How to Teach Paragraph Writing: Paragraph Structure

Paragraph writing can be tough to teach. Read about how this teacher teaches paragraph structure in upper elementary. I LOVE the freebie!!


I remember a moment in my 5th-grade classroom.  I was teaching my students about informational writing.  We were going through a lesson about adding voice and style to their work, when all of a sudden I realized, forget adding style, my students couldn't put together a strong paragraph.  I was so caught up in helping them improve the quality of their writing that I did not ensure they had a strong foundation in writing a well-organized paragraph.  For the next few weeks, I threw away all of my original lesson plans and focused on the basics: Paragraph Structure.

Here are the steps I took to teach paragraph writing.

1. Make Paragraph Writing Concrete


Just like we use manipulatives in math, writing needs to be concrete too.  When I first introduce paragraph writing, I begin with a burger.  Yes, a burger!  We have a whole class discussion about what makes a fantastic burger and the purpose of each component.

Paragraph writing can be tough to teach. Read about how this teacher teaches paragraph structure in upper elementary. I LOVE the freebie!!

Once we all agree on what makes the perfect burger, I relate it to paragraph writing.

Each component of a burger has a purpose, just like each component of a paragraph has a purpose.  If any important pieces are missing, it's not really a burger/paragraph.  We take it even further and say that the topic sentence (top bun) and conclusion sentence (bottom bun) hold everything together while the details (meat) are what the paragraph is all about.  Without the details, it's just bread. :)

This chart is a fantastic visual of the "burger method".


2. Analyze Professionally Written Texts


This is when my students get to take a look at real articles written by real authors and see how they organize their writing.  In the beginning, this is a whole class activity.  I carefully choose a paragraph from an article for us to analyze and we put each piece into our "Burger Chart" (see above chart)

Once students get the hang of what to look for, they use sticky notes to notate the key components of each paragraph.

Paragraph writing can be tough to teach. Read about how this teacher teaches paragraph structure in upper elementary. I LOVE the freebie!!


3. Practice, Practice, Practice


At this point, I like to provide my students with lots of different ways to practice what they have learned. One simple way to do this is a paragraph sort.  Cut a paragraph into sentences.  As a group, or independently, have students sort the sentences and decide their proper order.  Some students may only need to do this once while others may benefit from seeing this type of activity a few times.

Paragraph writing can be tough to teach. Read about how this teacher teaches paragraph structure in upper elementary. I LOVE the freebie!!

4. Apply the Strategy


Once students fully understand the components of a strong paragraph, have had the opportunity to analyze professionally written paragraphs, and have practiced what they've learned, they are ready to begin applying their knowledge to their own writing.

The best way to do this is to start with a simple writing prompt.  Ask students to write a paragraph keeping in mind the key components we have been discussing.  For some students (higher writers), I ask them to write their paragraph of notebook paper, and highlight and label the each component.  For others (struggling writers), I allow them to use a burger organizer to write their paragraph.  Depending on the level of your students, you may want to do something different.

Paragraph writing can be tough to teach. Read about how this teacher teaches paragraph structure in upper elementary. I LOVE the freebie!!
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Of course, some students require more practice and time than others, but I have found that this "burger method" works wonders for my students year after year!  Once my students have mastered putting together a great burger...I mean, paragraph....I move on to adding "toppings" to their burger to make it better (statistics, questions, interesting facts, dialogue, etc.). But, that is a whole other blog post.  :)

Feel free to share your own paragraph writing lesson ideas in the comments below!

If you are looking for some great Paragraph Writing Resources, check these out!















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Opinion Writing: A Collaborative Approach


Opinion writing can be very challenging for students, especially when they have little experience with this genre of writing. I often find that my students have a difficult time with one, or ALL of the following:
  • Stating their opinions.
  • Generating strong reasons to support their opinions.
  • Using details and examples to support their reasons.
This year when I introduced opinion writing, I decided to take more of a collaborative approach, in which ALL students were able to contribute ideas, and then draw on ideas from each other.

When we started our unit, we simply started with forming opinions. I gave students multiple topics to think about, and asked them to use post-its to write ANY opinion that they had on each topic. Students wrote and posted their opinions around the classroom, and at the same time they were able to read the opinions of their classmates.

These opinions led to some GREAT discussions, and gave students a starting point for “stating their opinion” when it came time for them to sit down and write.

Each time I assigned a new topic, we would also use this collaborative approach to help students generate and share strong reasons to support their opinions. During this particular lesson, students had to write about the “Perfect Pet”. Once they formed an opinion, I had everyone use post-its to share reasons why different pets make the perfect pet!

Again, this led to some great discussions, in which students had to “defend” their reasons. It also helped students to develop strong reasons that they would then be able to support with details and examples.

Finally, before sitting down to write their own opinion essays, I had students work in groups to create outlines. This led to more discussion of ideas, and helped students to narrow down their reasons and examples. When students finally sat down to write their own pieces, they had a variety of ideas to draw from.

