Let’s just say it all up front. If you can’t write a paragraph, you can’t write an essay. If you don’t know what a paragraph is, you will be severely handicapped in attempts to write as a post secondary student or as an adult. That’s a fact.
A paragraph is a group of sentences that deal with a single topic. A basic paragraph introduces its topic, provides some sentences that support or flesh out the topic, and then generally ends with a sentence that draws a conclusion on the topic. Dealing with a single topic, a paragraph’s purpose is to organize thought.
Failure to organize thought is problematic when essay writing. When we share thoughts that are rambling, disordered, illogical or incoherent the reader won’t understand us. If we write an essay that is rambling, disordered, illogical or incoherent it will be a Bad Essay. This will in turn lead to a Bad Mark. If we learn how to write a good paragraph so that our ideas are organized and cohesive we not only avoid Bad Marks, we also learn how to think more clearly and express ourselves more clearly verbally. That is why organizing thought is a Very Good Thing.
In order to do well at paragraph writing, and in good time, essay writing…practice is required. We can’t get good at things unless we practice. One paragraph a week for three or four years so far has been pretty adequate practice in our family. Practice needn’t be burdensome. We usually break paragraphing writing down into three short parts, and do part a day to produce the proscribed paragraph per week or so. An outline one day, a basic paragraph from the outline the next day, and adding in some stylistic techniques or “dress ups” to finish. We use a generously abbreviated version of the Teaching Writing Structure and Style by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. More on that abbreviation in another post. Ultimately writing is learned by the model approach, just as dictation. There is plenty of information on the model approach to teaching writing on the IEW website, please peruse the site and the excellent articles available there. Drip, drip, drip. Five or ten minutes a day for two or three years propogates polished and pleasing paragraphs.
The other way we have approached writing with our kids is a “camp” style of learning. A few friends get together for an afternoon or two. They watch DVD’s from IEW, stop at the appropriate time to do the exercise, goof off, compete, have fun and get to eat ice cream or play a game of charades afterwards. All I have to do is turn the DVD on and off, and offer my support as they are performing the various stages of writing. The paragraph is still broken down into the three steps, we just do them one right after the other. The camaraderie of friends in a supportive and fun environment, working on a common project is usually effective to squeeze a paragraph out of the most reluctant child.
“But What Does Language Arts Actually Look Like When You Sit Down With Your Child?”