How To Write a Paragraph: A Lesson Plan on Paragraph Structure
Young writers focus on capturing the readers’ attention in the introduction, yet lose it in the middle. Improve paragraph structure and you can hold the readers’ attention for the entire piece.
I need to read bad essays like I need a sledgehammer dropped on my face.
This is the man I saw, hovering over me, trying to help. If you need help teaching paragraph writing skills, check out this Paragraph Teaching Guide. It contains 10 lesson plans and over 15 ready-to-use handouts and graphic organizers. Not sure if it will work in your classroom? Try a free sample on teaching topic sentences.
It took a while, but my students had finally learned how to write an introduction. I couldn’t wait to grade the next round of essays, but when I got to the body paragraphs, I began to weep. They had no idea how to write a paragraph, which types of paragraphs to use, or how to improve paragraph structure. I had failed at teaching paragraph writing. I needed to be punished, so I shook a can of soda, held it under my nose, and opened the tab.
The next thing I knew, I lay unconscious as John Steinbeck hovered over me: “You really need help…”
“On teaching paragraph writing?” I interrupted.
“No, you really need help–”
“teaching paragraph structure?” I interrupted again.
“No, you really need help. The soda can is wedged in your forehead and it needs to be removed immediately.”
I woke up with a massive headache and a lesson plan on top of me.
Common Core Standards
Teaching paragraph structure may satisfy many of 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.
Paragraph Building Blocks: Sentences
Four categories of sentences make up a paragraph.
1. Topic Sentence: the topic sentence states one main idea. Everything in your paragraph must be subordinate to the topic sentence (Need a good topic sentence lesson plan?). Topic sentences can be followed by a limiting sentence, one which narrows the topic from a general statement of truth.
2. Limiting Sentence: a limiting sentence limits the scope of the topic sentence. you can only have one per paragraph.
- Example Topic Sentence: Lebron James is recognized as the league’s most dominant player.
- Example Topic Sentence Followed by a Limiting Sentence: The NBA employs the world’s greatest basketball players. Among them is Lebron James, the league’s most dominant player.
3. Supporting Sentence: a supporting sentence supports the assertion made in the topic sentence. Supporting sentences include concrete details, commentaries, facts, examples, opinions, interpretations, and analyses. Include as many supporting sentences as necessary, but not more than you need.
- Example Supporting Sentence (Fact): Lebron James has won four league MVPs, two Finals MVP, and an Olympic gold medal.
- Example Supporting Sentence (commentary): Lebron’s gold medal Olympic performance capped off one of the greatest years in the history of the sport.
4. Pivot Sentence: A sentence that changes the flow of conversation. Quite often the transitional/concluding sentence serves as the pivot (see #5).
5. Transitional Sentence: the transitional sentence provides a link to the next paragraph.
- Example Transitional/Concluding Sentence: Lebron’s accomplishments were, however, preceded by two disappointing performances in the NBA Finals.
Make sure students don’t confuse these sentence categories with the four sentence structure types (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex). Each of the above sentence types may need a lesson all to itself–or at least a review.
Paragraph Structure Lesson Plan
Read any piece of non-fiction (like this masterpiece on the Detroit Pistons). For each paragraph, do the following (I’ve used the second paragraph from the aforementioned linked article as a guide. You may use it too. I wrote it.):
1) Identify the topic sentence (After moving from Fort Wayne to Detroit in 1957, the Pistons struggled for over two decades.).
2) Identify the limiting sentence, if it exists (It wasn’t until the mid 1980s when Detroit head coach Chuck Daly instituted a more “aggressive” style of play that Detroit became a premier NBA team.) .
3) Identify all supporting sentences and categorize them as a facts, examples, statistics, opinions, analyses, interpretations, etc. (Their fans affectionately called them “The Bad Boys.” (fact)).
4) Identify the transitional sentence (In this case the pivotal sentence and transitional sentence are the same.).
5) Identify the pivotal sentence, if it exists (Basketball aficionados, however, called them bullies and blamed “The Bad Boys” for the league’s downward spiral, a spiral thath saw the league fall from its pinnacle of excitement in the 1980s to its nadir of unwatchability in following years.).
Other ideas include
- Do the above assignment with a student-written essay.
- Choose a topic: Instruct students to write one of each type of paragraph.
- Insert a pivot paragraph into an essay and change the essay’s direction.
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.