Writing clear and effective paragraphs can be a challenge for many students. I’ve tried different ways to help students learn and practice this skill over the semesters. Piece by piece, I’ve come up with a sequence of activities that gets students analyzing paragraphs and working together to learn paragraph structure and then write a practice paragraph. It’s gone really well in my class, and the nice part is that I don’t have to stand up front and lecture about paragraph structure.
>>Click here to access the lesson slides<< Make sure to keep an eye out in the speaker notes section below each slide to find links to the handouts and further directions about how to do activities.
Description of the activities in the lesson:
Word Web: Start the lesson by having students work in groups to create a word web for the word paragraph. To do a word web activity, have students start with one word and then make as many connections to that word as they can. Below is a picture a word web created by my class. After all of the groups create their word web, have everyone walk around and look at the other word webs. Then have them circle the connection they think is the most important on the word web for understanding the idea of a paragraph.
Noticing: The next activity in the sequence asks students to walk around and read various paragraph examples. This part of the lesson gives them a chance to see paragraph structures and start to form conclusions about how to write a paragraph. Here is a link to the paragraphs you can use. There is also a link on the slide as well. You may choose to create your own paragraphs that go along with the theme of your class, to help make the lesson even more contextualized.
Debrief: Ask the class what they noticed about the paragraphs. You’ll be surprised what they come up with on their own without even having to lecture about it. My class talked about the beginning (topic sentence) and ending. They also made note of the various points and definitely picked up on the transition words being used in the paragraphs.
Highlighting: Next, students will be asked to work in groups to look at another example paragraph and color code the different parts. Before I ask them to do this, I give them an example of a burger and a paragraph, so they can see a visual of what they will need to do. At this point, I do talk a little more explicitly about what a paragraph is and the various parts that help it be clear and organized. After students highlight the paragraph, I go over it with them. My class didn’t have any trouble finding the different parts of the paragraph. The benefit of having them do this in groups is that if someone is still a little unsure, his/her teammates can help bridge the knowledge gap.
Writing: The last part of the lesson asks students to work in groups to collaboratively write a paragraph. The slides walk them through seven steps to writing a great paragraph. Unless your class is very long, this will probably be what you do on the second day.
The seven steps the lesson covers are as follows:
- Read the prompt
Each step includes activities for the groups to do. During the “review” step, students walk around and look at the other groups’ paragraphs and leave feedback for them, and then each group works to read the suggestions and make improvements during the “revise” step.
The thing I love about teaching paragraph writing this way is that it’s not boring. Students get engaged with the tasks they are given to accomplish, and they work together to do them. The group dynamic also helps them be more successful because they have more knowledge to draw from. Also, they may be working on writing, but they’re getting plenty of speaking practice in as well.
How do you teach paragraph writing? Leave a comment below.
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