Students are learning to write earlier and earlier, it seems.  Their first paragraph may happen as early as first or second grade, so how can this process be made a little less painful for students?   It is important to make writing fun for students.  Not everyone is going to enjoy the simple act of using letters to form words that form sentences that form paragraphs.  In fact, some students may be turned off to writing before they ever get truly started.

What is a paragraph?

Before students can truly begin having fun with expressing themselves in paragraph form, they have to understand what a paragraph is.  For beginning writers, a paragraph is a combination of a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion sentence that are written about one idea.

 

What is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence is very important to readers understanding what the paragraph is about.  Writers will have to choose one idea to develop in their paragraph.  For example, if they are writing about a favorite book, their topic sentence might simply be:  My favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Notice that this topic sentence not only lets the reader know what the paragraph is about, but it also allows the reader to know why the author is writing.

 

What are supporting details?

Now that students have a topic sentence and a main idea, they will additional details to truly inform their reader about their main idea.  This can be done through supporting details.  The earliest forms of the paragraph may simply offer three reasons to support the main idea.  For example, looking back to the main idea:  My favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, students will want to explore three reasons that this is their favorite book.  They might make a list of reasons that they are found of Eric Carl’s picture book or they might complete a web.  After they have three reasons, these can be organized into sentences to form the supporting details for their paragraph.

Now a sample paragraph might appear something like this:  My favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I love the way the author uses bright pictures.  I also like that the caterpillar is so hungry and eats a lot of food.  I also like the book because the caterpillar eats a pear, and pears are my favorite fruit.

 

 

 

What is the conclusion sentence?

Paragraphs need a conclusion sentence that restates the main idea.  In our sample paragraph, an effective conclusion sentence could be:  This is why I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar so much. 

 

Hamburger = Paragraph?

Many people have created sample items to showcase the parts of a paragraph.  One of my favorite is how a paragraph is a lot like a hamburger.  The top bun is the main idea sentence, while the bottom bun is the conclusion sentence.  All of the items in between are the supporting details.

 

Different Types of Paragraphs:

Beginning paragraphs will be very simple and contain only the basic elements, but as writers get more comfortable, they will begin to explore different types of paragraphs.  The chart below shows some of the different paragraph types:

 

Type:

Description:

Sample topics:

Narrative

Tells a story of one specific event. A visit to the dentist

 

Going to a sleepover

 

Descriptive

Clearly explains an idea using vivid language that creates a mental picture for the reader.

 

A grandparent

 

A new pair of shoes

Explaining a process

Telling someone how to do something.

 

How to make a paper airplane

 

How to bake a cake

 

Compare and contrast

Explaining how two or more things can be alike or different. Comparing fruits and vegetables.

 

Comparing The Very Hungry Caterpillar to The Mixed-Up Chameleon

 

Classification

Grouping items together based on common characteristics Types of rocks

 

Months of the year

 

 

Definition

An explanation of what something is or how it works. The purpose for duct tape

 

How an e-reader works

 

 

Choosing a Paragraph’s Organization: 

Obviously the complexity of a student’s paragraph will deal largely on their age and individual writing abilities.  While a third grader may simply be trying to get the foundational elements of a paragraph organized, older and more sophisticated writers will also want to experiment with different organizational patterns.

 

Paragraph Writing Activities:

To assist students gain a greater comfort in their paragraph writing abilities, you may want to try some of the following strategies:

¨       Class Created Paragraph – have students stand and line up around the wall.  Have a student draw an object from a mystery box.  Let them begin by stating a main idea sentence.  That student then passes the item to student 2, who will offer a supporting detail.  The item is then passed again with each additional student offering another supporting detail until they have reached the desired amount.  The last student will develop a conclusion sentence for the paragraph.  If possible, the teacher may want to try to compose the paragraph on a paper, dry erase board, or entering into a computer that students see on a screen.

 

¨       Group paragraphs – Give students a sheet of paper that already contains a topic sentence.  Have students work in small groups of 2 or 3 students to finish writing the paragraph.  Students will add a minimum of three supporting details and an appropriate conclusion sentence.\

 

¨       Pass it along – Another great paragraph writing activity is to have everyone take out a sheet of paper and write a topic sentence on their paper.  While students stay seated, the teacher will direct them to pass their papers to the person sitting to their right.  The next student will write a supporting detail that goes along with the original author’s main idea.  The papers will continue to be passed until all paragraphs have the desired number of supporting details and an appropriate conclusion sentence.  Have the students retrieve the paragraph that they started and read the paragraph.

 

In conclusion, paragraphs lay the foundation for students to develop into effective communicators.  They allow students to add focus and theme to their writing.  Additionally, students will gain confidence in their abilities to assess their thoughts and questions in written form.

What is a paragraph?