Teaching kids how to write a paragraph? Use the hamburger analogy – and a paragraph example! They’ll soon understand topic, supporting detail, and concluding sentences.
Ms. Sneed Teaches How to Write a Paragraph
Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her student teacher. “I’m sure you already know how to write a paragraph,” she said. “However, I’d like our kids to use a hamburger analogy.”
Mr. Grow looked a little confused. But he said nothing. After all, there was generally a method to his supervising teacher’s madness.
As she continued, Ms. Sneed pulled out a stack of papers. “These anchor charts will help you teach the concept. Furthermore, you’ll model the process with a paragraph example. To enhance the sandwich theme, the sample tells how the hamburger was invented.”
Begin with Main Details
Ms. Sneed flipped to the second poster. “See? We begin with supporting details. In this case, Charlie Nagreen tried selling meatballs at a fair. Unfortunately, he didn’t sell much. So he decided to break a meatball. Then he put it between two slices of bread. This became popular. Therefore, he sold them at the same fair until 1951, when he died.”
As Mr. Grow shook his head in agreement, he noticed that all the sentences began the same way. “Aren’t these a little repetitive?” he asked.
“Glad you brought that up. When teaching kids how to write a paragraph, I like the examples to match what they’re likely to do. Additionally, this gives us an opportunity to teach kids to vary sentence beginnings later on.
“In fourth grade,” Ms. Sneed continued, “kids learn about informational text structures. You know: detail, sequence, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and problem-solution. To make the reading-writing connection, we’ll ask kids to name the structure.”
Ms. Sneed stared at Mr. Grow intently.
“Now? You want me to name the structure already?”
“Yep. Every paragraph needs a structure. How about this one?”
Uncomfortably, the student teacher shifted in his chair. Then he looked at the detail sentences again. “Sequence, or chronology,” he said with confidence.
“Right! We can already see that these sentences are in time order.”
Topic and Concluding Sentences Are the Buns That Hold It All Together
Next, Ms. Sneed flipped to an anchor chart featuring a top and bottom bun. “The next part of teaching kids how to write a paragraph,” she said, “involves the topic sentence and conclusion. If you’d like, you can ask kids to come up with their own before showing them this poster.”
Again, Mr. Grow nodded. “So I assume we’ll discuss main idea?”
“Yes. And the main idea in this paragraph example is that Charles Nagreen created the first hamburger. That’s written in the topic sentence. Then the bottom bun, or conclusion, wraps it up.”
Elaboration Adds Context and Clarifies
As Ms. Sneed flipped to the next poster, she continued. “At this point in your teaching, you can acknowledge that you already have a pretty good basic hamburger. But we’re not looking for just any sandwich! Instead, we want a super burger! To accomplish that, we’ll first add some details, or cheese.
“Unfortunately, kids like to add fluff. That’s why we need to emphasize the role of elaboration. Specifically, when teaching kids how to write paragraphs, they need to choose additional ideas that provide context and/or clarify. In other words, they answer questions the reader might have. For example, these sentences tell where the fair was held, as well as why the sandwich was called a hamburger.”
Transitions Link Ideas and Make Writing Flow
Next, the supervising teacher pulled out a poster with some vegetables on it. “Transitions are those little words and phrases that link ideas. For example, in this paragraph example we’ll indicate sequence with a date and the term ‘at that time.’ Additionally, we’ll use ‘so’ to show a cause-effect relationship.”
“When I was in school, this wasn’t really taught,” said Mr. Grow. “But I can see how it would improve kids’ writing.”
Now Ms. Sneed nodded. “With this set of posters, I also received a list of transition terms. We’ll break them out when kids start to write their own paragraphs.”
Word Choice Is Important When Teaching How to Write a Paragraph
“Next up,” said Ms. Sneed, “word choice. In fourth grade, kids should select specific nouns and active verbs. As we teach them how to write a paragraph, we need to emphasize this. It’s all about precise language. What words are generally used with specific topics. For example, at a fair, vendors don’t just sell hamburgers, they peddle them.”
“Vendor would be a great word to add to this poster,” Mr. Grow said. “Hey, maybe I could also ask the kids to come up with additional terms.”
“Now you’re talking.” Ms. Sneed smiled. This guy was really catching on.
Sentence Savvy Is the Polishing Step in How to Write a Paragraph
Finally, Ms. Sneed flipped to the last poster. “On this anchor chart, you’ll find the finished product. All of the parts have been combined.”
She read aloud:
Some people say the first hamburger was invented by Charles Nagreen. In 1885, Charlie tried peddling meatballs at a Wisconsin fair but had little success. He decided to smash a meatball and place it between two slices of bread. At that time, ground beef was also known as Hamburg steak, so he decided to call his creation the hamburger. Charlie sold hamburgers at the fair every year until he died in 1951. Today people enjoy Hamburger Charlie’s sandwiches at fairs, barbecues, and restaurants.
“These posters also come in black and white. To culminate the lesson, I’d like the students to mark it up. You can do it as a class, in small groups, or independently. Ask kids to find the parts: topic sentence, main details, conclusion. Then find the elaboration. After that, look for transitions and precise words. Finally, discuss how the writer worked with the sentences. Lead them to two conclusions: (1) no two sentences begin the same, and (2) related ideas have been combined.”
“Whew!” Mr. Grow exclaimed.
Ms. Sneed chuckled. “You got that right. Teaching kids how to write a paragraph is hard work!”
Now Mr. Grow sighed. A small smile spread over his face. “The struggle is real. But I know that the end result will make me enjoy teaching even more.”
“Thank goodness we have some anchor charts to support our struggle,” Ms. Sneed added with another small chuckle.