In yesterday's post, I talked about teaching students how to paragraph instead of telling them what to put in what paragraph. My students finished the activity today, so here are some photos of their work and a description of what we did.
Just a note to give you some background: my students are currently writing stories about characters they have developed. Typically, whenever I've done narrative writing with them before, I have trouble getting them to properly paragraph the dialogue - in part, I think, to teachers who have told them that a paragraph MUST BE 3-5/4-6/5-7/6-8 sentences. It is inconceivable to them that it could be otherwise. But, I talked about that yesterday. My goal in an activity like this is to teach them how to make the decisions about when to put paragraphs and how to use paragraph appropriately to get their message across. This lesson was inspired by the book The Power of Grammar.
The lesson: First, students come in and take their seats and open up to the Language section of their notebook. I tell them that I'm going to show them two pieces of writing on the overhead that I want them to read silently - they have to read as quickly as possible and try to comprehend as much of it as they can in the 45 seconds I give them. I tell them that we are then going to discuss which one was easier to read and why. Each text is actually the same piece - a story - the only difference is that on one overhead there are paragraphs and on the other there are not.
I show the one without paragraphs first. Then I show them the second which has paragraphs. Most pick up that it is the same piece, but continue to read. I ask them which one was easier to read. They always say the second one (with paragraphs). I ask why. They usually stumble a little with this one, unable to put exact words to why. But, with a little prodding they eventually get to the idea that it was easier to read because it had paragraphs.
I then take a poll: How many sentences are in a paragraph? 3-5? 4-6? 5-7? 6-8? The most common answer is usually 4-6. I tell them that their teachers meant well in telling them this, but that it is wrong. I make sure to emphasize this and it usually gets a good response ("WHAT???") I tell them why their teachers told them this: that they probably wanted their students to write more and more indepth. But, I say, the way to write more detailed is through brainstorming, which is the topic we just recently covered. Paragraphs can be one sentence or more.
I explain that the purpose of paragraphs is to visually organize their thoughts so that it is easier for the reader to read. Their job is to get their point across to the reader so that the reader can understand it without much struggle. Paragraphs help them do that.
We go over a definition of a paragraph and talk about three times when you might want to start a new paragraph: (1) when you have a new or slightly new idea, (2) to emphasize a point (especially when using a short paragraph), and (3) in dialogue, when a different person speaks. They usually have no problem with the first one. I show them an example of the second point and how a writer could really emphasize a point by having a one sentence paragraph. They typically get that quickly. We then go over the dialogue aspect, which is usually really hard for them.
Students are then put into pairs or triads and recieve a text that has no paragraphs in it. I show them the paragraph symbol (the "P" with the two lines) and tell them to put the symbol where there should be a new paragraph. I circulate to see how they are doing - they usually struggle with the dialogue, but other aspects are fine.
Then (and this is the best part of the activity) I pass out another copy of the text with scissors, color paper, and glue. I tell them to cut apart the text and glue it down to the art paper so that it is in the proper paragraphing. They really like this part and it helps them visualize what's happening better than just edit marks, but doesn't require that they re-write the entire texts. Plus they get to move around, work together, and play with glue. I think it also gives them the sense that they can play with words.
Again, students don't generally have a problem with regular paragraphing or using single sentence paragraphs as emphasis. They struggle most with dialogue - being shocked when "No." is supposed to be one paragraph! I find that I need another whole lesson to review and practice just paragraphing dialogue, which I pair with punctuating dialogue.