Make paragraph structure easy for students to visualize using the Stoplight Writing method. The question "How to write an essay?" becomes easy to answer.
Stoplight writing is an essay writing format that teaches students how to use a basic paragraph structure.
This way of teaching was developed by the Step Up To Writing program. The adaptations are how I use it in my own classroom for teaching writing to children.
After teaching your students how to use this, they will have the
tools to do paragraph writing that includes a topic sentence, three
supporting sentences with details, and a closing sentence.
As well, you can now have the students begin to write a five paragraph essay using this same method.
I. Beginning Lessons on Basic Paragraph Structure
I. Beginning Lessons on Basic Paragraph Structure
Show a colored picture of a traffic light. Discuss with the students what the different colors mean:
that these colors can also be used in writing a paragraph. Now show an
example of a basic paragraph structure that only has green and yellow
sentences. You can use this one to get you going:
Cats are the most interesting animals in the world!
First, they can see in the dark. Second, they can jump really high.
Last but not least, cats really try to talk to you when they want
something.I think everyone should have one of these interesting animals as a pet.
Discuss with the students how the paragraph makes sense and is in
order, although it is far from exciting. Underline the first sentence
in green and repeat that "Green means go." This means you need a
powerful sentence to get your writing going - start with a question, a
sound, an expression - anything that can draw a reader in.
underline the three middle sentences in yellow. Explain that these
sentences are "Slow Down" sentences - you are explaining more about the
first sentence. These sentences support the beginning sentence.
underline the last sentence in green again. Explain that the last
sentence is green because you want the students to "Go Back" and look at
their beginning sentence again, and repeat it in another way to close
out the paragraph. Discuss how good closing sentences are like wrapping
up a present - it is the string that ties it all together.
not introduce red until students have mastered writing a basic green
and yellow paragraph. Although they may not be exciting pieces of
writing, the objective of this teaching tool is to solidify organization
(one of the 6 Traits of Writing).
Continue reading and
underlining paragraphs with the students using green and yellow until
they are showing mastery of basic paragraph structure (gauge this by
having them work independently on underlining a paragraph).
II. Writing a Basic Paragraph
writing a paragraph using basic paragraph structure. Students should
not be expected to write independently yet - this is the moment for modeled and guided writing. After repeated lessons, then you can begin to have them write simple paragraphs.
the StopLight Writing Graphic Organizer as you work to show explicit
modeling of the paragraph using the colors. The organizer should be
filled with words or short phrases. Refer to this graphic organizer
often during your modeled writing (below).
you being to write, let the students hear your thinking. While writing
a green sentence (using a green marker), say,"This is my beginning, or
opening, sentence. I know I need to make it grab the reader's
attention, so what could I do?" Elicit responses from the students and
write your opening. Perhaps it could look like this:
Splat! The enormous wave smacked me in the face.
model your three yellow sentences based on your graphic organizer.
Point out how yellow sentences should use transition words to move from
one supporting idea to the next:
I was very nervous at first. Then I dove in with my boogie-board. Finally, I was riding the waves in to the shore!
model your closing sentence using green again. Remind the students
that this time green means to go back to the beginning and close out
your paragraph in a way the is similar to the beginning:
I hit the ground with a thud, and this time it was the sand that smacked me in the face.
Save this class writing to revisit during Step IV!
this type of writing many times with your students and guide them while
writing basic paragraphs together. When they are ready, lead them
through a webbing brainstorm, give a StopLight Writing Graphic Organizer
to each student to complete, and let the basic paragraph structure
III. Extending the Paragraph to Include Details
It is time to start using red. In a basic paragraph structure, red means, "Stop! Add details!"
Scaffold your teaching by reminding students that the first sentence of any paragraph is going to be green, as that is the opening sentence.
reading a paragraph you have either written or found, underlining with
green and yellow as you go, but stop at the first red. Introduce the
red by saying, "This sentence is a bit different than a yellow. Look,
it's telling me more about the yellow sentence that is in front of it!
This is what we call a detail - it gives more information and that is
why we underline it in red. We are to stop giving new supporting
sentences and just give more details."
Continue underlining in
the details in red, but when you come to a new yellow, stop and point
out how this is a new supporting sentence, not another detail about the
first yellow. Underline the next details in red, and continue until
coming to the end.
Remind the students that green also means,
"Go back." Re-look at the beginning sentence to see if the final
sentence wraps it all up in a similar way, and underline it in green.
At this point, the children should notice a predictable pattern in the paragraph writing:
Green, Yellow, Red, Red, Yellow, Red, Red, Yellow, Red, Red, Green.
Try using this paragraph about Delicious Chocolate Cake.
would also be a great place to extend this activity to the kinesthetic
mode by reconstructing a previously read story using the colors to model
paragraph structure. An excellent book to use for this is "How to Lose
All Your Friends."
IV. Writing An Extended Paragraph
Now is the time to add the details to the paragraph structure. Let's return to point II and the writing example there.
paragraph I wrote in step II was very basic. There were no Reds - no
details. While it is efficient and organized, it lacks punch and
excitement. This is a great point to make with your students as they
need to see not only what works, but what doesn't really work and why.
Re-write the Green and Yellow paragraph, but explain that now we are adding in the Reds - the exciting details. At this point you need to use a more in-depth graphic organizer. Below are three options to use for differentiation: primary, high primary and intermediate.
As you write, think out-loud to your students about why you are putting certain details with certain yellows, and how you would never put a red with a yellow that it didn't really go with.
Splat! The enormous wave smacked me in the face. I was very nervous at first. I had never been the Atlantic before, and it was wild. For a moment I wondered if I would survive. Then I dove in with my boogie-board. My mom had bought it for me this morning. It felt smooth under my body. Finally, I was riding the waves in to the shore! A tiny fish darted under me. I was zooming so fast I didn't know how close I was getting to the shallow water. I hit the ground with a thud, and this time it was the sand that smacked me in the face.
While this may seem that it takes a long time just for learning how to write a paragraph, it is important to understand that young children need multiple exposures to basic paragraph structure before it becomes a natural way of thinking and writing.