You are in your classroom. It is time for writing. Kids groan. You feel defeated.
You pretend you don’t hear it because secretly you are wondering, “Was that actually the kids groaning or did I accidentally expose my true feelings about our writing block and let the groan in my head slip out?”
You act casual…chipper even. You start the lesson. You feel OK about it.
You set them free to draft the next great American novel.
Or perhaps since this is elementary school, you just want to get a decent paragraph out of them.
Heads go down.
Then it happens. Some pencils start to move. You feel a flicker of hope…until you realize they are doodling.
Ultimately paragraphs get produced, but the quality is disappointing.
Like I said, I feel your pain. I was there. I was there for many years actually.
But friends, like all great American novels, this tale has a happy ending.
WHY KIDS OFTEN DISLIKE WRITING:
- They don’t know what to write about.
- They find the process overwhelming. It seems too open-ended.
- They have learned to be discouraged because of prior grading experiences.
- They have a learning difference that may or may not have been diagnosed (written expression, dyslexia, etc.) and genuinely require extra support.
- They are not clear on the expectations.
WHY TEACHERS OFTEN DISLIKE TEACHING WRITING:
- They don’t feel confident in their training.
- They don’t have the proper resources.
- They struggle to find the time to fill the gaps from prior years.
- Grading writing feels like an immense task.
CAN THESE OBSTACLES BE OVERCOME?
Yep! It turns out that it is actually quite easy to greatly improve student writing in a relatively short time. Best of all it is super easy for the teacher to implement.
I know this from personal experience year after year as a classroom teacher.
I also know this to be true from my current role as a homeschooling parent.
Speaking of which, if the fact that I have elected to use this tried and true system to teach my own children is not proof of how much I believe in it, then I don’t know what is.
Honestly, it’s so easy to use and so incredibly effective, it almost seems too good to be true.
Now for the EXCITING NEWS! This resource has recently been COMPLETELY UPDATED. In addition to the original resource getting a total makeover, the download now includes a FREE digital version you can use with Google Classroom as well as two other easy-to-use, paper-saving versions (half sheets and prompt slips).
WHAT IS PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK?
Paragraph of the Week is a systematic, scaffolded approach to teaching writing.
By breaking down the writing process into sequential, easy to follow steps, and following a consistent weekly routine, writing becomes a non-threatening task.
This spiral review method of routinely brainstorming, planning, organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and finalizing writing has proven to be an EXTREMELY effective way to greatly improve student writing.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO USING PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Your students’ current writing abilities most likely fall on a spectrum. You probably have reluctant writers, learners with written expression goals, and gifted young authors simultaneously needing your guidance and instruction.
As an educator, you are also bogged down with a million and one other responsibilities on any given day. It is hard to be consistent in planning and executing lessons that meet the needs of all your students.
Paragraph of the Week not only solves those problems, but it does so in a way that makes your job easier while providing your students with a spiral review approach to writing that fosters constant growth and improvement.
This resource takes the spiral review approach that has proven to be effective in other subjects and applies it to writing through repeated, but purposeful application and practice of skills.
It introduces students to the writing process of brainstorming, planning and organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and finalizing their writing.
Your learners will get daily writing practice with a minimal time investment.
Thanks to the systematic scaffolding approach, the student checklist, and the expectation rubric, students are not left to wonder what makes excellent writing, and instead become excellent writers.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO USE THIS RESOURCE IN MY CLASSROOM?
The really nice thing about these is that they are so flexible in how they can be used. Many teachers use this as their nightly homework. Others have loved using these printables as:
- no-prep centers
- morning work
- part of a daily writer’s workshop
- in sub plans
- as test prep for state writing tests
HOW DOES PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK MAKE TEACHING EASIER?
- There is an entire year (40 weeks) of paragraphs available in the bundle. You can even copy them all at once. Done!
- The routine is VERY easy to implement and manage.
- Since the process is so systematic, planning takes no time at all.
- They have all the ease of simple “print and go / no prep” printables, but with teaching built right into each of the pages.
- The scoring rubric allows for super simple, yet highly effective grading by providing a student-friendly checklist of the criteria for success.
WHICH STUDENTS GET THE MOST FROM PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK?
This format makes paragraph writing accessible to ALL STUDENTS because it supports the students who need help while providing advanced writers opportunities for individual growth.