I had such a great time reading each of their opinion pieces. I loved how my students worked together to generate and share ideas. While, they worked collaboratively to generate those ideas, each assignment was unique, and reflected individual students’ writing styles.


Now I can’t wait to try this collaborative approach with INFORMATIVE WRITING!!

If you're looking for more resources on Opinion Writing, click the pics below to download the graphic organizer I used in these lessons, and to learn more about my unit on opinion writing...
 

5 Ways to Explore Place Value Concepts


If you teach intermediate grades, you know that a solid understanding of our place value system is essential.  That being said, many math series focus a great deal on "fill in the blank" place value work...reading and writing big numbers, writing numbers in expanded form, or putting greater than or less than signs between two or more numbers.  Don't get me wrong--these are important.  Unfortunately, students can be successful at these tasks with very minimal understanding of our place value system.  Want to kick it up a notch?  Check out these five ideas and see what you think!


Study the names of the different "periods" of numbers.  Students LOVE to learn about big numbers...and even if your curriculum only goes up to 6 digits like mine, exposing students to the patterns of our place value system helps build understanding and interest.  Reading books like Steven Kellogg's "How Much is a Million" and other big number books can add to the fun.  Students LOVE to see not just millions...but billions...and trillions... and...
Having students read and write these huge numbers helps them see how our we work in sets of "three" digits...and once you learn the pattern and the names of these different places, you can read any number!  We even make up ridiculous statements like, "I think I'll eat 4 quadrillion, 247 trillion, 723 billion, 924 million, 429 thousand, 294 doughnuts for snack."  The more ridiculous, the better.


One of the most important ways we can build students' understanding of numbers is to work extensively with number lines.  Often, we ask students to place numbers on a number line or ask them to identify a point on a number line...like the problem below.
 When asking students to solve problems like this, encourage them to show their thinking by adding other "benchmark" numbers rather than simply guessing.  Better yet, have them share their thinking so others can learn from different strategies.
Check out my number line resources for more ideas...
And then take things to an even higher level:

Start with numbers lines that do not begin at zero...
Ask students to identify point outside two numbers on a number line...
Try having students write their own problems for others to solve...


A third way to dig into place value is to experiment with mystery numbers.  I start my place value unit with some of these with smaller numbers and gradually make them more and more complex.  Some of them might have only one answer--and others might have tons of answers...all of them can lead to GREAT discussions about how they can tell what numbers will fit the rules!  For example, the problem below should lead to some of the following conclusions:

  1. The number must be a five digit number.
  2. The first digit must be a 1
  3. The second digit must be an 8.
  4. The ones place must be a 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9--until they realize that the tens place number is double the ones place (ruling out the 5, 7, and 9)
...you get the idea.  What WONDERFUL math talks.  And the best part?  Ask students to try writing their own!





Another element of place value that is often overlooked is the idea of being flexible with numbers...being able to manipulate numbers in the different places.  If a student sees the number 15,273, they should easily be able to tell you what number is 400 more...or 30 less...or 6 more...or 40,000 more.  Whether this be with mental math exercises, games, or other "number play",  I did a bunch of these problems with my students and it was fascinating to watch their different strategies and struggles!

Check these cards out as a part of a place value pairing in my store!



Finally, big numbers are amazing and very "real world".  Students love to know that we have about 30 trillion red blood cells at any one time.  Our best estimate as to how many stars are in the universe?  100 billion.  There are over 900,000 different types of insects in the world.  Encourage students to find big numbers in the books they read...in the newspaper...related to your subject areas.  Maybe even create a "big number museum" where you record their findings!

So...have FUN with place value.  Don't let the scope and sequence of your pacing guide or math textbook get in the way of helping students develop their natural wonder for numbers in their world!


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Fun Ways to Practice Area & Perimeter


I love teaching my 3rd graders about area and perimeter! It is a challenging concept, but I love how hands-on it is. I wanted to share some of my favorite activities for practicing area and perimeter with you.



There is not a kid out there that does not enjoy playing with food. For this reason, I attempt to incorporate food into as many lessons as possible. When teaching area and perimeter, I use square crackers. You can use Cheese-Its or Wheat Thins. I give each student a bag of crackers and ask them to create shapes with a specific measurement.


I think that this activity really helps students to relate multiplication to the concept of area. It also helps them to see the difference between area and perimeter. If you are doing this in a small group, you can differentiate. Area figures are much easier to build than perimeter figures.


Games are lots of fun! I use them during my math centers, guided math practice and as a review before a test. They also come in handy when you have 15 extra minutes on a Friday. I especially like no prep games because they save ink and are quick to put together. I like to slap them into page protectors so that they can be used over and over. This area and perimeter game is lots of fun and all you need is a deck of cards, a paper clip and a pencil.


You can grab this game for FREE by clicking HERE.


My absolute favorite area and perimeter project is the Area and Perimeter Robot. I use it as a performance based assessment. Students are given a list of measurements and they use graph paper to build a robot with those precise measurements.


This project is easy to differentiate! I give my lower kiddos just area measurements and my high kiddos get the perimeter measurements.


