Lessons in Paragraph Writing with an old friend

For most text types, students need to master the art of paragraph writing. My favourite and most effective way to teach this is by using the ‘upside down traffic light.’

Green for Go : Your topic sentence that everything else has to match.

Orange for Continue: 3-4 sentences (at least) about the topic.

Red for Stop: A closing off sentence.

Now, by the time I get to teach paragraphs, kids are tired of hearing about them, so I spend a very brief moment explaining my traffic light, a quick few seconds showing them the same piece of writing with and without paragraphs (so they can really see how to keep a teacher happy and the difference paragraphs make in writing – I ask them which one they think is easier to read) and then I move onto the meaty bit – the part that hooks them in.

I tell students that they are going to help me write a paragraph following the upside down traffic light, but I will give them the topic sentence. Now they are just about ready to slump into that ‘elbow on the desk’ hand that holds up an ear and chin in many classes.

I pull out my green (for topic sentence) marker and write on the board, “Mrs Gangalooly is the ugliest person I know.” I keep on wishing that I had a camera to record the total shock on their faces as prim and proper old me writes a sentence like that on the board. Teachers are not supposed to say things like that, but I have now given them a golden opportunity. I ask them (with examples) if sentences about her strange truck-driver husband or rickety house on the hill behind our school fit into THIS particular paragraph, which of course they don’t. But then I ask if the purple, hairy wart on the end of her bulbous nose would make her “ugly.” Kids then contribute their own sentences to match the topic sentence. It is hard to stop them. Sadly, they have a fortune to say about what would make her ugly. Yet – for kids who have a weakness in writing, they suddenly have a lot to write about, never mind get excited about.

We finish off the paragraph by choosing the most important word from the green sentence and using that word again in the red sentence.

Mrs Gangalooly is an old friend of mine as she has been teaching paragraph writing with me for years…I certainly hope I don’t get to meet her one day though as she might not be happy with what I have been saying about her.

More ideas on paragraph writing to follow soon.

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6 Responses to Lessons in Paragraph Writing with an old friend

  1. dillymum says:

    well teachermum you have done it again! my part-time work as editor and journalist has just had some shock treatment! and next time i have writer’s block because i can only think of my last doctors visit with kids and next oportunity to getto the pharmacy, i will start with mrs gangooly and go from there!

  2. Camilla says:

    I like this idea. Do you find it works for all text types or only descriptive writing and narratives?
    I have never thought about describing someone as ugly because that is not what teachers are supposed to do, but I can imagine all the boys and probably some of the girls too getting excited about the topic.

    • TeacherMum says:

      Hi Camilla
      Nice to hear from you again! Yes – I use it for all writing, but I also teach kids how to write effective introductions and conclusions too. I also teach them that when writing factual reports, often the red sentence is not necessary. When they have mastered the paragraphs, I let them know that when they read books and when they write in high school, some paragraphs may only have one orange sentence, but for the sake of practicing in my classes and getting the content out, I make them write at least 3-4 orange sentences in addition to the topic (green) and closing (red)
      Good luck – let me know how it goes if you use it.

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  4. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. By the end of the year, my students need to write multiple-paragraph compositions. However, I’ve already decided to focus on one paragraph for the first few months. I love your ideas. Thank you.

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