Click play below to hear 5 tips for getting students to write a detailed paragraph:
A while back I vowed to include more writing content in my episodes because I tend to focus more on reading strategies, but I’m a lover of all things literacy. Writing is a big area where teachers need support and have a lot of questions when it comes to supporting their students. And one of the biggest areas of concern is how to get students to write a “meaty” or detailed paragraph. So in today’s episode, I’m sharing what a detailed paragraph includes and engaging ways to get students writing.
Having a detailed paragraph really just means a paragraph that’s detailed and on topic, includes a variety of sentence structures, and has descriptive vocabulary. But how do teachers get their students to have such a detailed piece of writing? I’ve come up with 5 tips that get students to learn how to strengthen their paragraph writing skills. Each tip provides support, frameworks, and specific ways to improve their literacy skills.
Writing in general can be difficult for students, let alone having the skills to write a detailed paragraph. However, with the tips I share, your students will construct a detailed and cohesive paragraph while mastering their writing skills with confidence!
In this episode on writing a detailed paragraph, I share:
- Reminder to sign up for my private podcast, The Confident Writer System Series, if you want more support and resources pertaining to writing
- An example of what an outline could look like for a writing prompt
- Easy activity that gets students writing a variety of topic sentences to practice sentence structure variety
- Two skills to focus on for revising a students’ paragraph
- Writing is a process and takes time, so be patient and consistent with your instruction
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Free Literacy Block Workshop
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 131, The #1 Mistake Upper Elementary Writing Teachers Make
- Episode 125, Providing Students a 5-Step Process for Writing a Constructed Response Paragraph
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
- Episode 51, Fostering a Life-Long Love of Writing in Your Students with Megan Polk
- Sentence Writing Routine: Year-Long Routine to Practice Sentence Structure
Connect with me:
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Well, hey there, friend, and happy Monday. And welcome back to another episode of the Stellar Teacher Podcast. I am so excited that you decided to tune in today because today, we are going to talk about writing. Specifically, we are going to talk about how to get students to write a meaty paragraph. And I’ll explain that in a little bit.
But if you have been a longtime listener of the podcast, then you know that I have typically talked about reading things. But I truth be told, I am a literacy lover and a literacy expert. And I enjoy both reading and writing. I just have had a plethora of reading things to talk about.
But earlier this spring, when we released our private podcast The Confident Writer System Series, I let you guys know that I will be talking a little bit more about writing on the podcast because I know this is a big area where teachers have questions and needs support.
And so today, we’re gonna be talking specifically about writing. And I love getting questions from you guys. And earlier in the spring, I had sent out a survey just asking teachers what is their biggest year long challenge? And a specific response I got from a teacher was how do I get students to write a meaty paragraph?
And I loved this question because I knew exactly what she was talking about. This idea of getting our students to write a detailed paragraph. You know, when we think about a meaty paragraph, it is a paragraph that is cohesive and it is well organized and on topic.
It is a paragraph that includes more than just short and simple sentences, but has a variety of sentence structures and includes, you know, elaborate details. A meaty paragraph is one that is interesting and includes both relevant and important details. And it’s a paragraph that includes descriptive details and uses specific words.
And the big question is, how do we get students to write a meaty paragraph, especially when students struggle to write in complete sentences. And I know so many teachers want their students to get to that level of writing, but don’t necessarily feel like they have the tools or support with their current curriculum.
Well, the good news is, is that I have five tips that I’m going to share in today’s podcast episode that will help your students learn how to strengthen their paragraph writing skills.
But before I jump into the five tips, let me just re invite you or remind you about the free podcast series that we have out there that is all about writing. And that is the Confident Writer System Series.
And I put together a short podcast series that really breaks down and explains how to teach writing in upper elementary, and specifically how to teach writing to students who struggle in upper elementary.
And in this free podcast series, there are five episodes, and they’re all really short. And I also share some of my favorite writing routines and resources when you sign up for the series. So it’s podcasts plus some free resources, as well. So I think you’re gonna get a lot out of today’s specific episode.
