Remember the last time you graded essays and you swore if one more student turned in an essay with one gigantic paragraph, you would kill him?
After teaching students how to hook the reader with masterful leads, revise the middle for clarity and focus, and write and revise conclusions, I felt good about myself once again. I bragged to the administration at my school and nominated myself for teacher of the month. Then I reread their essays and realized they had no concept of paragraphing. In shock, I ran back to the front office and rescinded my teacher of the month self-nomination and cancelled my weekend trip to Santo Domingo.
I had work to do. I had to devise lesson plans about writing paragraphs or writing process lesson plans that helped students write and revise paragraphs more effectively. Here's what I came up with.
Write the following questions on the board: Are paragraphs necessary? Why do writers use paragraphs?
Discuss the following answers: dialog, emphasizing a point, making transitions, developing an idea, keeping the readers' interest, a change in the action, a change in time, a change of setting.
Instruct students to write the above reasons for a new paragraph. In addition, have them copy the following: "Paragraphs are a writer's building blocks made up of well-developed sentences with varied patterns, giving meaning and organization to writing." (This definition courtesy of Susan Geye, Minilessons for Revision)
Explain when writing dialog, a new paragraph should begin with a new speaker.
Inform students that good writers avoid overly long paragraphs.
Hand out magazines, newspapers, novels, or short stories and have students justify new paragraphs. This activity works effectively in groups of 3-4.
Make copies of a writing sample without paragraphs and give one to each student. I generally copy and paste an item from something we are currently reading and get rid of paragraph indentations.
Have students place the paragraph symbol where they believe a new paragraph should begin along with reason(s) why.
Show students the original passage with paragraphs and have them compare the original paragraphing to their paragraph choices.
Allow for discussion. Students may have legitimate reasons for wanting to place a paragraph in a particular spot.
If using this lesson for a revision exercise, have students revisit their rough drafts and make necessary paragraph changes.