (Example: Harriet Beecher Stowe and the book Uncle Tom's Cabin)

2. With the class, discuss persuasive writing and how, to be most effective, it must 1) appeal to both logic AND emotion, and 2) include both facts and opinions. Some other points to review include:

  • A persuasive paragraph or essay should have a thesis statement that clearly states the writer’s position and what he/she wants to persuade the reader to think and/or do.
  • The writer must gather support, or evidence, for his/her position. This support may be in the form of reasons, examples, facts, statistics, and/or quotations.
  • All support should be presented in a logical sequence (either most important to least important or vice versa).
  • The writer should anticipate what critics will say to undermine his/her arguments, and come up with appropriate responses.

3. Using the Teacher Resource—Thomas Paine Information, introduce students to Thomas Paine and his best known writings Common Sense and The Crisis.

With the class, review the concepts of fact and opinion, and briefly discuss the difference between appealing to a readers head (logic) as opposed to his/her heart (emotions).

4. Divide the class into groups of 2 or 3 students each. Give half of the groups the Excerpts from Thomas Paine's Common Sense and the other half of the groups Excerpts from Thomas Paine's The Crisis. Give each group a copy of the Graphic Organizer: Analyzing Persuasive Writing. Have each group read and discuss their assigned Thomas Paine excerpts and complete its graphic organizer.

5. Facilitate a class discussion in which each group shares what it learned about their assigned Thomas Paine writings. In the excerpts from Common Sense and The Crisis, No. 1, which arguments did they find more persuasive: those that appealed to the reader's head (logic) or the heart (emotions)? Ask students to offer examples from the readings of strongly worded statements. [Example from Common Sense: "Even brutes do not devour their young nor savages make war upon their families . . ."]

6. Have students write their own persuasive paragraphs. Depending on the specific context of the lesson and the content of your classroom instruction, choose one of the following options:

  • Write a response to Thomas Paine that takes the other side of the argument, offering reasons why colonists should remain loyal to Great Britain.
  • Write a newspaper editorial about a topic of concern in your community.
  • Write a persuasive argument favoring or opposing a familiar topic (for example, school uniforms, increase in allowance, or getting a cell phone)


This lesson was written by Beth Burney, elementary school teacher, Atlanta, Georgia.

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