This is the tale of how a 3rd grade teacher who once hated teaching paragraph writing (spoiler alert: it was me) used a simple system called Paragraph of the Week to transform her reluctant writers into excited authors and rapidly improved student writing.
It can be really challenging and extremely frustrating to teach writing to 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I struggled with it for many years before I realized I was overcomplicating things.
By simply scaling it down to just one single paragraph a week, I was in awe at how quickly, easily, and drastically my students’ writing improved.
I’m so glad you are here because I pinky promise (which we all know is a very serious oath) you’ll find this info will be an absolute game changer in your classroom, too.
Get comfy because I am about to…
- help you identify why share everything you need to know about implementing and managing Paragraph of the Week
- answer the most frequently asked questions about teaching paragraph writing
- gift you with a free paragraph writing activity you can use in your classroom
TEACHING WRITING WAS DEFINITELY NOT MY FAVORITE THING TO DO
I feel your pain.
You are in your classroom. It is time for writing. Kids groan. You feel defeated.
Pretending you didn’t hear it, you’re secretly wondering, “Was that 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. Playing it cool, you start the lesson. You feel okay about it.
With a deep sigh, albeit only in your head (you hope), 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. Bodies slump.
Then it happens. Some pencils start to move. You feel a flicker of hope…until you realize they are just doodling.
Ultimately, some paragraphs do 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. For those of you who likes to skip to the last page of a book, the happy ending for me was implementing Paragraph of the Week.
WHY TEACHERS DISLIKE TEACHING PARAGRAPH WRITING:
It is important to reflect on why you personally don’t love teaching writing, or perhaps you love teaching paragraph writing, but find there are obstacles in the way that prevent you from feeling truly successful at it.
Here are the five I hear most often from teachers (and experienced myself):
- LACK OF TRAINING: They don’t feel confident in their ability to teach writing.
- LACK OF RESOURCES: They have not been provided with the tools they need.
- WEAK RESOURCES: Too often, teachers are often expected to teach writing based on the lessons in their reading curriculum. Unfortunately, these usually seem like an afterthought from the publishing companies and are not effective.
- OVERWHELM: Grading writing feels like an immense task. The students aren’t engaged during the writing block. The needs of the students are so different.
- IT FEELS TOO DISCOURAGING AND FRUSTRATING: It is hard to do your best work when you feel defeated. You try your best with what you have, but your students present as bored and disinterested at best and reluctant, obstinate and emotional at worse.
Identifying your own dislikes or challenges are when it comes to teaching paragraph writing is important so you can find the support you need.
It is even more important, however, to analyze why your students either dislike or struggle with writing. Understanding where the problems lie will make it much easier to implement strategies to address their challenges and needs, improve their writing, and (dare I say) help them learn to enjoy the writing process.
WHY STUDENTS DISLIKE & AVOID WRITING
There are many reasons elementary students say they “hate” writing. It is extremely important to take the time to observe and understand why students avoid writing so you can address the reluctance and guide your students to solutions. These are some of the most common reasons children are reluctant writers.
- THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT. For many, the thought of picking a topic and getting started is an immediate roadblock that they can’t get past.
- THEY FEEL OVERWHELMED. Writing assignments are often open-ended, which causes anxiety.
- PAST FAILURES. Nobody wants their flaws pointed out. If a student has had bad experiences with a teacher marking up a written task with lots of corrections and notes, it can cause a lingering mindset that prevents future risk-taking.
- THEY DON’T CONNECT WITH THE TOPIC. When kids are asked to write about things they have not experienced or can’t relate to, they will struggle with putting pen (or #2 pencil) to paper.
- IT’S BORING AND IT TAKES TOO LONG. Students who are good writers with automaticity can build stamina to write for longer periods of time. However, the majority of kids find it to be a painful and laborious task that feels like it is dragging on forever.
WHY STUDENTS STRUGGLE WITH WRITING
Now that we’ve identified some reasons why many typically developing students avoid writing, we need to chat about why writing is a challenge for so many others.
(Don’t worry, though. I have strategies to share with you for help to make writing a positive experience for ALL your students.)
