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.’
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.