Teaching Writing Tip #2: Where's the Beef?

These days anything worth doing is worth doing younger and first graders are sometimes asked to write paragraphs.

Perhaps you have seen the hamburger model of writing (picture on left)?  Let me be clear, I love this model and have used it sometimes to assist in revising writing that is entirely unfocused.  However, this is no way to start the writing process.  It’s a visual for revising, NOT a plan for drafting.  If you don’t believe me, try to imagine Dostoyevsky using a hamburger drawing to write Crime and Punishment. Real writers don’t structure their writing this way.  Let’s try to teach our students to be real writers and not writers because we said so.  I think it makes the difference between raising students who write to communicate versus  raising another generation that hates writing.

I’ve seen teachers use this at the start of the writing process and the students did, in fact, have an introduction and conclusion in their writing.  And it was the lamest paragraph I ever read.  It had no soul.

Lesson for the classroom

Let students write.  Let them get their ideas out on paper without worrying about writing conventions and Big Macs.  A structure to the writing will emerge and if it doesn’t then when you get to revising you model for students how to separate a jumble of ideas into to separate paragraphs (using the hamburger if you wish).  The danger is giving students too much to think about before they even start writing.  Also, the hamburger might incorrectly teach students (and misinformed teachers) that the first sentence of every paragraph is the main idea.  Reread the first sentence of this paragraph before moving on.  Sometimes you bury your main idea a bit to keep things interesting.

How do you teach students to write paragraphs?  Do you teach paragraphing?

6 Responses to “Teaching Writing Tip #2: Where's the Beef?”

  1. Kimberly Vance Says:


    That actually makes a lot of sense. Every time I introduce some kind of advance organizer, the quality of writing goes down. But since so many of my students struggle with organization, I have continued to try different methods. I think on our next project I am going to try this ‘backwards’ approach.

  2. Steven Kimmi Says:

    Who has time to write? My district/school, in preperation for the State test, have reduced writing time to the LAST fifteen minutes of the day. Because we are a school with a large bussing population, that means 2/3rds of my class only get 10 minutes.

    Sorry for the rant. Great ideas here, creation is messy work, to organize it from the get-go seems counterproductive.

    So…how to teach writing in a (chaotic) 10 min. block?

  3. Mathew Says:

    Let me know how it works.

    Obviously, I think it does students a real disservice to allow them only ten minutes of writing time since I think that pretty much eliminates the ability of the teacher to model the writing process. I would argue to whoever will listen that writing relates directly to reading comprehension test scores and see how far you get on that.

  4. Steven Kimmi Says:

    I have had that talk, writing is important for the development of reading (especially with persuasive text). The only thing I can say is that there will hopefully be a shift within our school/district soon, to alter the idea that our job as educators is to teach the (tested) indicators, instead teaching what our kids still need.

    But who knows…it’s funny, how to be a great educator these days, there has to be a level of shadiness…

  5. Carnival of Education at The Core Knowledge Blog Says:

    […] you have seen the hamburger model of writing?” asks Mathew Needleman in Teaching Writing Tip #2: Where’s the Beef? at Open Court Resources.com Blog.  ”Try to imagine Dostoyevsky using a hamburger drawing to […]

  6. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » 10 Myths of Writer’s Workshop: Part 3 of 4 Says:

    […] written about this before as well. Focusing on structure before starting to write can lead to bland, generic paragraphs and reduce […]

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