Children who struggle with written expression will benefit from the very specific procedure to follow, the spiral review of the skills, and the consistent practice that will come from guided practice.
Meanwhile, your more advanced writers can focus on continuing to improve their craft through the use of advanced vocabulary, transition words and experimentation with upper-level grammar skills such as quotations.
This resource truly lends itself to a span of ages, grade levels and developmental stages. For beginning writers, it establishes a framework on how to consistently write a solid paragraph. More experienced writers benefit from working within only one paragraph to really fine tune, experiment with, and expand their work as developing authors.
MY STUDENTS HATE WRITING. WILL THIS IMPROVE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT?
Students love the prompts. Each week they look forward to seeing what they will be writing about. The prompts are all not only student-friendly, but are 100% about a topic they know and they know very well…themselves.
Since each prompt taps into thoughts and experiences that are specific to each individual, your class will learn more about each other and your students will find new ways to connect with their peers. This really helps to develop your classroom community.
DO I NEED TO START USING THIS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SCHOOL YEAR?
You can start at any time during the year. The prompts were intentionally written to be applicable to any time of the year. They do not need to be used in any specific order. Jump in at any time!
IS THERE ONLY ONE WAY TO USE THIS RESOURCE or IS IT FLEXIBLE?
This resource is EXTREMELY FLEXIBLE with lots of options to meet your needs.
There are 4 versions of each prompt to pick from:
- full page packets
- half sheet writing task cards
- individual prompt strips
- a digital version using Google Slides.
Choose the method that works best for your learners.
The pages are not labeled with specific days of the week, so you can set your own schedule and pacing.
WHAT IF I ALREADY HAVE A WRITING CURRICULUM?
These paragraph writing templates are highly effective alone, but they easily pair well with any writing curriculum.
Using these through the year will not only show real improvement in student writing, but will also provide documentation of student progress.
WHY DO PARENTS LOVE IT?
I’ve heard so much positive feedback from parents. Here are the three benefits that come up most often.
- As homework, parents appreciate the consistency of this resource. They enjoy having clear and consistent expectations that enable them to help their child at home.
- Families have also articulated during conferences how wonderful it is to have “apples to apples” comparisons of their children’s writing over time because it really shows their growth and progress.
- The scoring rubric was designed as a checklist with a potential for earning 20 points. It clearly communicates to both parents and students what they are doing well on and what they need to focus on in the future. Since it is based on a 20 point scale, the score can easily be multiplied by five to convert it to a more traditional numbers-based or letter-based grading system that parents often prefer.
A CLOSE UP LOOK AT PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Let’s start by looking at the rubric because it was meant to be a tool throughout the writing process and not as a cumulative assessment at the end.
This powerful tool saves teachers TONS of time in grading, while clearly documenting and communicating a student’s current strengths and weaknesses. Grading writing can be overwhelming and is often subjective.
When a child sees his/her work marked up, he/she can feel extremely defeated. The criteria for success sheet eliminates both those problems.
The rubric simplifies the task of assessment, provides documentation of progress and growth, and allows you to focus on providing one or two pieces of quality feedback as opposed to marking up an entire paragraph.
The scoring rubric breaks down the expectations for paragraph writing into very clear, manageable criteria for success. Students don’t need to guess at what makes “good writing” because it is all explained to them. They can use it as they’re writing to guide them. The criteria, as well as the standard editing marks, can be used during revisions or writing conferences. The checklist can be used to easily assign a score to the work. There is room at the bottom for effective feedback and for goal setting for future assignments.
It was designed as a checklist with a potential for earning 20 points. It clearly communicates to both parents and students what they are doing well on and what they need to focus on in the future. Since it is based on a 20 point scale, the score can easily be multiplied by five to convert it to a more traditional numbers-based or letter-based grading system that parents often prefer.
The project begins with a clear, student-friendly prompt. There are images directly related to each prompt on every page.
The brainstorming section was designed to allow for choice. Students can write lists, create Venn Diagrams, make T-Charts, create columns, or simply scatter ideas as they pop into their heads. The box was specifically designed to fit sticky notes. This provides the option to record even more ideas, or organize thoughts differently, on those and easily attach them to the page.
