Learning to write a paragraph is an important skill, and children who can master it have what it takes to begin composing longer pieces of writing. In this lesson, follow the steps of a master teacher as she helps her 3rd-graders with paragraph writing.
Why Paragraphs Are Important
Ms. Pritchard is a master 3rd-grade teacher who spends a great deal of time helping her students learn how to write well-formulated paragraphs. A paragraph is a group of sentences that center around one idea or meaning. As Ms.
Pritchard teaches her students, paragraph writing is important because paragraphs are building blocks for writing longer essays, articles, and stories.Ms. Pritchard is going to let you in on some of the secrets she teaches her students to make sure that their paragraphs are strong and make a lot of sense. One word of caution: Ms. Pritchard warns that before children can learn how to write paragraphs, they must have a solid grasp of sentence writing. Prior to tackling paragraphs with your students, assess their ability to write well-developed and grammatically correct sentences.
Then, you are ready to move on.
A Beginning, a Middle, and an End
Ms. Pritchard teaches her 3rd-graders that just like a good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, so does a good paragraph. She teaches her beginning students to plan their paragraphs using an organizer. An organizer is a visual way to plan writing before adding any detail or formulating a piece.
More advanced students will not need this organizer and might be able to get more creative with their paragraph writing, but for beginners, the hamburger-style organizer is a helpful way to remember about beginnings, middles, and ends.In the top bun of the organizer, students should jot a few thoughts about how they want their paragraph to open. In the lettuce, cheese, and meat sections (feel free to switch these up for vegetarian students!), they should write at least three details that support what they are going to say. And in the bottom bun, they should jot some ideas about how they will close their paragraphs.
Writing a Good Topic Sentence
A topic sentence is what Ms. Pritchard teaches her students to call the opening sentence of their paragraph.
The key things to remember about topic sentences, she explains, are that they introduce what the paragraph is about, capture the reader’s attention, and begin with an indentation to show that they are introducing a new idea.Ms. Pritchard allows her students to spend at least a class period practicing topic sentences and testing them out on their classmates. They discover that topic sentences are very explicit about introducing the topic of the paragraph, and they often include an exciting fact or a question that readers will be interested in answering.
She congratulates Jose on his wonderful topic sentence for a paragraph on horseback riding:’Horseback riding might scare you or excite you, but if you read on, you will learn some important tips about riding safely while still having fun.’
Ms. Pritchard believes strongly that a solid paragraph has at least three supporting details.
More than five can sometimes get overwhelming, and fewer than three is almost never enough to prove the point. Ms. Pritchard reminds her students that supporting details should always relate back to the topic sentence. She explains that a detail can take more than one sentence to describe in full. She has each of her students choose one of their topic sentences from yesterday’s class period and think of at least three supporting details. Then, she lets her students help one another craft their details into complete sentences.
Lauren has chosen to write her paragraph about cooking Indian food. Her supporting details include the importance of adding spices, serving rice or naan on the side, and focusing on vegetables rather than meat. For her second detail – serving rice or naan – she ends up with the following cluster of sentences:’Rice is a good way to calm the spicy flavor of some Indian dishes, and it is also a staple of many Indian diets. You can serve it on the side or under saucy foods. Naan, one type of Indian bread, is another delicious choice that many people eat on the side with curries and other dishes.
‘Ms. Pritchard points out that while Lauren has three sentences here, they all connect to one detail, and that detail relates back to the topic sentence.
Crafting a Strong Conclusion
Ms. Pritchard tells her students that a strong concluding sentence can be the most challenging part of paragraph writing.
She suggests that a good conclusion should sum up the main idea of your paragraph, start with a key word or phrase, like ‘as you can see,’ ‘finally,’ or ‘in conclusion,’ and leave your reader with something interesting to think about.Her students spend yet another class period playing around with conclusions for their paragraphs. They workshop each other’s work and give advice and comments. Ben ends up with a wonderful conclusion to his paragraph about Minecraft:’As you can see, Minecraft is a fun but complicated game – maybe you will find out more by playing it yourself!’
Putting It All Together
Now that Ms.
Pritchard’s students have written all of the components of their paragraphs, they edit for punctuation, grammar, and spelling; and they put the different building blocks together. They copy their paragraphs into neater final drafts and celebrate their accomplishments by sharing their writing with one another.
Just as Ms. Pritchard’s students have learned to write a paragraph, a group of sentences that center around one idea or meaning, you have learned about how to teach one.
You now know to teach students that a paragraph begins with a solid topic sentence that introduces what the paragraph is about, continues with three to five supporting details, and ends with a conclusion that sums up the main idea. Students will need practice to develop these skills, of course, but over time you will see that your students have become stronger paragraph writers ready to compose longer and more complicated pieces.