We’ve all seen the hamburger writing frame for paragraph writing. These are great for teaching the structure of a paragraph, but something needs to come before the paragraph frame and the hamburger structure essay.
Paragraph writing is a step-by-step process
It’s essential to teach students the types of sentences that makes up a paragraph. I’m referring to topic sentences, detail sentences and examples, and concluding sentences. Students should know the function of each sentence within the paragraph and should practice writing these types of sentences.
For example, you can say that the top hamburger bun is a topic sentence, that it’s what you see first when biting down on the burger, but what exactly IS a topic sentence?
Explicit teaching of each sentence type is key to mastering the essential skill of writing an informative paragraph.
Review what a topic sentence is and what it isn’t. Provide anchor charts listing the traits of a topic sentence, then practice writing this type of sentence. Below are images of some of my favorite activities for working with topic sentences.
Use mentor sentences to help students master writing paragraphs
Using mentor sentences is a great way for students to see what works and what doesn’t work. This simple technique supports all students. A mentor sentence is a quality example of what you want to students to produce. I tell my students that copying the structure of a sentence isn’t plagiarism. Using a mentor sentence is looking at how the writer performs a certain skill. In this case, we’re looking at what the qualities are of a good topic sentence.
When you slow down instruction and break apart the task of writing a particular type of sentence, you are allowing your students the time to practice and master a skill. Be on the look out for my next blog post focused on the most common mistakes students make when writing informational paragraphs.
Supporting sentences target relevant details
The same can be said for supporting detail sentences. Analysis of a quality supporting detail sentence will help students know what their target is. Again, using anchor charts showing the traits of a quality supporting sentence will help your students gain familiarity with the skill.
Mentor sentences provide scaffolding for all students. For further information on helping struggling writers, read this blog post about supporting reluctant writers. Imitation is the goal, especially for those struggling or just learning to write a paragraph. Reviewing mentor sentences can also be valuable for reviewing the structure of a paragraph before you begin a larger piece of writing.
Paragraph writing and concluding sentences
Concluding sentences also deserve the careful analysis. Using the same strategies (anchor charts, mentor sentences, time to practice and analyze), students can practice this skill until it’s mastered.
Another key component to basic paragraph writing is the use of transitional words and phrases. Explicitly showing students that certain transition words/phrases have specific purposes will help them understand when a word or phrase should be used. In this case, transition words help the reader understand where they are in the paragraph. Mentor sentences, practice work, and categorized lists all help in progressing toward mastery.
Use paragraph examples when teaching paragraph writing
One important point in explicitly teaching the sentences that make up a paragraph is that you don’t want to lose engagement. In order to maintain student interest, you need engaging topics. I love using my zombie-themed paragraph writing unit because who doesn’t love a zombie? If you’re going to use a mentor paragraph, make the topic interesting: desserts, theme parks, Bigfoot, etc.
Remember that using mentor text is asking students to read as well as write. Here’s a great blog post on supporting reluctant readers. Avoid boring topics that can make students simply tune out. Check out this fun Paragraph Writing Unit I’ve created to target each component of writing a successful informative paragraph. It’s got more than 180 pages, and it comes in print and digital versions.
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