Getting Started with Persuasive Pitches in ELA

Sep 17, 2019

Not all of our students will go on to be entrepreneurs.  But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t learn to think like them...


We live in an entrepreneurially-minded world, where skills such as problem-solving, creativity, grit, and teamwork are the backbone of innovation and progress.  

In having these skills, our learners will better understand themselves and the needs of our society.  

Yet one-too-many teachers (former Self, including) operate on the belief that entrepreneurial skills and cognitive learning targets can’t co-exist in the same lesson plan. 

(Think Harry-Potter-and-Lord-Voldemort, here)

There just isn’t enough *time*, we tell ourselves, to dedicate toward teaching self-direction!

But if I’m speaking the God’s Honest on a Sunday: that’s a bunch of malarky.  Hogwash.  

Straight rubbish! 

After all, what’s a good, written argument if there’s no good problem-solving behind it?  What’s a good team research project without teamwork?!

I know you're with me on this, but you might still be asking: does this mean we need to turn our classrooms into start-up incubators tomorrow?!  

*calmly shakes head, grinning*

Let’s be reasonable.  We have obligations, and we have requirements attached to our curriculums, too.  Things we simply can’t sideline, because our administrator or our district has made it clear that *that* show Must. Go. On.

Yet even still, this is the part where we tell that all-or-nothing mean girl (or guy) in the back of our minds to take a seat--that there is room for compromise--and that it's time to get down to business accordingly.

*Then* we free ourselves up to 'explore beyond the Core'.

In fact, Florida high school teacher, Autumn Backo, is sharing just how she does that in her own ELA classroom.

Persuasive Pitching with Autumn Backo

Tackling her teaching like an entrepreneur, Autumn jumped on an opportunity to pair her students’ natural interests with some practice in real-world application. But she did so without straying from her obligation to core cognitive standards.

(Seize the day, girl!) 

Teaching ‘The Pitch’

According to SeedSpot, one of the many ways we can teach our students how to be entrepreneurially-minded, or ‘self-directed’, is to teach them the art of Pitching.  

And that’s just what Autumn did.

A ‘pitch’ is a 30-second to 3-minute speech entrepreneurs use to explain  who they are, what they do, and why it matters.  

For our students, 'pitching practice' teaches them how to tell engaging stories, and they have to know their audience well in order to do that. 

Meanwhile, they learn how to deliver their ideas with confidence and conviction. And as they write their drafts, they get hyper-focused on succinctness and word choice.

You can weave ‘pitch practice’ into your class activities in *so* many ways. 

If your students are:

  • studying contemporary issues: you can have them work in groups to pitch the most feasible solution to the problem (my personal favorite).
  • reading a novel: they can prepare a pitch from the perspective of a character, pitch the solution to the character's problem, or pose an alternative to the present storyline.
  • getting ready for group reads or literature circles: they can each pitch their own vote for which book the group will read.
  • working on group research projects: team members might pitch their ideas to the group, then have the class decide which idea holds most promise for that group.

EXPERT TIP: if your students are seeking solutions for contemporary issues, you could have them align these with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as part of the requirement for their pitch!

As adults, we know what a pitch is, do we teach it?  

Leadership strategist and Forbes senior contributor, Carmine Gallo likens the structure of a good pitch to the three-part formula Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters use, or the track-and-hook formula singers like Taylor Swift use to make pop songs irresistible:

The Set-up, the Conflict, and the Resolution.


[Watch Carmine Gallo's keynote speech, where he introduces the 'message map' strategy for creating a 15-second pitch. You can totally use this in the classroom to teach language + nuanced word choice!]

Easy peasy, right?!

Not quite.

In delivering the pitch itself, the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) points out that you have to have the polish and swagger to go with it.  

In this article in Inc., YEC outlines the critical elements so many pitches fall short on, such as involving a sense of humor, customizing research (audience-centered!), and using a conversational approach.

[Check out this article: 'The Art of the Elevator Pitch', by Carmine Gallo. Think about how you can connect the real-world application of 'loglines' to your critical reading and reader response lessons!]

Kevin Brookhouser, teacher, educational thought leader and author of the 20Time Project, identifies for his students the basic framework of a good pitch like this:

  1. Problem Statement: explain what is wrong with the status quo, and why it’s a significant problem.
  2. It gets worse: explain how failing to solve this problem could cause more problems.
  3. Glimmer of hope: suggest that the situation is not irreversible.
  4. The novel solution: explain how their innovative design or idea can help solve the problem in a realistic + workable way.
  5. The credible authority: demonstrate that you are (or that you have the recommendation for) the right person to solve the problem and that you’ve uniquely put in the kind of work to guarantee results (i.e. what sets your group’s idea apart from others who've gone before you?)
  6. The vision: inspire the audience by painting a picture of how the world might look under your design and how it will effectively solve the existing problem.

In this sense, it's just like Debate in the classroom, but we're leveling up by attaching the practice of these persuasive skills to the professional world where they're actually used.

(Cue the Ciara beat..level up...)

You can use Brookhouser's framework, for instance, to explore a project-based experience where your students research novel solutions to problems they're seeing in their own community, as in, real problems that don’t come with an answer key.  

SeedSpot highlights a group of students at Walden Grove High school in Arizona who did something just like this. After identifying the overwhelming problem of homelessness in their area, they pitch their idea of Mobile Rain, a renovated school bus that offers a mobile shower, and laundry service to give those who are homeless the opportunity and confidence to job-seek.

