For the development of writing skills, third grade is a milestone year. Students are expected to make the leap from writing simple paragraphs to developing short essays and narratives. This is challenging because writing a complete paragraph is still a fairly new and difficult concept for third-graders. To teach them how to write a simple paragraph, reinforce what they learned in second grade with models and relevant analogies, then give them opportunities to practice.
Parts of a Paragraph
A paragraph has three main parts: the topic sentence, the body and conclusion. Each part has a specific job. The topic sentence expresses the writer's main idea for the paragraph. The body presents details about the topic. The conclusion explains what those details mean. To keep things simple for a budding third-grade writer, teach the three parts and have students keep them in order. As a teacher, you realize that good writers do not always organize in this strict pattern. However, at the third-grade level, teaching the pattern and trusting your students’ future teachers will modify their style at the appropriate time is prudent.
Giving students examples after which to model their work is critical in the third grade because the concept of paragraph writing is so new. Before writing any words, expose your class to models. Point out the three parts of the paragraph in the models, and have the students identify the parts for themselves. Let them have printouts of the models on their desks while they write, and post them on your walls.
Giving students a familiar image that they can compare their work to makes it easier for them to retain information. For paragraph writing, a useful one is drawing a parallel between the paragraph and a hamburger. The topic sentence and conclusion are like the bun, and the body is like the meat and toppings. The topic sentence goes on top of the "hamburger," and the conclusion is on the bottom. The top and bottom of the bun are both bread, just like the topic sentence and conclusion are related. They look a little different but work together to hold all the ingredients or details. Writers can choose what goes into their paragraphs to create different meanings, the same way a chef chooses what to put on a burger to create different flavors.
Acquiring any skill requires practice, and writing is no exception. The panel of the Educator's Practice Guide from What Works Clearinghouse recommends one hour of daily writing practice for all elementary school students in their report "Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers," yet their recent survey of elementary school teachers indicates the actual time spent writing is less than that. The panel also recommends giving students time to write in all subject areas, indicating educators should spread the hour throughout the day. Once third-graders understand the process, practice, practice, practice should finish the job.
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