But if after listening to today’s episode, you feel like you still want some more support, then go to stellarteacher.com/writingpodcast and sign up for this free podcast series. And check it out, I think it’ll be something that you’ll really get a lot out of.
Okay, so let’s talk specifically about the five things that you can do to help students strengthen their paragraph writing skills. And before I share these tips, I do think it is important to recognize that there is no quick fix when it comes for writing, or really for teaching anything, you know, developing strong writers takes time.
And it’s a process and as much as we want to be able to teach a lesson and get that instant gratification, it does take time. And so I would encourage you embrace the process and recognize that it might take four to six weeks of you doing these five things in your classroom before you start to notice a big improvement.
But since this is an episode that is coming out during the summer, just think if you start the school year with these five things in place, then sometime in the end of September, beginning of October, you’re going to have students that have really strong writing skills and are going to be so much more successful throughout the year.
Okay, the first thing that you can do to help students develop their writing skills, is to give them a framework for paragraph writing. If we want students to write a strong paragraph, then they need to have the tools to understand how to organize their thoughts, and giving students a framework to follow and copy can be a really great way to set them up for success.
So this means that our students understand that their paragraph is going to include a topic sentence, and that is a sentence that states the main idea or the main focus of the paragraph. Their paragraph is going to include three to five sentences in the body of their paragraph. And these sentences discuss supporting details related to the topic. And their paragraph is going to include a concluding sentence. And this is the final sentence that relates back to the main idea.
And when students have an outline like this, it gives them a starting point for their writing. They don’t have to wonder what type of sentences to include or how to start their paragraph, we are telling them the organization of their writing. So all they need to focus on is writing the actual sentences within the paragraph.
And students are going to become much more confident and comfortable with writing because they know exactly how to get started. They know really the number of sentences they should include in their paragraph. And they know how to begin it and they know how to end it.
And this is a very basic paragraph outline that you can share with your students. But as students become more comfortable with this simple outline, you can start to give them more complex outlines or more complex expectations in their paragraph writing, but we’re going to start super simple. So that’s the first thing give students a very simple framework, or organization structure for writing their paragraph.
The second thing that you can do is teach students how to create an outline. And this might be one of the most important parts of the writing process. But honestly, this is something that I think we tend to forget to teach, and we just skip over it.
We usually Give students plenty of time to brainstorm. But then we often jump right into drafting, and forget that students still need help outlining their thoughts and figuring out from the brainstorm, what do they want to talk about first, what are they gonna talk about second, what trends do they notice in their brainstorm?
But when students create an outline, they are making a decision on the types of details they want to include, and the order they want to share them within their paragraph. And so then later, when they are drafting, they just have to come back and write the sentences for those details.
And since we’ve already given them a framework, topic sentence, supporting details, concluding sentence, it’s going to be even easier for them to actually create their outline.
Now one of the things that we are adding to our Stellar Literacy Collective membership site for upper elementary teachers, is this whole new paragraph writing resource line. And in this resource line, so we have paragraph writing resources for all the different genres, but we include lessons to help students really understand how to effectively outline their paragraph.
And one of the things that we encourage them to do is to use symbols or words or short phrases, to list out the details they want to include. And then later in the week, they’re going to come back to their outline. And then when they begin to draft, it’s going to be easy for them because they’re going to look at their symbols or the words or the phrases that they put on their outline, and then they just have to complete the complete sentence.
So an outline is not a complete sentence at all. It is just short little notes to help students remember what they want to include in their actual writing. So let me give you an example.
Let’s say that your students are responding to the prompt, what are the benefits and challenges of being in fourth grade? Their outline might look something like this, you might give them a graphic organizer that lists out you know, topic sentence, detail one, detail two, detail three, concluding sentence.
And then they’re going to fill in that organizational framework with the details the details they add is what we consider their outline. So their topic sentence for their outline, they might write fourth grade equals fun plus challenges. Detail number one, they might write learn new things and in parentheses hard math concepts.
For detailed number two, they might draw a heart with the phrase make new friends, Detail number three, they might put a exclamation point and then activities equals field trip science fair. And then the concluding sentence, they might just write more benefits than challenges.
