Credit: Free pictures from acobox.com
Writing can sometimes be a difficult subject to teach young students. I have found that when teaching a new concept, it’s good to break it down into several steps. I taught ESL students plus Gifted & Talented students in the same classroom for many years, and I found that most of them benefited from this. There will be some students who grasp the concept easily or may already have the concept in place, and those students need to move on to enrichment activities. But for those struggling with the concept of writing a paragraph, I have broken the concept down into smaller steps:
- PREREQUISITE: The students need to know how to write a sentence.
- DEFINITION: First, a child needs to understand the definition of a paragraph. When we say that we’re going to write a paragraph, they may have no concept of that. So, the first step is to explain and give examples of paragraphs. Here is how I might explain it: “Today, we’re going to learn about paragraphs. Can anyone tell me what a paragraph is? (I would say “good try” if they totally missed it, and if they got part of the answer then I would incorporate the correct part of their answer into my explanation.) A paragraph is a group of sentences that tell about one thing.”
- EXAMPLE: Let me share some paragraphs with you.
- Example of one paragraph: “Kim’s favorite thing was to spend time with her dog. She played with her dog every day after school. She fed her dog two times a day. In the afternoons, they would go for a walk together. Kim liked her dog a lot! Questions: What did Kim like? (her dog) What did she do with her dog? (played with it, fed it, went for a walk with it) What is the paragraph about? (Kim spending time with her dog) This is a paragraph with a group of sentences that tell about Kim and her dog.”
- Give example of a non-paragraph: “Now listen to this: Luke liked to play sports. The tree was green. The clock stopped working. Lions like to roar real loud. Questions: What is this about? (Luke, a tree, a clock, and lions) Is it a paragraph? (wait for answers) No, because it’s not about one thing. It’s about completely different things.”
- WRITE A PARAGRAPH TOGETHER: “Let’s write a paragraph together about our classroom.” Have students tell facts about the classroom and formulate a paragraph on the board using their answers.
- STUDENTS WRITE THEIR OWN PARAGRAPH: Have students pick something of interest to them and write a paragraph about just that one topic. Make suggestions for those students having trouble thinking of a topic. Walk around the room and help those students who are getting off topic.
Praise their work and find something positive to say about it. Make them feel proud and take ownership of their work. Those who are fearful of writing should eventually get to the point where they can write their own paragraph.
Here is an example of a simple book (see explanation) I made with a four year old tutoring student who knew all his letter sounds. He really enjoyed this activity. With this book, we worked on additional skills such as learning the sight word “want.” (This student was reading when he started kindergarten.)
Simple Book: I WANT TO TRAVEL
Brainstorming stretches children’s minds. This skill will be useful in something as simple as writing a sentence all the way to creative writing, in reading skills, in math, social studies and science skills, and also in higher level thinking skills. It is used in problem solving and the creation of solutions. Creative people brainstorm. This will be a skill used throughout one’s life.
PART ONE – BRAINSTORMING FROM WHAT IS VISIBLE:
The first step in teaching children how to brainstorm is for the teacher to model brainstorming, show them how you yourself brainstorm. Take something they can see such as one of their classmates. Think out loud and write on the board everything about that student. For example:
- Her name is Sally.
- She’s in first grade.
- She has blonde hair.
- She has long hair.
- She’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
- She wears glasses.
- She has a big smile.
- She has a picture of a dog on her T-shirt.
Another example would be to take a book, preferably a big book so all students can see easily. If I had the book about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, then this is what I would write on the board from what we could see in the picture on the front of the book:
- There are three bears.
- One bear is really big.
- One bear is little.
- One bear is in-between size.
- The bears are brown.
- There is a girl.
- She is little.
- She has blonde hair.
- She is wearing a dress.
- Here dress is blue and red.
- There is a house.
- It has a door and two windows.
- There are lots and lots of trees (a forest).
- There are flowers beside the house.
After you have modeled for the students, then brainstorm together with the students. After that, have the students practice brainstorming with a partner, then by themselves.
First graders, as you know, come with varying levels of skills. Some students will be clueless on how to even begin writing a sentence. That’s when the teacher needs to brainstorm with those students. Here are some ideas that are good with first graders, ESL students, or students with learning disabilites:
- Pick a topic to write about that is of high interest. It’s close to Valentine’s Day, so I will pick Valentine hearts.
- Discuss with the students, “Now what do we want to say about hearts?” Let them share their ideas and write them on the board.
- Pick one idea that is not a complete sentence such as “pretty and red.”
- Explain that a sentence is about someone or something. Ask, “What is it that is ‘pretty and red?’ Our sentence has to tell us.” Hopefully, someone will say “a heart.”
