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A lesson featured in the NNWP's
Six by Six
Print Guide: Traits Writing for Little Writers

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About this lesson's author:

Jody Dallas teaches first grade in Virginia City, Nevada. She finds that teaching writing to first graders completely exhausts her—but she loves it anyway!

Jody became a Northern Nevada Writing Projecy Teacher Consultant in 2007.

This Lesson:
I Wanna What?

Focus Trait:
Word Choice

Lesson's Mentor Text:

I Wanna Iguana
by Karen Kaufman Orloff

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The lesson on this page is featured in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Six by Six Guide. Click here to see how to order your own copy, which contains thirty-five other trait lessons besides the one on this page.

Big Ideas behind this Lesson:

Trait Focus: Word Choice —The concept focus is on Word Choice as the power of words to convince an audience of your point of view.

Standards Addressed:

  • With assistance revise drafts with a focus on audience and purpose.
  • With assistance, write a persuasive sentence.
  • With assistance, write friendly letters following an established format.

Talking and Reading:

This lesson is centered on persuasive vocabulary and the book, I Wanna Iguana, by Karen Kaufman Orloff. My students love the book, and have enjoy the lesson because it gave them the opportunity to try to talk their parents into something! Conceptually, the biggest challenge of this lesson for young students is grasping the difference between begging and persuading.

The book is a series of short letters between a boy and his mother. The boy is trying to persuade his mother that he can take care of a pet iguana. I read the book several times during the writing process and highlighted the use of persuasive vocabulary: should, need, best, worst, etc.

One concept that I like to hit is not demonstrated in this book. As the students brainstorm the reasons why their parents should do something for them, they need to come up with the most important reason and save it for the final “punch” of their letter.


After reading the book for the first time to introduce this lesson, I explain to the students that they get to write letters to their parents. We talk about how the boy in the book doesn’t spend the whole story saying “please, please, please”, -- he gives his mom good reasons why he should have the iguana. It can also work to have some students role-play a situation where they really want something from their parents. Most students will take the bribery approach – “If you get it for me I’ll clean my room!” or simply, beg.

Day 1: I introduce the graphic organizer by projecting a copy of it in the front of the room, and we filled it out together based on “I Wanna Iguana.” “What if the boy could only write one letter to convince his mom to let him have the iguana?” Together we determine the audience (mom) and what he wanted her to do (let the boy have the pet iguana). Then we listed the reasons the boy gave his mom to convince her he deserved the pet.

Day 2: I did an example from scratch – again, determining the audience (usually the principal) and what I wanted her to do (build the first grade class a swimming pool) and we had fun coming up with the reasons why our class deserves our own swimming pool.

Day 3: I gave students their own graphic organizers that prompted them to identify their audience and choose what it is that they are going to ask for. This is the most challenging part of the lesson and requires the most assistance from the teacher. However, you will see a lot of “light bulb” moments when students start to understand that they need to appeal to another person rather than simply state that they want something. It is not uncommon for students to change their minds as they work through the process and see that some arguments will have more value to their parents than others.

Example 1: Rachel persuaded, “Mom, take me to the pool. I’ll put my own sunblock on. I’ll let you swim all you want. I’ll help my little brother swim.”

Example 2: Sam persuaded, “Mom, let me go spend the night at Dad’s. He misses me. It is his birthday. I miss him too.”

Day 4: Once the framework of ideas was filled out, I had students highlight what they thought was the best reason they should get what they want. They were to save this reason for last in their letter. We had a brief lesson on the format of a friendly letter, and then I modeled constructing a letter from the graphic organizer that we filled out together. I saved the best reason for a final sentence that states “But the most important reason you should ____________ is…” It is important to remember to model how to go back to the organizer to construct the letter. I’ve had students spend a lot of time getting their organizers just right; then I send them off to write their letter, and it’s on a completely different topic! Some might need extra direction to stick to their topic.

Day 5: With a little creative planning and, ideally, help from another adult, every student got some one-on-one editing assistance so that they could re-write their letters and put them in the publishing format that you chose. With my higher ability kids, who are fast finishers, I paired them up and had them fill out graphic organizers based on their partners’ letters. It’s an interesting exercise to watch them work in reverse and hold their partner accountable! In other words, can each determine a partner’s audience, desire, and persuasive reasons?


Tools Needed:

The graphic organizer. Envelopes and postage (if you choose to have students mail their letters).



Since the final product is a letter, students can mail them to their parents and get some practice addressing an envelope. What fun to share in class the reactions to the letters when they arrive at home. Possibly you could keep a tally about who convinced their parents and got their wishes.

Hailey wrote, “Dear Mom and Dad, I think we should have a family vacation to the ocean. You can relax on the hot sand and swim in the cool ocean. My sister Sarah and I will stand in the shallow water. But the important thing is that we won’t even get in trouble. We will splash the water at each other.”

Jade wrote, “Dear Mom, I think you should get me a swing set and here’s why. I will get lots of exercise. And if you do get me a swing set you won’t even know I’m there. I won’t bother you while you’re watching TV. I’ll be swinging on the swing set. But the most important reason is that the other swing set blew over in the hard wind. Love, Jade”

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