Helping Students Organize Their Writing

After teaching writing for a number of years, I’ve finally discovered a method that seems to help them put coherent paragraphs and passages together.  The special education teacher I co-teach with created guides for his students.  Each week, as we progress through a new piece of writing, he gave his students a paper with specific ideas for each paragraph (and, at times, each sentence).  I tried it one week, when we were working on a problem-solution essay, which always gives my students problems.  What a difference!

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

The students felt more confident in writing their rough drafts and were much more pleased with their final result.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wade through essays which are more first grade than sixth grade quality.  These guides have made all the difference.  As we progress through the year, my plan is to pull back and offer less support.  By that time, however, they should be able to organize their writing on their own.

Reading their mysteries, I’m encouraged by the success.  In the past, when my students had to write a mystery, they had a hard time getting started and then their stories tended to ramble.  The final drafts I scored this weekend rarely were hard to follow (unfortunately, no strategy is foolproof!)  A few needed some help rearranging their paragraphs, but otherwise, they had a good beginning, middle and end.  Next, we’ll need to work on their climax.

I have attached a couple of the guides I have used to help them in their writing.  We’ll see, as we continue through the year, whether they need the support all year, or if I can pull it back and let them write on their own.

Guide to Writing a Mystery

Writing a Movie Review


8 thoughts on “Helping Students Organize Their Writing

  1. Love your approach and sense of humor! Thanks for stopping by

    Wishing you a peaceful holiday, Liz

  2. Terrific organizers! We will definitely try them out.

  3. This is fantastic! I really love this idea. In the class I am currently student teaching, we did assignments (somewhat) like this. I gave students extremely focused cross-graded questions to answer in groups by writing a single paragraph. They recorded their paragraphs in a “hamburger” template to ensure they had a similar topic and closing sentence with three juicy details in between. Next class, the student groups edited another groups work. I found this to be an extremely effective strategy, as the students thrived off the structure because they knew exactly what was expected of them, much like the strategy you’re describing here. Thanks for the post!

    • mrsfenger says:

      The hamburger paragraph (or sandwich, as we’ve done) is a great way for students to understand the structure of a paragraph. We did learn (the hard way) that it doesn’t apply as well to narratives. We found it was good to be careful when we taught them that structure, since, if you go into a narrative piece next, they try to apply it to that.

      I enjoy seeing your posts about your student teaching. Reflecting on your practices is a good habit to get into early. 🙂

      • Thank you very much! That’s a great point, one that I really hadn’t thought of. I had them write two-paragraph letters to their heroes. The two paragraphs, “why are they your hero?” and “what activity would you like to do with your hero and why?”, were independent so this worked great. I definitely see how the sandwich structure would lead them to difficulties with narratives.
        Thanks, I’ve found them extremely fun to write! It’s been a really great experience to move from the classroom and take the time to really reflect on what I have been doing.

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