Overcoming Difficulties Students Have with Writing Paragraphs
During my teaching years in the classroom, I found that many students had difficulties with writing assignments.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have anything to say. That was obvious during morning break and lunch.
However, if asked to write a paragraph or an essay, students fiddled with their pencils and drew a blank.
That is normal, by the way, for the elementary age. If yours does the same thing, think nothing of it. Just go to work and help them with their topics.
Brainstorm with the students. What topics pose interest to them?
What are their hobbies? Their favorite sports? Their favorite pastime? Their favorite restaurants? Be sure to have a list of ideas on hand.
For boys, topics of interest may include cars, hunting, sports, or four-wheeling. For girls, topics may include fashion, hair styles, sports, or shopping.
Expect interests to vary by age and gender.
Narrow down the topic.
The problem is that many teachers stop at that juncture, still leaving students bewildered. The above topics are much too broad.
Your job as a teacher is to help the students narrow down their topics to a specific point. Then follow through by asking some basic questions.
For example, if a student wishes to write about cars, what specifically will they write about?
What is it about cars that interests them as a topic? Is it the make, the model, the style? Or is it the mechanics or the motor or the wheels?
Continue asking questions until students narrow down their topics to a specific point that can be stated in a single sentence.
Cars are fun. (Too broad.)
What is it about cars that makes them fun?
I like to ride in them? (Still too broad.)
Why do you like to ride in them?
I like riding in them because I like to go fast.
What makes cars go fast?
I like a fast motor.
What kind of motor do you think is the best motor for the car you want to drive?
What kind of motor do you think would be the fastest for the car you want to drive?
Now the topic is narrowed down to a specific point that the students can research if necessary. This specific point is called the main idea of the paragraph.
Write the main idea.
Have the students write their specific point or main idea in a single sentence.
A 454 cubic inch V-8 motor is the best motor (or whatever motor they feel is the best or the fastest).
Write supporting sentences.
Students should write at least three supporting sentences.
Help students with this by asking several questions to get them thinking about what they will write. Give specific instructions to help them with this part of their assignment.
Why is it the best motor? I want you to give me three reasons. Write each reason in a single sentence. (Students will have three sentences for this part.)
Let the students research for the three reasons if necessary.
Look over their three sentences concerning reasons. If they have attempted to start their sentences with the word “because”, have them restate those sentences.
(This may be a good time for a class in sentence structure. Do not miss the opportunity to teach restating of sentences if needed.)
Now the students should have a topic sentence and three sentences supporting the topic sentence.
Write a final or concluding statement.
The final sentence should be a restatement of the topic sentence. For some paragraphs, the last sentence may be a concluding sentence.
The finished product of their writing will be a minimum five-sentence paragraph.
Older students can then embellish their paragraphs with additional information if desired. They will need to be instructed that any additional information must support the topic sentence.
Have students correct spelling and punctuation errors.
Finally, students should rewrite their paragraphs in their best handwriting.
Many students hate writing class because they are required to turn in an error-free paper.
Having students use erasable black pens gives students experience in writing in ink. The use of erasable pens also reduces the frustration that everyone experiences when they make mistakes.
Remember that the focus of this assignment is paragraph writing not penmanship, although penmanship is important. That is why using an erasable pen at this point is invaluable.
Present and/or display paragraphs.
As a classroom teacher, I mounted students’ writing assignments on construction paper and displayed their finished products on the classroom or hallway walls.
Students were always excited to see their work on display. They also enjoyed reading other students’ accomplishments. Having their work displayed also encouraged them to strive harder on their future writing assignments.
As time allowed, I also asked the students to present their work orally. This was to increase their oral presentation skills.
The supper table is an excellent place to have students do oral presentations. Parents and siblings alike can enjoy the newly acquired writing skills of their loved ones.
Copyright 2017 by Peggy Clark
Join in the conversation:
What frustrations have you experienced in teaching your students/children to write?
What ideas can you suggest to get students writing?