There are many children who appear to dislike or be avoiding the writing process. In reality, what is perceived as laziness, a lack of motivation or even non-compliance is the result of a learning difference.
Writing is not a stand alone activity. Written expression involves a collection of key skills.
SKILLS NEEDED FOR WRITING
Students who have not yet developed the foundational skills to writing listed below will legitimately find writing to be a challenging task they are likely to shy away from.
- spelling and phonemic awareness
- fine motor skills
- letter formation automaticity
- speed of motor performance
- understanding sentence structure
- verb placement and tenses
- incomplete or run on sentences
- language formulation and ideation
EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS
- working memory
- attention to detail
- being flexible in the working process
- growth mindset
- ability to control frustration
CAUSES OF WRITING DIFFICULTIES IN GRADES 1-5
For some of your students, there may be gaps in the development of these key skills that are required for written expression. However, statistically there are far too many students who are struggling because of unidentified, untreated, or misdiagnosed learning differences.
These students (rather properly diagnosed or not) will require additional support, accommodations and/or modifications to reach their potential as writers. Below are the most commonly missed causes of student struggles.
- Oral and Written Language Disability
- Specific Comprehension Deficit or Hyperlexia
Children may also struggle with writing because of hearing or visual impairments, behavioral or emotional disturbances, trauma, or sensory processing disorders.
COMMON BEHAVIORS OF STUDENTS WITH WRITING DIFFICULTIES
- avoids writing tasks
- makes excuses for not writing
- asks to use the bathroom when it’s time to start writing
- says, “I don’t know what to write about.”
- sits for a long time without putting pencil to paper
- frequent erasing
- acts frustrated or irritable
- finishes very quickly
- uses smaller words when writing than speaking
- distracts others
- complains of headache or stomachache when writing
The topics of key skills, learning disabilities, disorders, and life events that impact learning are vast subjects that I can not do justice to in single blog post about teaching paragraph writing. However, there are a few points that I want you to take away from this article.
There is always an underlying cause for why children have writing difficulties, lack interest in writing or demonstrate behaviors associated with reluctance and avoidance of writing.
Do not dismiss students’ behavioral actions and verbal expression of dislike of write to be because they find it boring.
Using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach to teaching paragraph writing will help ALL your students become better writers, but it will be especially helpful for kids with learning and thinking differences. (More on this below.)
HOW TO IMPROVE STUDENTS’ WRITING SKILLS
So now you are probably thinking, “GREAT, TEACHING KIDS TO WRITE IS EVEN HARDER THAN I ORIGINALLY THOUGHT?“
Perhaps you are giving me the virtual stink eye and muttering, “I CAME HERE LOOKING FOR WAYS TO GET BETTER AT TEACHING THE WRITING PROCESS AND TO FIND NEW WRITNG STRATEGIES FOR STUDENTS and all she’s done is stressed me out by telling me more about the challenges I’m facing.”
TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
I’VE GOT YOUR BACK.
IT’S TIME TO LOOK AT THE GAME CHANGER!
PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS ELEMENTARY TEACHERS FACE WHEN TEACHING PARAGRAPH WRITING
It turns out that it is actually quite easy to greatly improve student writing in a relatively short amount of time. Best of all, it is super easy to implement and manage.
I know this from personal experience year after year as a classroom teacher.
I especially 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.
WHAT IS PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK?
Paragraph of the Week is a systematic, scaffolded approach to teaching paragraph 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 A PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK SYSTEM?
- MEETS THE NEEDS OF ALL LEARNERS: 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.
- PROVIDES CONSISTENT WRITING PRACTICE: 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. You may feel pressure to move ahead with multi-paragraph essays even if you don’t feel as though you’ve had enough time for properly teaching paragraph writing.
- ACTS AS A SPIRAL REVIEW: Paragraph of the Week provides your students with the spiral review approach to learning approach that has proven to be effective in other subjects and applies it to writing through repeated, but purposeful application. This system for writing fosters constant growth and improvement because young authors can build upon and revisit skills throughout the year.
