Posted by: jockmackenzie | September 25, 2009

Writing – The Paragraph

I think students benefit from being able to visualize concepts in language arts. For that reason, I offer them pictures of things. I create and share pictures of: paragraphs, essays, limericks, short stories, etc.

Perhaps “line drawings” would be more precise than “pictures.” Here are my drawings of a paragraph:

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The actual drawing I would share with my kids is one I draw on the whiteboard. I begin by outlining a piece of looseleaf paper. I add the red left margin and then lightly draw the red margin on the right that shows through from the other side of the page. I include the top margin AND THEN duplicate this margin at the bottom. The idea is to create a picture frame – and I talk about a picture frame and how the finished paragraph could almost be like a piece of art that might be framed and displayed.

The next main step is to use a colored dry erase marker to indicate the topic sentence – assuming this is an expository paragraph. Initially, the topic sentence is always first. Of course, I show an indentation for the first sentence. Later, my drawings will show the topic sentence as either the second sentence or the last sentence in the paragraph.

Usually the last step is to show a straight left margin, and an irregular right margin. When I worked with a group of grade six students last year who were having difficulty with their reading and writing, it was almost shocking to see what they were writing as “paragraph form.” To several, the left margin was something to be avoided.

As always, more can be attempted. At times, I have used my “Picture of a Paragraph” to discuss hyphenating words at the ends of lines, and to show varied sentence lengths. One could also consider sentence beginnings, transitional devices, word spacing and more.

Other types of paragraphs require different pictures – conversation and the need to begin a new paragraph for each speaker being the most obvious. But for now, consider offering your kids PICTURES of language arts concepts.

*** Truth is stranger than fiction: I remember my surprise when I took in a student’s paragraph shortly after teaching the above lesson. We had drawn and discussed the idea of indenting the first line. As an additional aide, I offered the time-honored suggestion that a “thumb width” would be sufficient for how much to indent the first line. Fred (many of my examples refer to Fred Glip, my stereotypical middle school student) had indented a “thumb length.


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