So you’ll notice in their outline, that they are deciding on the ideas that they want to include. And they’re deciding the order in which they want to share them and they’re giving themselves enough notes and enough information to where when they come back, they’re going to easily be able to write complete sentences to match each section of their outline.
This is going to really helps students when they start to draft because they can take a look at their outline. And when they see a detail like exclamation point activities equals field trip and science fair, they can write a sentence, you get to participate in exciting new activities like class field trips, and the science fair.
So an outline is a really supportive step that helps students gradually go from brainstorm to the draft. And it’s an important step if we want our students to eventually get to the level of being able to write a meaty paragraph.
So if you have not been spending a ton of time helping your students actually develop their outline, that is definitely something that I would prioritize this next year, because like I said, it is a really sort of like great step for students to take to go from brainstorm, to drafting that will help them feel like they experienced success as a writer.
Okay, the third thing that you can do to help your students with their paragraph writing skills is give them mentor sentence examples for how to write the topic and concluding sentence.
So a topic sentence is the first sentence that a student is going to write in their paragraph, and it communicates the main idea of the paragraph. And if students don’t really have a strong topic sentence, then they’re going to struggle to write a strong paragraph.
You know, it’s the very first sentence that they write is the very first sentence that their readers read, and so we want to make sure that they have the tools to write a really strong topic sentence. We also want our students to understand that we want our sentences to be varied within our paragraph. We don’t want every single sentence to be a simple sentence and a short sentence.
And so we really need to help give our students the tools to help them understand how to write a variety of sentences. And so one thing that can be really helpful is to have students get in the habit of writing three different options for their topic sentence, and then they’re going to select their best one.
I think this is great because it teaches students that writing is a process. And just because we write something doesn’t mean that we’ve completed it, but we really want to spend time thinking about the best way to communicate our ideas.
But rather than leaving it open ended and saying just write three topic sentences, you can give them a framework for the specific types of sentences that you want them to try.
For example, if we go back to the prompt, what are the benefits and challenges of being in fourth grade? One option that you can give your students for a topic sentence can be to tell them, write one of the four sentence types write a statement, write a question, an exclamation or a command. This gives them some options, but you’re telling them you’re going to write one of the four sentence types.
And so students might write fourth grade is a lot of fun, but it requires a lot of hard work to keep up. That is a statement, it’s a very simple way to start their topic sentence. The second framework that you could give students is to write a sentence with an appositive.
Now, an a positive is a noun or a pronoun that usually includes modifiers, or descriptive words that is set beside another noun to explain or identify it. And it’s a really easy way to add more details about the sentence. And so a student might write, fourth grade, comma, an exciting time in elementary school, comma can be a lot of fun, but also requires hard work.
And the an exciting time and elementary school is the appositive it’s extra information about fourth grade, they could have just written fourth grade can be a lot of fun, but also hard work. But when we add in the appositive, it gives us some more variety, and gives the students an opportunity to add more details to the sentence.
The third framework you could give your students is to have them write a sentence that starts with a subordinating conjunction. So students might write, although being in fourth grade can be a lot of fun, comma, it comes with some challenges. All of these topic sentences communicate the same main idea, but they give students options for how to structure their sentence.
And if every time a student writes a paragraph, they get in the habit of writing three different topic sentences, all with a different sentence structure, they’re going to become much more comfortable using a variety of sentence structures, and writing the same main idea in multiple ways, which is ultimately going to give them tools to become stronger writers regardless if they’re writing a topic sentence, a concluding sentence or drafting the sentences in the middle of their paragraph.
So giving students opportunities to write their topic sentence in three different ways with three different sentence structures is a great way to help students develop their paragraph writing skills.
Okay, the fourth thing that you can do is teach students specific revision skills, one at a time. And if we want our students to become strong writers and write a meaty paragraph, then revision is going to be an important skill for them to develop.
But revision is also a really hard part of the writing process. And it’s something that students struggle with at least my students struggled with it when I was in the classroom, but I think part of it is, is we expect students to do too much too soon. You know, we teach them a ton of revision skills at once, or we try to explain all of them. And we want them to be independent from the beginning.
