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?