Gaia Warriors by Nicola Davies, Afterword by James Lovelock 

Reviewed in October 26, 2011 post


If you’ve not read our October 26 post, you may want to begin there to get a quick overview of this remarkable book–along with suggestions for using it as a model informational text. This time around, we’ll offer suggestions for using this same book to teach elements of persuasive writing. As you are aware, persuasive writing is strongly emphasized in the Common Core Standards, but it offers challenges to teachers because as you’ve almost certainly noticed, there are many more examples of narrative and informational writing than persuasive writing out there. Teaching form without examples is tricky business indeed, however, because so many students have trouble grasping just what qualities define persuasive writing in the first place. That makes a book like this one a gem. Not only is author Nicola Davies passionate about her topic, but she draws in multiple voices to support her position. In addition, she draws upon extensive research–her own and that of other scientists from throughout the world. This gives her argument weight. And here’s a subtle technique: Notice that her chapter titles are primarily phrased as questions, which is Davies’ way of acknowledging that readers are filled with questions just like the ones she raises, and may not automatically accept what she has to say. We often tell students that good persuasive writing acknowledges the opposition, and refutes their reasoning. Davies consistently deals with readers’ skepticism, always having a little more information up her sleeve to strengthen her argument, but showing us she’s well aware that doubters are everywhere. When it comes to informational or persuasive writing, knowing your topic inside and out is strategy number one. But it’s well worth exploring other strategies that writers like Davies use to make us pay attention–and believe.

In the Classroom

Following are just a few suggestions for using Gaia Warriors to teach persuasive writing. We have written them directly to students, rather than to you as the teacher; but you will be involved in leading discussions, posing additional questions, and reading selected passages aloud. Be sure to use a document projector if at all possible. Much of persuasion happens visually. Individual photos or other graphics, or even the general design of the book itself, can have enormous impact on readers. (Note that the following activities assume that you have shared all or a portion of the book with students and/or that they have done some reading on their own.)

1. Main message. A good argument has a main message. In your own words, write what you believe is the main message of this book, and then rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how strongly it is delivered. Discuss the results.

2. Tone. The Introduction by author Nicola Davies (p. 7) sets the tone for the book. Read this introduction aloud and make a list of words that describe her voice in these opening paragraphs. What makes this a persuasive piece?

3. Quotations. Read the quotation from Mahatma Gandhi (p. 8).  What does this quotation mean to you personally? Why do you think Nicola Davies chose this particular quotation to open her book? Was it a good choice? As you discuss the book, identify other quotations you think are especially effective in supporting the author’s message.

4. Photos and graphics. Some people think photos and other graphics have great persuasive power. Perhaps you agree. Look carefully at the photos on page 12. What do we learn from them that we cannot get from words alone? What other photos or graphics are especially effective in this book? Don’t forget to take a look at the cover itself, designed by Harriet Russell. What message does it convey?

5. Counter-arguments. Read the quotation on page 16. Do you know anyone who has expressed an opinion like this? Have you ever felt this way yourself on a rainy or cool day? Talk about why the author would include a quotation like this. What is the effect on us as readers?

6. Multiple strategies. Read the chapter titled “How Do We Know That the Climate Is Changing?” aloud (p. 24ff), beginning with the opening quotation. Working as a class or in small groups, list all the strategies you can think of that Davies uses in this particular chapter to convince us that climate change is real. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the impact of her argument in this chapter?

7.  Charts, graphs, and maps. Seeing ourselves on a chart can sometimes prompt us to act–or at least think about how we could do better. Read the chapter titled “Is Climate Change Our Fault?” (pp. 53ff), and look carefully at the graph and map on pages 58 and 59. In global terms, how do we, the United States citizens, look as depicted here? How do you think most readers react to this? How is the author probably hoping we will react?

8. Predictions & consequences. Good persuasive writers help readers make predictions or assess the consequences of their action or inaction. Put this to the test by challenging yourself to make a prediction. Based on what you have read from this book, make an argument for what Earth’s climate will be like 100 years from today. Support your argument with quotations from the book or from other relevant sources.

9. Identifying with the reader. Good persuasive writers like to show that they understand their audience. They know who their readers are–and appreciate them. Read the chapter titled “Listening to Children” (pp. 160-165). If possible, check out some of the websites or blogs. Cite any passage or sentence or quotation with which you identify–in other words, a passage that matches how you think or feel. Write about why you connect with this particular passage.

10. Ending on a hopeful note. There are few things more depressing than a problem that has no hope of resolution whatsoever. Persuasive writers often begin by painting a dark picture. But there’s a moment where things turn, andthe author says in effect, “Hold on! I have suggestions for making things better!” Read the quotation (p. 180) from Nelson Mandella, then the conclusion (p. 181) by Nicola Davies. What do you think? Is Davies right to be hopeful? Even though she believes the Earth is continuing to warm? Based on what you have learned from this book or other reading or experience, construct a brief argument that supports or refutes her position.

11. Empowering readers. Hope is one thing. Action is another. Readers usually feel better if they feel they can make a difference. Read the chapter titled “It’s All Too Big and Scary and There’s Nothing I Can Do About It” (pp. 74-77). Discuss the metaphor of the picnic-table-sized column of air on your hand. Is this a good metaphor? Can you picture it? Then skim through Section Two, in which the author goes to considerable trouble to suggest ways of slowing climate change. Now imagine yourself writing to a friend who says, “It’s all too big–there’s nothing one person can do.” Write a persuasive letter to that friend suggesting how he or she really can make a difference. How could your friend (or anyone) make that column of air smaller and lighter? (Hint: Skimming means NOT reading word for word, but going through a piece quickly, reading just enough to get the general idea. Skimming Section Two might take 15-20 minutes.)

12. Getting a feel for genre. Based on your discussions and thinking about this book, do you think Gaia Warriors is mainly an informational or persuasive text? What is the difference? Make a T-chart with two columns. Label one column Informational Writing, and the other Persuasive Writing. As a class or in small groups, list as many qualities of each genre as you can think of, and see if you can identify specific qualities that distinguish one from the other.

Coming up on Gurus . . .

Next week we’ll look at quotations and paraphrasing and ways of avoiding plaigarism. So . . . stop by and visit us!!