- HELPS THEM INTERNALIZE THE WRITING PROCESS: Each week, the students work through a cycle of brainstorming, planning and organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and finalizing their writing. While they are doing this on a smaller scale of a single paragraph, they truly learn to understand the same writing process they will use on higher levels in the future.
BENEFITS SHARED BY TEACHERS WHO’VE USED IT
- IT TAKES SO LITTLE TIME, BUT THEIR GROWTH AND PROGRESS IS MASSIVE: Your learners will get daily writing practice with a minimal time investment. Scaling writing down to manageable, scaffolded steps and a consistent routine removes so much of the frustration and enables students to truly focus on growing as writers.
- IT IS SYSTEMATIC AND SCAFFOLDED: Thanks to the step-by-step, predictable sequence, the student checklist, and the expectation rubric, students are not left to wonder what makes excellent writing. Instead they have the tools they need for ongoing practice and a clear understand of what it takes to become an excellent writer.
- IT EMPHASIZES PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION: This skill is so important not just in writing, but in life. Having a specific framework for paragraph writing allows you, your students, and their families to compare “apples to apples” and get a very clear picture of how their writing abilities are strengthening over time. Instead of kids feeling defeated by having lots of edits made to a longer writing tasks, they get to see how quickly their writing is improving each week.
- THERE ARE 4 DIFFERENT VERSIONS INCLUDED: We know teaching is not one size fits all. It’s not even one size fits most. For that reason we have create and included FOUR different options for each of the weekly writing projects. They are showcased in the images below.
THE 4 VERSIONS OF PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
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
- as no prep, activities to leave for a substitute teacher
- as test prep for state writing tests
HOW DOES PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK MAKE TEACHING PARAGRAPH WRITING EASIER?
- There is an entire year (76 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 PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK 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 PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK 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 PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK?
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 THE COMPONENTS OF THE PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK RESOURCES
PARAGRAPH WRITING RUBRIC
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 their work marked up, they can feel extremely defeated. The criteria for success sheets eliminate that problem.
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. It is so important that the topic is something they have experience with and can relate to their own lives.
There are images directly related to each prompt on every page.
The brainstorming section was intentionally 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 planning 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.
- The students learn to understand the transition from brainstorming to writing.
- It gives them a recipe to follow as they write.
- You can 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.
- Being proactive in setting the students up for success is much easier and more effective than needing to assist a student in making lots of changes to their work after they’ve written a lot
The left margin lists the sequence and spells out exactly what the writer needs to do step-by-step.
Each of the weekly units does also include standard optional draft paper. These pages can be used as an additional step between completing the graphic organizer and publishing a final copy. Some teachers use it in place of the graphic organizer for students who already demonstrate strength in writing a structured paragraph.
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.
The organizer was intentionally designed using brain-based research, and strategies that are specifically helpful to students with language-based disabilities, but applicable and beneficial to ALL learners. I think you’ll find this tool especially helps make the process of teaching paragraph writing much easier.
HOW THE RESEARCH-BASED DESIGN HELPS SUPPORT ALL LEARNERS
FLEXIBILITY: 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.
BRAIN-BASED: It uses a top-down web format, which helps the student understand the hierarchy of writing. Top-down webs are visual maps of main ideas and details.
- 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 draft page features alternating grey and white lines. They serve as a visual reminder to double-space their writing and provide ample room for revisions and editing.
- The organizer was 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.
NON-OVERWHELMING FORMAT: 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.
REVISING AND EDITING
Revising is where the real magic happens as you help to improve student writing. 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:
- Going through their drafts and highlighting the nouns in yellow and the verbs in orange.
- Encouraging them to add adjectives to each of the nouns when appropriate.
- Examining 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 included stationary, or it can be typed into the digital version of the resource that is also 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). The goal to improve student writing is best achieved in the planning, drafting and revising steps.
Real world authors do not turn every piece of work they create 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.
PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK PUBLISHING IDEAS
If you do want to have your students create a weekly published copy, but find time to be a limiting 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.
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).
Are you ready to make teaching paragraph writing a simple, highly effective, stress-free process?