This is what pitch practice can eventually turn into...but where do we start?

Getting Started with Persuasive Pitches in the Classroom

A great way to scaffold in this direction is to take a tip from Autumn Backo's lesson planning playbook (shout-out to Autumn for sharing with us!)

Autumn puts a modern 'pitch' spin on the classic framework, RAFT, as her starting point for practicing persuasive and real-world skills in the classroom.

R   Role

A   Audience

F   Form

T   Topic

After reading an article in their Scholastic Upfront magazines, Ms. Backo’s students were particularly abuzz about a micro-article called ‘Cockroach Milk,’ which talked about how scientists are attempting to use the nutrients in the cockroach gut as a supplement to fight malnutrition.  

CLICK HERE to gain access to the materials which correspond with Autumn's RAFT Pitch lesson, plus *so* much more inside the Jill Pavich Free Resources Library!

Since Scholastic is a paid subscription, here are a few articles you're 'free' to peruse:

Though eating bugs as a delectable meal is pretty standard elsewhere in the world, it’s not commonly practiced in the West. So part-cringe, part-intrigue, Ms. Backo’s students were dying to know more.  

Leaning into their enthusiasm, Autumn decided to pair their current studies in argumentation with none other than entomophagy! 

Leading in with the essential question, ‘how does the use of persuasive techniques affect text?’, she asked her students to take on the role of a stakeholder associated with the article and--using persuasive techniques--convince the audience to accept their perspective about Cockroach Milk.

For one of her ELA classes, Ms. Backo’s students would be taking on the role of the scientists (R) and they would be speaking to an audience of people from the milk industry (A).  Their argument would be delivered through the form of a persuasive pitch (F), and the topic or the point of the speech would be to get the audience to invest in their invention of cockroach milk as the next biggest thing in the Western market (T).  

For her other section of learners, students would take on the role of the cockroach, and they would be pitching to milk drinkers everywhere that cockroach milk is a bad choice.

And for anyone needing to make up the assignment due to absence or otherwise, they’d take on the role of the marketer or business executive who is looking for cockroaches to take on the job of being a milk donor. 

(I’m cry-laughing at that good!)

So now that you have the eagle-eyed view, here’s how it works in detail…

How it Works

Learning Target: 

Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

Primary Learning Target

Day 1 | Analyzing text with SOAPSTone

Read the article, ‘Cockroach Milk, Anyone?’  Then practice breaking down text using the SOAPSTone method

This acronym, by the way, helps students dissect the work of professional writers as well as plan the structure of their own writing (similar to the intent of RAFT).

Day 2 | Observing the use of persuasive tactics and techniques

Watch several episodes from the popular show, Shark Tank.  As students watch each of the video clips, ask them to work in groups to complete the ‘Persuasive Pitches’ graphic organizer, where they'll identify + track the speaker’s use of logos, pathos, and ethos, specifically.  

Here are several of the Shark Tank episodes Ms. Backo uses herself, or feel free to create a playlist of your own:


Then it’s finally time to transition from critically consuming (reading) to actively producing (writing + speaking)!  

But just before you do, take a moment to reflect on the learning target with students to help them understand the skills they’re sharpening.  

Days 3-4 | Creating persuasive pitches via RAFT

Provide the class with their assigned role, audience, form, and topic (RAFT) for their persuasive pitches and allow them time to brainstorm ideas for the pitch as a group.

Once they’ve got their ideas mapped out, give groups time to draft their speeches and practice them.  

Earlier I mentioned how Autumn assigned a unique RAFT to each of her classes.  As an alternative, you could assign a unique RAFT to each group in the same class.

Days 5-6 | Creating persuasive pitches via RAFT

Last but not least, students present their pitches to the class.

If you'd love to get your hands on Autumn's lesson plan and activity slides for this lesson, join our mailing list today, so you can 'dive right in' to the pool of resources available in our FREE Resource Library!

Simply CLICK HERE and I'll see you on the inside ;-)

Why I Love It

Practicing persuasive pitching in the classroom can translate into the tangible application of skills employers seek, so this kind of work can not only be fun and challenging, but extremely rewarding in the long run.

So here’s my challenge for you…

First and foremost, put your Pitchers in front of real audiences.  This will make a total difference in how they ‘show up’ in their assignment! 

So this might mean you invite a panel of judges from the community (parents, admin, relevant stakeholders, etc.) . Or, you might have them share their pitches in an online forum, where they actively seek feedback from others.

On Twitter, for instance, they can use the hashtag #Comments4Kids to attract people who are willing to critique student work.

Also, think about ways you can incorporate pitch practice into your ongoing workflow. 

How can you increase the level of difficulty + audience reach over time to provide them with the most authentic experience possible?  

To show my own students how persuasive skills can truly change the world, by the way, I share with them the LuminAid pitch.  The people who are changing the world think creatively, communicate their ideas clearly, and tell their story well. And that kind of innovation can easily come from the learners in our midst when they find what it is they care most about.

Our students crave meaning in what they do, and they desire to make an impact on the world. With the right mix of cognitive challenge and purposeful design, they'll be free to direct their own success instead of waiting for Superman to save them.

To wrap it all up…

If you try out RAFT pitching (or any variation thereof!), you’ve *got* to share your good times with this funky squad of awesome teachers here on our blog!  

Post your comments below, and let’s celebrate your classroom wins! 

Got a rad, little lesson plan with a trailblazin’ twist that you’d love to share?  

Email me at [email protected] and tell me all about it for a chance to be featured on my blog!

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