There are many skills involved in writing. After children master basic sentence writing, the next step – paragraph writing – is critical for their writing development. It allows them to create more personalized expression, and refine their thinking with greater depth and detail. It allows them to evoke memorable imagination, elicit powerful persuasion, and communicate valuable information. It is a building block as students work to becoming prepared for the demands of middle school, high school, and beyond. Certainly, helping to take your child’s writing to the next level, by writing effective paragraphs, is crucial.
Great…so how does that happen?
Many students don’t know it, but there is a step-by-step method to help them navigate this often intimidating task. We need to remember, writing is a process, with several steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Fortunately, Sylvan’s Writing program has been helping school children master these steps for years.
Writing an effective paragraph means having a clear and distinct focus. But imagine your child is going to write about cars, what should they focus on? There are a million possibilities. Prewriting helps here.
Start by brainstorming ideas: what they know, what they don’t know, questions they have, etc. Essentially, they try to gather any ideas related to the topic.
Writing tip: two ways to organize these ideas are using a list or a web. Here is an example web.
Create a Topic Sentence
Once brainstorming is done, it is time to step back and begin to choose what to focus on, called the topic sentence. It is a single sentence which clearly states the topic along with the specific focus. Here is an example:
- Car (topic) + maintenance (specific focus) = Learning to maintain a car is important.
The main idea is what your entire paragraph works to describe. With the main idea chosen, the next step is to gather information specifically about it. Your student can create another list or web to brainstorm these ideas, and when they’re done they’ll have a collection of supporting details that describe the topic sentence.
Organize Your Details
One problem your child might notice is that the details aren’t organized. So before starting the main project, remember to number the details in order. Three ways to organize details are by time-sequence, by importance, or by location. Once the details are organized, your child can start the main writing task.
Drafting is creating the first draft of the paragraph. It incorporates the topic sentence and all of the supporting details. Often, the topic sentence can be included right in the paragraph as another sentence along with the details. It can be the first sentence, but doesn’t need to be.
Writing Tip: use a thesaurus to add a variety of words to sentences.
Click here for a basic template for writing a paragraph.
It is important to remember to make sure the details smoothly flow from one to the next, using transitions. Let’s look at an example of two sentences that are not properly connected, and then fix the problem using a transition:
Getting regular oil changes is important for your car. Your engine can overheat and damage vital parts.
It’s not clear how these statements are connected, but we can add a transition to fix it:
Getting regular oil changes is important for your car. Failure to do so can cause your engine to overheat and damage vital parts.
By adding the transition phrase in italics, these sentences now connect and make more sense as a result. Having smooth transitions helps the reader better understand the ideas.
Finally, the paragraph should include a concluding sentence. This is usually at the end of the paragraph, and restates the topic sentence and reminds the reader what the overall focus for the paragraph is. A concluding sentence helps to ensure the reader remembers what the paragraph is about.
When the first draft is finished, the next step is to review and improve it. Revising includes the major changes, such as:
- Removing details that don’t belong
- Reordering details
- Adding missing details
- Changing sentence structure to make sure the writing sounds natural and interesting
- Changing words to make the writing clearer for the reader
If revising is about making big changes, editing is about making small changes. It is where we check the mechanics, like format, spelling, punctuation, and capital letters. These are the final changes to polish the paragraph.
Publishing is the last step, where your child finally gets to share all their hard work with others. It is important to share writing, because it can give them valuable feedback. Listening to people’s responses, questions, and criticisms are all valuable in order to hone their skills and improve their writing for next time.
Overall, once your child has become comfortable with writing sentences, the next natural step is paragraphs. If your child finds this more difficult, that’s because it is. There are several steps – prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing – and knowing how to follow these steps will help them be more confident. As they move through high school and eventually into post-secondary, mastering paragraphs is critical!