Did you think teaching students to write would be a snap? I mean, you are a college-educated, certified individual. How hard could it possibly be?
Well, it’s a challenge, especially when just starting out.
In my classroom, I use five steps to take my 5th graders from mediocre sentence writers to five paragraph experts.
Step 1: Write ALL.THE.TIME.
I vividly remember being in 5th grade and writing long papers on the most boring topics ever, like “The Science of Light” and “The History of Mapmaking.” Snooze fest! I vowed to never do that to my students. Instead, I took a different route.
Students do need to learn to write full reports and five paragraph essays, but they don’t need to do this every week. They do, however, need to continually practice writing. I try to make it fun and interesting for them.
My students do weekly writing choice boards. This writing has made all the difference in my classroom! Students are now excited about writing class. They see writing as a treat and a fun way to express their thoughts and opinions.
I hand out a new choice board every week and students must complete three assignments from the board. I don’t grade these on perfect grammar, spelling, or punctuation. I look for ideas and effort. Even imperfect writing practice will improve your students’ writing skills tremendously!
Surprise! When you get to the end of this blog post, you can have a free sample of these choice boards emailed to you!
Step 2: Stellar Sentence Writing
My students are writing continuously with their weekly choice boards, so they’re getting plenty of practice. But, I must start refining their skills, so we start with sentences.
Despite the best intentions of younger grade teachers, my fifth graders generally come to me writing short, simple, or incomplete sentences.
We work on building and expanding sentences for about two weeks. Yes, two weeks probably seems like a really long time, but spectacular sentences are the foundation for creating great writers.
To improve my students’ sentences, I take the basic, simple sentences that students write and we work on adding more specific details and interest. First, I give students a list of five nouns and ask them to write 5 sentences using each of the five nouns.
I usually get sentences similar to these:
- Pie is my favorite dessert.
- My dad’s car is red.
- I wear my jacket when it is cold.
- This school is a nice place to learn.
- The tree is tall.
This is where I aim for students to get in their sentence-writing before moving on:
- Pecan, cherry, apple, or pumpkin… any type of pie is delicious!
- My dad spends his Saturdays washing and shining up his candy apple red Jeep.
- My puffy, hooded jacket is the first thing I reach for on chilly mornings.
- My school, North Hills Elementary, has the best teachers and students.
- The tall Redwood tree in my front yard is a welcome sight to visitors and makes my house look spectacular.
We work together as a whole class to improve students’ sentences. Then, I put students in pairs to work on sentences. Finally, I ask them to improve their own sentences.
Students, especially when starting out, need writing resources and tips. At the beginning of the year, we paste a series of writing reference pages into our notebooks. I want students to have plenty of resources at their fingertips to improve their sentence writing, including alternates for overused words and my specialty, sparkle words. Sparkle words are words that are just a little bit special and make my students’ writing shine, like scandalous, embrace, and intriguing.
Step 3: Simple Paragraphs
Once my students are on the right track with sentences, we start working on simple paragraphs. Our simple paragraphs use this structure:
Detail Sentence #1
Detail Sentence #2
Detail Sentence #3
This simple paragraph organizer is perfect for my students. They are able to put their ideas on paper and then they are able to free up their minds to write an excellent simple paragraph.
Step 4: Expand to Five Paragraph Essays
Once students are pros at writing simple paragraphs, we expand into five paragraph essays.
You might be saying, “Whoa, that seems like a big jump. How do you help students transition from writing one paragraph to writing five paragraphs?”
My students become accomplished five paragraph essay writers in a systematic way.
Body Paragraphs: First, we work on writing the three body paragraphs for our five paragraph essay. I give students an essay prompt and we only write the body paragraphs.
We do this as a whole class several times. Students provide the ideas for the topic sentences, detail sentences, and closing sentences.
I put my paper on the document camera and students write on their notebook paper. Yes, it’s exhausting… especially when you have to write all three body paragraphs for three rotations of students per day. But trust me, it’s worth it in the end! The time you spend helping students learn essay structure will spend dividends.
Once we’ve had plenty of practice with writing three body paragraphs, I give students some independence and allow them to write on their own or with a partner.
We do spend a little more time on the three body paragraphs because they comprise the majority of our essay.
Introduction Paragraph: Once students have mastered the art of writing three body paragraphs, we take the exciting step of adding the introduction paragraph.
The introduction paragraph has three parts: the hook, commentary, and thesis.
Closing Paragraph: By this point, students are thrilled to add the closing paragraph. The main parts of this paragraph are the restatement of the thesis and a closing thought.
We add a color code to our essays. This helps students to see that they have included all needed parts of their essay and the color code helps me to grade essays easily.
If you need more tips for teaching and grading five paragraph essays, please click here: TIPS FOR TEACHING AND GRADING FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAYS.
If you’re looking for a full five paragraph essay unit that includes teacher tips and step-by-step directions, click on the image:
If you need students to expand their five paragraph essay skills into narrative, informative, and opinion formats, click here and scroll down on the page:
Step 5: Proofread and Edit Like Pros
In my classroom, my students use editing symbols when fixing their own writing or giving suggestions to other students on how to fix their writing.
Our editing marks become a common language among my students. This is an example of our editing practice:
If you’re looking for a resource that will help you teach students to proofread and edit, you’ll love this:
I sincerely hope that this post has been helpful to you and that you will be able to take your students from sentence writers to five paragraph essay superstars!
This bundle contains all of the resources above at a significant discount:
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