But an easy way to make it more manageable for students is to teach them one specific revision skill, one at a time. And you teach them the specific revision skill, and then you let them practice it for two to three weeks until they become really comfortable and confident with that skill. And then you teach them a new one.
And there’s a variety of revision skills, you can teach your students, this is something that I talked quite a bit about in one of the podcast episodes inside the Confident Writer System Series. But two that you can start with is first have your students revise for word choice.
And this is where students might identify one to two words in their writing. So they’re not looking, they’re not trying to replace every word. They’re identified one, maybe two words in their writing. And they’re going to look up synonyms for those specific words. And they’re going to see if they can replace that word with a more specific or interesting word.
So this gets them in the habit of realizing every time they write a paragraph, they’re going to identify one or two words that they could replace with something that’s more specific or interesting. And if they’re constantly looking up synonyms, they’re also just going to build their vocabulary as well.
The second thing that you can have students do is have them revised to add in transition words. And this is where you need to give students a specific set of transition words that can either be used in the beginning or at the end of their paragraph, you know, something like In conclusion, to sum it all up, you know, to summarize, things like that.
Or if they’re writing in sequential order first, next, then making sure that they understand what transition words are appropriate for the genre of paragraph that they’re writing. But then encourage students to add in one transition word or phrase to their writing.
So with revision, students don’t need to make a ton of changes. But if they understand that, you know, within a paragraph, you can add in one transition word, you can revise one word for word choice and make it better, they start to get in the habit, and they build these small skills that will transfer to the rest of their writing.
Okay, the final thing that you can do is to continuously work on sentence writing skills. And if we want our students to be able to write strong paragraphs, they have to be able to write strong sentences. Paragraphs are composed of sentences. So even if we give students support with paragraph writing, and we share all of the strategies that I’ve mentioned, if they still struggle to write interesting and detailed sentences, and they don’t use a variety of sentence structures, then they’re still going to struggle with paragraph writing.
So even in upper elementary, we need to continue to work on sentence writing skills. And an easy way to do that is to incorporate a daily sentence writing routine as part of your writing warmup.
And if you’re looking for ideas on what that sentence writing routine could look like, and you want to know some specific sentence writing activities you could include, then check out episode number three in my private podcast because I go specifically in depth and share a variety of sentence writing activities.
And then in some of the free samples I share, I also give you a sample of my sentence writing routine, as well as some other sentence writing activities. But we need to constantly remind ourselves that sentences are the building blocks of all future writing. And if we want our students to be strong paragraph writers, that means that they also need to be strong sentence writers and we need to give them support in that area.
Okay, let’s recap. The five things that you can do to help students write a meaty paragraph is one, give them a framework for how to write a paragraph. So this is where you’re going to give them the specific organization of how to organize their paragraph. Two, teach them how to create an outline. Three, have them write multiple options for their topic and concluding sentence. Number four, teach students specific revision skills one at a time. And number five, continuously focus on sentence writing skills.
And remember that this does not happen overnight. We can’t expect that after one or two weeks of doing these five things to see an immediate growth in our students. But if we consistently do these things all year long, I am confident that you will be amazed at what your students can do.
Now, if you’re excited about helping your students become stronger skilled writers this year, but you want some extra support doing so then I would encourage you to get on the waitlist for the Stellar Literacy Collective, which is our membership site for upper elementary teachers and doors to the membership open up July 10.
And one of the things that we are most excited about sharing with our members this year is the set of writing resources that specifically focused on helping students develop and write strong paragraphs. We’ve created scripted lesson plans, student writing templates, mentor examples for teachers to model basically everything you need to put these five things in place.
And we would love to be able to support you and your students this next year. You can get on the waitlist at stellarteacher.com/waitlist. And like I said, we would love to be able to support you and your students inside our community next year.
Okay, I hope you found this episode helpful, and I hope that you have a stellar week. Don’t forget during the summer, we are releasing a bonus episode on Thursdays so you have one more podcast episode coming your way this week. I hope to connect with you then.