How To Write a Paragraph: A Lesson Plan on Paragraph Structure
Teaching the rules of evidence and supporting details will help students avoid common logical blunders and recognize when they’re being manipulated by other writers.
If the Common Core Fits, You Must Acquit!
After a hard days work teaching students about thesis statements, supporting details, and types of evidence, I sat down to grade some essays. 234 out of 236 essays used supporting details incorrectly. Students had the evidence but did not know how to use it. Out of all the supporting details lesson plans I used, not one of them taught students how to use supporting details. I needed to be punished. I bustled over to the choir room and rammed the conductor stick through my larynx. Seconds before puncturing the skin, I passed out from the pain.
When I awoke, Johnny Cochrane stood over me. He pulled me up by my left eye brow, told me he could help, picked up a music stand, bashed me on the head, and dragged me back to my classroom. When I awoke, there was a lesson plan on how to use supporting details, a copy of “rules for evidence” on my desk, and an autographed pair of Isotoners from the Juice.
I was immediately hospitalized with a concussion, however, and never got to share the supporting details lesson plan on how to use supporting details.
But you can.
Common Core Standards
Teaching paragraph structure satisfies the following common core standards.
- W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
- W.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
- W.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic. W.9-10.2a Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings); graphics (e.g., figures, tables); and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
- W.9-10.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
- W.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
- W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
- W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- L.9-10.1a Use parallel structure.
Rules of Evidence
Your paragraph development is only as good as your evidence. Teach the following guidelines for quality evidence.
1. Each fact must be accurate.
- Be sure to copy information, especially quotations, accurately. Pay special attention to dates and the spelling of names.
- Treat statistics with caution.
- Do not use quotes out of context. Manipulating evidence has its place in the courtroom, politics, and tabloids, but not in academia. Make sure the quote you use reflects the intent of the speaker.
2. Each fact must be authoritative.
- Make sure the source is reliable.
- Make sure the source is unbiased.
- Use information that is timely.
3. Each fact must be relevant. If you’re writing about the unfairness of the BCS standings, don’t include information about a coach’s recruiting trip to the Dominican Republic.
4. Include enough facts to prove your point.
- The amount of evidence depends on the thesis statement: the more controversial or debatable, the more evidence needed.
- Be careful not to use too much evidence; readers get bogged down with too many details.
5. Arrange facts in the best way possible.
- Evidence can be arranged logically: general to specific, specific to general, least complex to most complex, most complex to least complex, general to specific, or specific to general.
- Evidence can be arranged climactically: most exciting to least exciting or least exciting to most exciting.
- Evidence can be arranged chronologically.
Many writers manipulate evidence to make their point. Although evidence manipulation benefits the writer in the short term, it ruins his or her credibility in the long term.
- Do not overlook significant factors or individuals.
- Do not ignore evidence that goes against the thesis statement.
- Do not jump to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
- Do not make generalizations based on faulty logic.
- Do not use evidence that is outdated.
- Do not use evidence out of context.
- Do not use evidence from a biased source without acknowledging the source (for example, if you’re writing about a Democratic presidential candidate and get your information from the Republican party headquarters or vice versa, be sure to mention it).
- Make sure all evidence is properly cited.
Supporting Details Lesson Plan
An effective supporting details lesson plan should address the avoidance of evidence manipulation in writing.
- Instruct students to take notes on the rules of evidence for writing (above).
- Have students take out a rough draft they have been working on.
- Have them find five pieces of evidence they used to support their thesis statement.
- Instruct them to answer the following questions for each piece of evidence: Is each supporting detail, fact, or piece of evidence accurate? authoritative? relevant? Are the number of facts adequate to prove your point? Are facts presented in a logical manner?
Other lesson ideas include the following:
- Write a thesis statement on the board and instruct students to find five pieces of evidence to support it and five pieces of evidence against it.
- After writing a persuasive piece, assign each student to write the essay from the opposing viewpoint.
- Schedule a debate in two rounds. After round one, switch sides of the issue.
- Have students (or the teacher) bring in editorials from newspapers, magazines, or Websites, and as a class evaluate the evidence used.
- Bring in copies of the National Enquirer, The Globe, The New York Times or other disreputable periodicals and evaluate how these newspapers manipulate evidence.
- Do the same using a television broadcast (tabloid news shows such as Hard Copy, Extra, and anything on MSNBC work best).
Lessons on Paragraph Writing
Here are some more lesson plans and lesson ideas for writing paragraphs. Each lesson plan contains discussion/notes information, lesson procedures, and a list of ELA Common Core Standards in case your administrator shows up.
- Writing Topic Sentences
- Teaching Paragraph Structure
- Using Transitions Effectively
- Paragraph Challenge
- The Methods of Paragraph Development
- Using Supporting Details Effectively
- How to Revise and Grade an Essay
I’ve taken these lesson plans and added notes, graphic organizers, and more lesson options to create what I consider an invaluable resource for middle school and high school teachers. It’s only $5.95.
It includes 10 lesson plans aligned to common core standards, notes, and over 15 assignments with answer keys. All you need to do is print out each assignment, make copies, and pass them out. Here’s a Free Topic Sentence Sample Plan to give you an idea of what the paragraph teaching guide has to offer.
Of course, you’re more than welcome to make your own handouts and assignments that took me weeks to make and years to perfect.