The bottom of the page sets the stage for the actual paragraph writing by guiding the students to preselect their details and put them in the order they will write them. This box is helpful for several reasons. It serves as a transition from brainstorming to writing. It gives them a recipe to follow as they write. It allows for you to quickly and easily check in with the students who need more support to ensure they are on the right track, that their details are all on topic, and that each detail can be developed into meaningful sentences BEFORE they go through all the work of writing it. It is much more beneficial to be proactive than it is to retroactively need to assist a student in making lots of changes to their work.
The left margin lists the sequence and spells out exactly what the writer needs to do step-by-step.
The organizer was designed using brain-based research, and strategies that are specifically helpful to students with language-based disabilities, but applicable and beneficial to ALL learners.
It uses a top-down web format. The details and the elaborations have been differentiated by black and grey shading. Each type of sentence in the paragraph (topic, supporting details, and closing) have been clearly identified. The organizer was even designed to show the topic sentence indented. This format not only helps with the current writing project in front of them, but helps to embed the concept into their minds for when they construct paragraphs in other content areas or without the support of a graphic organizer.
The manner in which each individual sentence has been isolated allows for revision and editing in a way that does not feel overwhelming. Changes can be made to each sentence, or an entire sentence can be completely rewritten without “messing up” their work. When students need to “fix” a traditionally written draft, it typically feels overwhelming. It changes the formatting of their paragraph, causes confusion when copying it onto a final draft, and leaves them feeling frustrated as writers. Isolating the sentences eliminates all of those issues.
For many students, the greatest struggle they have as writers is getting started. This format enables students to initially skip the topic sentence, compose all their details, and then use those details to construct the topic sentence. I personally found this to be a very powerful strategy in my own classroom. Not only did it eliminate the reluctance to get started, but their topic sentences quickly became so much more interesting.
Finally, this design makes it easier for students to not only draft their paragraph, but also to later transfer their draft onto another page for publishing.
Each of the weekly units does also include standard draft paper. These pages can be used as an additional step between completing the graphic organizer and publishing a final copy, or in place of the graphic organizer for students who already demonstrate strength in writing a structured paragraph.
The draft page was intentionally designed using alternating grey and white lines. They serve as a visual reminder to double-space their writing and provide ample room for revisions and editing.
REVISING AND EDITING
The criteria for success scoring rubric can serve as a checklist during the revising and editing stages of writing. I suggest having the students first use the rubric to self-assess before conferencing with an adult.
The sheet includes editing marks as a handy reference.
Although it is not a necessary step, I saw a remarkable gain in my students’ writing with the following:
- I had them go through their drafts and highlight the nouns in yellow and the verbs in orange.
- I encouraged them to add adjectives in before the nouns when appropriate.
- I had them examine their word choices for the verbs and challenged them to replace them with stronger verbs (example: I ran to the playground. I sprinted to the sunny playground.)
Year after year this additional step resulted in their writing naturally becoming much more descriptive, and their word choices were constantly expanding.
PUBLISHING and SHARING
The final steps in the Paragraph of the Week system include publishing a final copy and sharing it with others. The final copy can simply be written on the enclosed stationary or it can be typed into the digital version of the resource that is included.
Some teachers opt to skip the final copy weekly and instead have the students pick one of their weekly paragraphs each month to publish. While I do encourage you to make sure publishing and sharing is included in your routine, it does not need to occur weekly (although it often does).
Real world authors do not turn every piece of work they do into a book. You will have acquired the information you need about where they are at as writers from all the other steps.
They will have had the consistent practice they need as writers from the process of getting to the publishing stage. So, while I do recommend each piece be turned into a written and illustrated published work that is stored sequentially to show the progress, I do support the decision to not take every single piece to that level.
If you do want to have your students create a weekly published copy, but find time to be a factor I suggest the following:
- Have them write the final copy at home.
- Use the writing of the final copy as handwriting, cursive, or keyboarding practice during those instructional times.
- Teach writing using a rotation or workshop format and make publishing be one of the stations.
- Have them publish their writing as morning work.
- Use the publishing step as a transitional activity. Copywork and illustrating are perfect for transitioning students from lunch, recess, or specialists such as music and physical education back into the classroom. Allow for a few minutes of publishing time as soon as they enter the classroom. Play relaxing music and keep the lights dim. You’ll find this not only serves the purpose of getting their writing published, but also decreases the behaviors and management issues that often arise during a transitional time.