Teaching paragraph writing

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by J. A., Sep 29, 2018.

  1. J. A.

    J. A. Rookie

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    Sep 29, 2018

    I was hoping there would be a specific forum for Reading/ELA teachers, but I didn't see one, so I'll take a chance here. I was wondering what people would suggest doing to instruct 6th graders on paragraph writing. My 7th graders have a pretty good grasp on it, but the teacher the vast majority of them had last year retired, so I can't ask her what she did to teach them. Many of my 6th graders struggle to write a paragraph, let alone remember the "parts" of a paragraph. We tried hamburger writing, in which the topic sentence is the top bun, supporting details are the toppings and meat, and the bottom bun is your concluding sentence. That worked at first, but when it's time to actually write a paragraph, they're lost when I ask for a topic sentence. I've tried showing examples of paragraphs, going through them one sentence at a time, as well as having them read weak paragraphs to take out sentences that do not belong.

    Any suggestions on how to teach 6th graders how to write? I'd love to hear from elementary teachers as well! Much of the feedback I've gotten has been form high school teachers, and they have given me excellent ideas, but I'd like to hear from the other end of the spectrum since 6th graders are still very, very elementary.
     
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  3. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    Sep 29, 2018

    A few suggestions:

    1. Do quick writes every day. Sometimes do multiple quick writes in one day. Project an image, set a timer and everyone writes for 3 minutes. When the timer goes, have students review their quick write (or after a series of quick writes, have them choose their best one) and model how to take out irrelevant information and transform their writing into a more polished piece.
    2. Instead of reading weak paragraphs, give them lots of examples of great paragraphs. Teach them to read like writers and then talk about why the organizational structure of specific texts work.
    3. This is a marathon, not a sprint. "Paragraph writing" is not something we cross off the list after a few weeks of teaching. This develops with a lot of practice. Instead of focusing specifically on paragraph writing, focus on teaching different genres of writing and embed paragraph writing instruction within a meaningful context.
     
  4. JimG

    JimG Comrade

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    Sep 30, 2018

    A rule that helped me write in school from 6th grade up through college was a rule of three. With this, any paragraph should have three supporting sentences between the opening and closing sentences.

    This can be scaled up to a five-paragraph essay with an opening paragraph, closing paragraph, and three body paragraphs, with each of the paragraphs themselves following the rule of 3.

    I was then able to take this and use it to write 10-page papers in college where I had three main points that each took up three pages, with each page itself a sub-point and following the rule of 3 like in the five-paragraph essay. Writing the opening and closing paragraphs for the paper extended the nine pages to ten.
     
  5. vickilyn

    vickilyn Magnifico

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    Sep 30, 2018

    Ditto. This is how I teach paragraphs, and then the five paragraph essay that is the hallmark of standardized testing constructed responses. Will they find paragraphs with less or more than 5 sentences? Sure, but if they can get this concept down, it makes it so much easier to teach the 5 paragraph essay.

    I am a science teacher, and teaching literacy is part of our responsibility in education. In students who are below grade level, we start by writing the first sentence, and then finding three supporting sentences in the reading, followed by a summation of the information in the final sentence. Once they get this, I notice that they start to change the sentences, but retain the supporting fact. That is growth.

    I personally would steer away from the hamburger strategy, because it is easy to forget. Even my lowest readers can remember that the first sentence basically tells you, or lays out what the next three sentences will be about. Allowing them to use sentences that they find in the reading encourages reading for specific knowledge, and how to find the topic sentences in what they are reading. I have taught MS ELA, and this is how I taught paragraphs not only to my students, but to my son. I was told by a HS teacher that she could tell my former students by the fact that virtually all of them were capable of writing a 5 paragraph essay without falling to pieces. When I moved to HS, I was shocked at how daunting that task is to many HS students.

    I am a big believer in using a lot of one to two page articles for the students to practice with, such as NEWSELA and the Scholastic classroom magazines. FYI, I also teach ESL and SPED. My job is to make them competent, and that is sometimes a huge step forward.
     
  6. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Maven

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    Sep 30, 2018

    I teach the three as well. My kids are comfortable with the parts of the five paragraph essay, and I explain using threes.

    Our kids are taught to use the RACE strategy (restate, answer, cite text evidence, and explain) for answering open/extended response questions, and I tell them it works pretty darned well for writing paragraphs, too.
     
  7. J. A.

    J. A. Rookie

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    Sep 30, 2018

    Great ideas! I'll definitely try the NEWSELA idea once we move onto nonfiction. I just kind of freaked out because middle school tests writing in all three grade levels at the end of the year, and my 6th graders are really low in their writing skills. Many of them did not know what an essay was, let alone an introduction. That's why I broke it down to basic paragraph writing. Each time we try to write, I get, "What's a topic sentence/detail/concluding sentence?"

    I would also love some ideas on how to teach revision. When I gave them their rough drafts with feedback, most of them were lost when I tried to show them how to revise. I put an example (a "weak" paragraph written by myself) on the document camera and showed them how to follow comments and proofreading symbols (they keep these in their interactive notebooks) to revise and edit, but less than half of them made any changes at all, and barely a third truly understood what it means to revise.

    This is only my second year, and it's my first with 6th grade. I adore them, but I'm used to teaching writing to 7th and 8th graders who are basically just reviewing it, while 6th grade is learning it for the first time.
     
  8. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    Sep 30, 2018

    You might find Jeff Anderson's book Everyday Editing helpful to guide your practice. His approach changed how I looked at teaching editing and revising and made it more interactive for my students.
     
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  9. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Oct 1, 2018

    I don't know if anyone has mentioned this (I didn't read all the comments) but one good way would be to teach them how to write 11 sentence paragraphs. This might be a bit much for 6th grade, so I wouldn't require them to do this all the time, but at least teach them how to do it, then you can move down to 8 sentence paragraphs and they could be doing this all the time, and finally if you just want a 5 sentence paragraph, there is a structure for that as well.

    You can google these, the whole point is that there is a structure and every sentence has a purpose and a place, and it really makes it easy. This way the kids won't be writing too long or too little. IF you need any help with this, let me know.
     

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