forkin4th: Paragraph Writing

Are you struggling to provide adequate examples of paragraphs when teaching your students how to write?  It takes A LOT of instructional effort to really drill in the craft and structure of writing to your students so they don’t resort back to their poor and comfortable habits.  Not to mention, having examples of well-written paragraphs available and anchor charts posted during instruction for students to reference… I’ve spent far too many prep periods getting creating these materials myself!  What makes teaching & grading WRITING easier?  I’m so excited I finally figured out how to build stronger writers and I’m sharing some of my secret techniques to help you stop pulling your hair out!

#1 – Parts of a Paragraph Writing Anchor Chart!!  

If you don’t have transitional phrases available, and you don’t constantly reference them, then how do you expect your students to venture out farther then first, next, then, last?!?  My poster really stays up the first half of the year and is probably the most referenced in the classroom, aside from any class goal we are tracking.  As a teacher of developing 4th grade writers, I have learned that many kids passed 3rd grade not knowing how to indent their paragraphs, let alone what a paragraph is.  To find out more about how I scaffold paragraph writing instruction, grab my freebie over at my TpT store.

EXAMPLES of quality paragraph writing is key – because even though it may seem like common sense for students to put a dent at the beginning to match the look of the article they just read from, A LOT of time LIKE 95% of the time – they DON’T!!  Download this free resource to hear what wacky thing I do to help the kids remember to indent each paragraph.

#2 – Teach The STRUCTURE: Topic Sentence, Supporting Details & Conclusion Sentence

During the first part of the school year, we are in WRITING BOOT CAMP!  It’s just training the students to know that holes live on the left side of a lined sheet of paper, how to write a proper heading, why we skip lines when we draft.  Beyond these simple mechanics, I break down the basics of quality writing: hammering down what is a COMPLETE SENTENCE and the STRUCTURE of a PARAGRAPH.  After we’ve gotten the hang of it (and all students have received one-on-one feedback on how to improve their writing from me at least twice during the year – written or verbal), normally by mid-late September – it’s time to relinquish some control.   I slowly pull back because it’s time to let their INDIVIDUAL WRITING STYLES SHINE!

#3 – Use Writing Frames with Struggling Writers

One of the hard realities I’ve learned is that grading the writing from my below-level students is PAINSTAKINGLY difficult because it takes me forever to read through them!!  There’s just so many gaps, I don’t even know where to begin.  Often, these are my ELL (English Language Learner) students and Resource students (those on an IEP for writing).  These guys typically have such a strong work ethic, but they just need that little BOOST to get them going on the writing assignment.

What are writing frames? Well, they begin as a sentence starter, but also include other parts of the rest of the sentence, so that’s why it’s called a frame instead.  Even though making the frames takes me extra work, it helps me to create my teacher exemplar along the way.  My example above shows that the structure and grammatical syntax has been setup for the student, so they can focus on inserting their ideas.  As time goes on, and their skills progress, this will fade away (especially since they won’t get this kind of help on assessments) but it does wonders to boost their confidence and abilities at the onset.  TIP: If you have a non-English speaker who you’re unable to communicate with, why don’t you modify their assignment and let them complete the writing frame after running it through Google Translate and converted it into their native language?  My Korean students have loved working this way!

#4 – Get Familiar with the Rubric BEFORE Assigning Writing

For the first five years of my life as a teacher, I absolutely HATED rubrics.  I was ANTI-rubric.  Why? Well, it’s because I always had to use the ANCIENT, TEDIOUS and WAY TOO LONG rubric required by the district.  Also, for the first four years I taught, I was forced to sit through a Professional Development Day grading three class sets of on-demand writing using this 36 point rubric (6 point-rating-scale for the six traits of writing).  Therefore, I was burned out by rubrics and basically made the executive decision that my students would be happier if they never saw a rubric.

Recently, I took it upon myself to align the rubric I used in class to the ones my students would see later on when we took our state test.  Once again, it was WAY TOO WORDY (we’re talking size 6 font). So, I tried my best to create a THOROUGH rubric that would make it EASY-to-GRADE!  At the bottom, you’ll notice a spot for students to explain their self-evaluation because I want them to really benefit from reflecting on the quality of work they produce!

Amazingly, once I FELT COMFORTABLE with the rubric we would be using, my students started getting used to them too! (cue the Selena Quintanilla song, “I’m Getting Used to You!”)

 Also, my grading turnaround time improved.  I started referencing them more throughout the writing process, and eventually I learned to LOVE rubrics (once they were already made, of course!)  Making them is still a pain, but luckily you can collaborate with your teammates when your brain is fried!

#5 – Give Your Students PLENTY of PRACTICE WRITING

I don’t TORTURE myself with 5 paragraph stories or essays except for ONCE or TWICE a quarter.  Instead, I keep it manageable with paragraph prompts to assess my students’ abilities in writing (a HUGE THANKS to my principal for this great idea!!)  The trick she shared, is even when you do assign the long-winded assignments, just pull out one or two paragraphs and provide a grade from that evidence.

Branching off my principal’s advice to just focus on paragraphs, I began to make it a point to assign writing that kids can CONNECT with and feel MOTIVATED about with just a little bit of persuading on my part.  Whenever I can, I make sure it’s an assignment which can be completed when we go to the Computer Lab as a Google Classroom activity.  This lets ME 😀format the font style and look of the final draft, but ELIMINATES the need to decipher illegible or sloppy writing because now it’s typed up (what a blessing!)

For Halloween, I challenged my students to convince me they knew the best Halloween costume for me to wear.  Whoever convinced me the best, would win the chance to see me come to school dressed in that costume.  Well, we all REALLY enjoyed this activity, and since I received so many Harry Potter themed costumes, but I was too late in getting to the store before Harry Potter robes sold out, I thought outside of the box.

I LOVE all things gold and all things Harry Potter, so I browsed Amazon Prime for some props to make a DIY Golden Snitch costume.  It was a HIT!

If you’re interested in adding the Halloween Teacher Costume Challenge or other Fall Bitmoji Paragraph Prompts into your classroom, click the image above.  Thorough was my goal while making this, so you can use it year after year.  As you might have guessed, I want ALL of the THINGS ready-to-go when I’m assigning writing!!

Forkin 4th

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