- Write the complete sentence on the board: A heart is pretty and red. Underline the two main parts of the sentence and show that the sentence is about “a heart” and “is pretty and red” tells about that heart.
- Another student may have said, “a pink heart.” So the teacher would ask, “What about a pink heart? The sentence has to tell us something about this pink heart.” The end result might be: A pink heart is on the table.
- Go through the other student ideas and work together to make sentences out of them.
- Then give each student a heart-shaped piece of handwriting paper and let them try writing their own sentence.
Some students will be able to sound out words to write their own sentence, and some students will not be able to do that. With those students, you need to work one-on-one:
- Ask what their sentence is about.
- Start with the first word, sound it out slowly for the student, and go sound by sound while having the student write the sound they hear.
- Do this with each word until the sentence is finished.
Soon, when the students feel more competent in writing a sentence, discuss with them the following:
- Sentences always start with a capital letter.
- Sentences always end with a period or something else. Nearly all their sentences will be telling sentences at this point.
Always praise their work and find something positive to say about it. Make them feel proud and take ownership of their work. Those who are fearful of writing should eventually get to the point where they can write their own sentence.
* If your students can write sentences, then you might want to read “How to Teach Kids to Write a Paragraph.”
Here is another example of a simple book I made with a four year old tutoring student using pictures out of the Sunday paper. We worked on color words, sight words, and adding “s” to the end of the word “car” to make it mean “more than one.” He caught on real quick to that. (This student was reading when he started kindergarten.)
Here is another example of a simple book I made with a four year old tutoring student, a big fan of Spider-Man, who knew all his alphabet sounds. We were working on learning to spell the word “man,” so this book reinforced what we were working on and motivated him to want to read. He really enjoyed this activity.
Word webs are great to use with kids. I have used them in the regular classroom, with ESL students, and with Gifted & Talented students. Here are some examples of different word webs that you can print. Just click on the highlighted words:
Here is an example of a simple book I made with a four year old tutoring student. He really enjoyed this activity. When he started kindergarten, he was already reading.
Book: I WANT TO EAT
Making simple books to teach skills is so simple and easy. These little books can be used to teach so many skills and used on different levels from pre-reading to independent reader. Most children enjoy making a book on something they are really interested in, and they want to read it. They enjoy gluing on pictures or drawing pictures to illustrate their story.
SKILLS THAT CAN BE TAUGHT BY MAKING SIMPLE BOOKS:
- Interest in looking at books because the child is interested in the subject matter
- How to hold a book and turn the pages
- Learning the parts of a book such as the cover, the title, the author
- Learning that the spoken word can be written down and then read over and over again in book form
- Learning that we read starting with the top line and read in a left-to-right manner
- Learning that the first word in a sentence always starts with a big, capital letter and the sentence ends with a dot/a period (Later you can proceed to question marks and exclamation marks.)
- Learning that the pictures on a page go along with the story and can provide clues about the story
- Learning that anybody can make a book and put their ideas down on paper
- Learning various phonetic skills depending on the words used
- Learning sight words
- Computer paper or any blank, unlined paper
- Colored markers
- Pictures from magazines, newspapers, brochures about the zoo or tourist destinations, children’s stickers (whatever interests them such as Batman, Spiderman, Hello Kitty, holiday stickers, etc.)
- Brainstorm with the child and decide on the topic for the book.
- Make the cover page and write the title and write the child’s name as the author.
- If the child is a pre-reader, have them dictate one sentence for each page.
- Let the child watch you write the sentence so they visualize the process of writing the spoken word on paper.
- Let the child illustrate the sentence either by drawing a picture, gluing on a picture from a magazine or brochure, or choosing stickers for their illustration.
- Complete the book, maybe 3-5 pages for a beginner.
- When the book is finished, start with the cover and read the title and the author, running your finger under each word as you read.
- After you have read the book, encourage the child to read it or read it again with you. Help the child to run their finger under the words as they are being read.
- Older children will not require as much guidance when making books. Depending on their skills, help them when necessary.
EXAMPLES OF SIMPLE BOOKS:
A computer game by Spinmaker called Alphabet Zoo is great for teaching creative writing at an early age. Years ago, my husband bought this game for our daughter when she was four years old. She soon learned how to write her own stories and illustrate them with the picture maker. She started reading when she was three years old so she already knew most of the alphabet sounds. When trying to spell words for her stories, she would either try to sound out the words and spell them phonetically or she would ask a parent or grandparent, whoever was close by. This was one of her favorite computer games and I guess it instilled a love of writing in her. When she was in high school she went to state UIL competition and placed well in journalism and headline writing. Learning to write creatively was definitely something that was fun for her!