Writing paragraphs doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task for a student. Find out how to make paragraph writing simple and doable!
Boosting Confidence with Paragraph Writing
You want students who are confident, able writers. How do you get there? You begin with forming words in sentences, and then you collect sentences into–you guessed it–paragraphs. The paragraph is one of the basic units of writing. Students need to know how to craft them.
Why Confidence May be Lacking
Compositing is the collection of many skills: spelling, grammar, handwriting (or typing), forming thoughts into words, and cohesively organizing ideas. That’s a lot! We forget that beginning writers feel intimidated by the process. You think, “I am only asking for a paragraph.” They think, “I need to write a whole paragraph?” It can feel like you asked the student to write War and Peace.
Individual students may also have to deal with challenges that make writing especially hard. If they have dysgraphia, ADHD, communication disorders, or if English is not their first language, they may find writing a paragraph a daunting task.
Why It’s Important to Build Confidence
Imagine if someone brought you to the side of a cliff and said, “Okay, climb it.” How would you feel? If you are afraid of heights, you might be terrified. You would also be intimidated if you had no climbing skills and had not had a chance to strengthen your climbing muscles. Plus, you need the right equipment, like ropes, clips, and special shoes, to get the job done.
Beginning writers feel the same way. Some are terrified of writing; they want to quit before they even begin. Others have not had the training or instruction to know what to do. Still others don’t have the supports (more on this later) to get the job done.
All need practice. How do you equip and encourage students to write a paragraph?
Focus on Progress Over Perfection
You need to focus on progress, not perfection. Do not expect your students to write like adults immediately (or even after a long time). Remember all the skills necessary to write well–there are so many! Force yourself to see how the student is advancing in each skill.
A student may turn in a paragraph with correct capitalization and punctuation but zero flow to the ideas. Or a student may have amazing ideas, but there is not a punctuation mark to be seen. Celebrate what is good, and help them pick the one next thing they can work on to improve their paragraph writing.
Use Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are an excellent “piece of equipment” to help your students write a paragraph. It gives them a visual cue, explicit instruction, and a way to organize their thoughts. My favorite is this Paragraph Graphic Organizer and Anchor Chart. The student can refer to the anchor chart and use the graphic organizer to outline his paragraph. It comes in both digital and print versions.
Work in Small Chunks
Rome wasn’t built in a day. You must remember that asking certain students to write a paragraph is like asking them to build Rome. Break the work into small chunks that you disperse over a day or a couple of days. How do you divide it up?
Step 1: Organizing your ideas (perhaps using a graphic organizer)
Step 2: Writing the paragraph rough draft
Step 3: Proofreading and editing
Step 4: Writing the final copy
Allow Speech to Text and Recording
For some, it is the physical process of writing that makes paragraph writing such an ordeal. Why not lighten the load and focus on composition? You can use speech-to-text (either through your phone or a computer with a microphone) to compose the speech. Alternatively, your student could make a recording of what he wants to say and then transcribe it. That way he separates the skills of composing ideas and transcribing them onto paper with proper mechanics.
Give Explicit Instructions
“Write a paragraph about [fill in the blank].” For many students, that is not enough information. Students will need more scaffolding; tell them what to do step by step. You will lower anxiety and give your kids what they need to write a well-constructed paragraph.
Try the Sandwich Method
The sandwich (or burger) method is a wonderful visual to help students learn how to write a paragraph.
Topic Sentence: The bread
Detail 1: The cheese
Detail 2: The lettuce
Detail 3: The tomato
Detail 4: The meat
Concluding Sentence: The bread
The topic sentence and the concluding sentence are like the bread: they sandwich the details. The topic sentence provides support by stating what the paragraph will be about. The concluding sentence does its part by restating the main idea.
How to Build Student Confidence with Paragraph Writing
Paragraph writing is the foundation for essays, creative writing, and critiques. Students need to be confident in their ability to write a paragraph well. You can help them get there by following these tips and tricks.