Ask any first grader to write a paragraph on any given topic, and they want to go straight into writing the supporting detail sentences. It’s important to know your writing expectations and objectives for young writers before you teach first graders to write a paragraph.
Knowing how to teach the main parts of a paragraph explicitly is super important for retention. Let me show you how I teach first graders to write a paragraph from beginning to end!
What are the main parts of a simple paragraph?
Beginning writers require a simple, basic paragraph format. All the sentences need to point to the main idea. Here are the 3 types of sentences in a starter paragraph:
- topic sentence
- supporting sentences (with details)
- closing sentence
We will expect students to write at least 1 of each of these sentences. As students become more experienced with the 3 types of sentences, then they will need to start adding 2 or more supporting sentences. The supporting sentences include details that tell more about the topic or main idea.
What are first grade writing expectations?
Well, by the end of first grade, students should be able to write to a prompt that includes a topic sentence, detail / supporting sentences, and a conclusion or closing sentence. Students should also be using simple temporal words, such as first, next, then, and last.
If you following learning standards for your state, you should see something along the lines of what is found in the Grade 1 Common Core Standards (CCS) writing section. You won’t always find the words “paragraph format” as an expectation, but focusing on a topic with a sense of closure during writing is expected.
In 1st grade, the beginning sentence in paragraph writing is called the topic sentence. The topic sentence is an introduction to the main idea of the paragraph before adding any details.
The detail sentences follow and support the main idea, also called supporting sentences. At first, you may only expect 1-2 supporting sentences with limited details.
The last sentence in paragraph writing is the closing sentence, sometimes referred to as the concluding sentence. The closing sentence gives the reader a sense of closure and helps the writer to end the paragraph in a better way than just saying the typical “The End!”
You teach your young writers to include a topic sentence and concluding sentence, but it just doesn’t register in their brain for them to remember to write them every time.
The teacher models, we practice together, and yet they rarely remember to write the topic sentence independently, let alone the closing sentence. And giving students graphic organizers helps a little but not consistently.
In looking through research articles and educational blog, we teachers are always searching for a new and better way to teach skills and strategies in reading, writing, math, and more. There are some helpful tips, but nothing that really would help in practicing to remember the skill of writing topic sentences and closing sentences.
Many of the writing resources focus on teaching fiction or nonfiction writing. They would provide examples and prompts, and even suggestions on research resources for primary students.
Supporting struggles in writing
Primary students need meaningful scaffolding when it comes to learning the structure of writing a paragraph. Some students struggle with writing, but the majority of first graders need help remembering to stick to the paragraph format.
Firstly, we teachers need to guide students through modeling. This helps students learn about how to write a topic sentence by listening and watching us think aloud and through our writing process.
In a think aloud, teachers are showing students what they will eventually do themselves. Just like a fly on the wall observing, yet not participating in the activity.
I do, you do, we do strategy
To better help students to transfer their learning of how to develop a complete paragraph, it’s very helpful to use the I do, we do, you do strategy for learning.
What is the I do, we do, you do model? This type of scaffolding helps teachers to explicitly model what students will do in a gradual release progression. Keep reading for more details about each one.
“I do” relies on prep work on the teacher’s part. It’s most effective when you use visuals and/or work samples for supporting visual learners. Not only will you show students how to do the work, you are actually talking through the thinking process.
“We do” gives students a chance to try out the new skill with you as their assistant or coach. You will give them a prompt and they will think through the process. You may have to steer their thinking when they come to a roadblock in their understanding. It’s okay to do this here in this step. It not only helps students learn to become better thinkers, but it helps you teach through the lens of student learning at that very moment. It also gives you the chance to refer back to anything from the “I do” modeling that will remind students that you were where they are now.
“You do” is where you and your students have arrived at the goal. This is where they do it all on their own and show their learning and growth. Lots of practice in students working independently on a skill or strategy is important to solidify this knowledge. Keep in mind that students may not be masters yet. This is where feedback is just as important as it was during the “we do” step.
First, start with a picture prompt and word bank. The words in the word bank are the words that should be in the topic sentence. These words are directly related to the main idea.
The main idea has these words: jelly, toast, make. After reading those words, we need to come up with a topic sentence surrounding those words, which includes the main idea.
I can make jelly toast by myself.
I enjoy making jelly toast for a snack.
Do you know how to make jelly toast?
I’m going to tell you how to make jelly toast.
Teach students that as long as the sentence includes the main idea, there can be many versions of a topic sentence.
Doing this same process with other image prompts and related words helps to lay the groundwork for students in the next steps.
Next, use sequential pictures with a word bank. Here the sequential order of images stands as the details of the paragraph.
Again, students will not be writing the detail sentences, yet they will be tempted to do just that. These images give students the signal that they won’t have to worry about the detail sentences…just yet.
This time, you will help students recall the previous activity of just thinking about topic sentences. Now, they are not only writing topic sentences but also closing (or concluding) sentences.
Afterwhile, students will soon realize that both topic sentences and closing sentences need to relate closely to the main idea. Both of these sentences reflect back one to the other in this way.
In order to see a “reflection” of these sentences including the main idea, we are just looking at these two sentences side by side. I suggest having the topic sentence at the top of the page and the closing sentence at the bottom. This format helps later when students transfer this same concept in writing.
Below, you will find examples of topic sentences and related concluding sentences from the most simple to more complex for primary students.
|This is how to make a sandwich.||That is how you make a sandwich.|
|Let me show you how to make a sandwich.||Now you know how to make a sandwich.|
|How do I make a sandwich? Let me show you.||Go and make yourself a sandwich today!|
Then, continue to show students the section where the topic sentence goes as well as the closing sentence. Replace the picture prompts with empty boxes. Students will write or draw the supporting details in each box.
You can differentiate by giving students 3 or 4 boxes to draw and write. Some may be able to start writing the paragraph in full text on handwriting paper.
At last, after practicing just the topic and then closing sentences, students put them together with detailed supporting sentences.
Some students will easily know how to write supporting sentences. In my years of teaching first graders, their natural tendency is to write these types of sentences only.
To differentiate this part of the writing lesson, it’s best to use image prompts with a word bank on separate sheets of paper. That way, students are only writing one page, one sentence at a time. Each page is a tactile place marker for where each sentence goes on the final draft of the paragraph.
Resources to help you teach the paragraph writing process
Do you need materials to help you teach paragraph writing to young students? Explicit scaffolding strategies can help students grow into strong, independent writers, and you can use individual sections or the whole set from beginning to end. The bundle blends well together for a cohesive fit just right for beginning writers.