Students at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish School in River Forest have been participating in Wednesday Journal’s design-an-ad contest for each of the 24 years the contest has been held, said fifth-grade teacher Annette Szczesny.

Participating elementary school students typically create artwork and sales pitches for businesses that advertise in the paper. But this year, Szczesny took the contest a step further by turning it into an opportunity to teach her fifth-graders about persuasive writing.

“I’m a teacher who believes strongly in making the writing experience as authentic as possible,” Szczesny said. “I want something real for them, something where they’re going to get a result.”

Szczesny taught the students to grab readers’ attention in the essay, with many of them posing questions like, “Do you need an affordable solution to your back issues?” She then had them use persuasive language to provide details and reasons for choosing that business. Many of the essays talked about comparative costs and value. Szczesny said she met with each student for a writing conference to make sure the essays were polished before she sent them in.

Szczesny said the assignment may have motivated the students to ask their parents if they could visit the businesses they were writing about, making them feel more engaged.

“I think they just felt more connected to it because they knew a little bit.”

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