The students love expressing their creativity while practicing the math skill. Win! Win! You can grab the materials and instructions for this project HERE.


My students do lots of task card scoots throughout the year. When we are studying area and perimeter, I like to mix it up a bit! I cut out pieces of wrapping paper (in a theme for the nearest holiday or season). I have the kids scoot through the room with a ruler measuring the area and/or the perimeter of the wrapping paper.


There is something about wrapping paper that gets kids excited. It feels like a party! Especially if you play some party music while they are scooting! You can grab a FREE recording sheet for your scoot by clicking HERE.

How to you keep area and perimeter practice fun for your students?

Test-taking Strategies: Synonyms and Antonyms (A FREE Lesson!)

Hello! It's Deb Hanson from Crafting Connections today! Today I'm going to share three helpful test-taking strategy that you can teach your students for when they encounter synonym and/or antonym questions on standardized tests!

Teach your students three important test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!


What is your reaction when you see an ELA test question like this?
Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
Border by Krista Wallden. Font by KG Fonts.
As an ELL specialist who worked with 3rd-5th grade ELLs for more than ten years, I can tell you that viewing such a question causes me to break out in a sweat! While my ELLs know the difference between a synonym and antonym, they so often don't get to prove their knowledge because of the advanced vocabulary words, like tenacious, present in multiple choice questions.

After encountering several standardized test questions like this one, I began to teach my ELLs a few test-taking strategies in hopes that I would be giving them the tools that would allow them to be as successful as possible. In my opinion, these strategies are beneficial for all students, not just ELLs.

Synonym/Antonym Test-Taking Strategy #1

Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
Clip art by Educlips and Hot Dawg Illustrations. Background by RebeccaB Designs.
This slide was taken from my Advanced Synonym and Antonym PowerPoint.
After naming the strategy, I employ think-alouds as I tackle the tenacious card above. My think-aloud goes something like this: I'm going to see if using context clues will help me to figure this out. The word tenacious is being used to describe an athlete. I know an athlete is someone who participates in sports, so I'm going to visualize a soccer player playing a game. Choice A says cautious. I don't think this is the right answer, because most good athletes aren't cautious with every move they make. In fact, good athletes are usually more fearless! I'm going to eliminate cautious. Choice B says determined. Good athletes are usually quite determined- they do everything possible to try to win each game. Determined could definitely be the correct answer, but I'm going to check to make sure the other two aren't better answers. Choice C says weak. No, I know that weak is not a good word to describe an athlete, so tenacious can't mean the same thing as weak. Choice D says thoughtful. I don't think this is the right answer, because most of the time an athlete doesn't have time to be thoughtful. They have to make split-second decisions. Of the four choices listed, I think determined is the most likely synonym for tenacious. I'm going to choose B.


Synonym/Antonym Test-Taking Strategy #2

Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
I would use the following card to model/think aloud this strategy:
Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
Some of the key points I would make in my think-aloud include:
  • I'm looking for an ANTONYM this time, so I have to change my thinking a bit.
  • I remember learning that the Greek root hydra- means water.
  • The de- in front of hydra- is a prefix. In words like defrost and detangle, the prefix de- means to remove.
  • Using what I know about roots, I can determine that dehydrated refers to removing water from something. If you remove water from fruits and vegetables, they would be quite dry.
  • However, I cannot choose answer C because I'm looking for the ANTONYM... not the synonym!  If dehydrated means dry, then the ANTONYM would most likely be C (wet). 

Synonym/Antonym Test-Taking Strategy #3

Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
I would use the following card to model/think aloud this strategy:
Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!
Some of the key points I would make in my think-aloud include:
  • I'm looking for a SYNONYM this time.
  • I don't know what amiable means, but since it's being used to describe the word friend, I am going to assume that it's a positive character trait. Therefore, I'm going to eliminate B (angry).
  • When I look at A, I realize that I don't know what the word means, but I get the feeling that prenentious has a negative connotation- like someone is trying to pretend to be better than someone else, or someone who is hiding their true behavior or feelings. I'm going to eliminate A (pretentious). 
  • I don't know the meaning of affable or indignant, so now I'm just going to have to take a guess... but at least I eliminated two options before guessing! (At this point, I would switch to teacher-mode, and ask if any students know which option is correct.)

To conclude this lesson, I would distribute this exit slip, and have my students answer these three multiple choice questions independently, using the strategies we just discussed.
Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!

If you would like to use the multiple choice cards and the exit ticket with your own students, click HERE to download them for FREE!
Teach your students these three test strategies for identifying synonyms and antonyms on standardized tests... even when they don't know what a word means! This FREE lesson contains a poster, an exit ticket, and three multiple choice teaching examples!

These strategies are also introduced in my Continuing Synonyms and Antonyms PowerPoint, and more practice opportunities are provided in my Synonyms and Antonyms Task Cards. Click on either of the images to take a closer look at these resources, which are available for purchase in my TpT store.


If you have other test-taking strategies you teach your students, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear about them! Thanks for stopping by today!