Do you struggle to get your students writing? I know it is sometimes like pulling teeth trying to get my kiddos to write more than one sentence at a time about a particular subject.
I have decided to focus on making my students better writers this year. I was blessed this fall with the opportunity to attend the I Teach First SDE conference - it was AWESOME. If we’re being honest, I may have stalked two of my favorite blogging/TPT/instagram/TEACHER icons – Cara Carroll and Reagan Tunstall.
…and by stalked I mean that I split my time between only their sessions. I didn’t literally stalk them, don’t worry. I took away SO many awesome ideas, but I will share more of those at another time. One of the sessions that I attended with Cara was all about writing. Up until then, I thought I was teaching writing correctly – just let them put their ideas as words on paper, right? Oh man, was I wrong. I was missing the most important step – MODELING! Sure, I would write on the board and under the document camera, but I wouldn’t speak my thoughts. I wasn’t verbalizing everything that would go through my head as I produced the sentences. Let me tell you – this is a game changer. Maybe we will have another post on this later? You’ll just have to come back and check it out.
We are now transitioning from getting our ideas down on paper to writing multiple sentences and turning them into a cohesive unit. One of the ideas that has really helped our team’s firsties with their writing is Stoplight Paragraph Writing. This idea is basically breaking down the steps of writing a paragraph with a visual that is relevant to our firsties. I remember talking about a hamburger paragraph when I was in school, but I couldn’t tell you what the steps were to save my life. By using a simple object of a stoplight, where the colors already have a set meaning, we can easily remember what each color means.
Here’s how the process works – I modeled each step of the way before the kiddos put a pencil in their hands, don’t worry. Also, we take about 10 or so minutes each day to do a bit of writing, so this process was stretched over and entire week.
First, I modeled how I would come up with a topic. RED means STOP – this is the topic sentence. This is what the entire paragraph will be about. Because our Reading Street big question of the week was “What changes can we see in nature?” we decided to do an opinion piece of our favorite season. We used the sentence stem of “My favorite season is ______.” We wrote this on the top section of our stoplight writing page. I colored in the red section of the stoplight when they had proper capitalization and punctuation. Let me tell you – we love some Mr. Sketch markers. They make everything better. Then we called it a day.
The next day it was time to brainstorm details to go with our topic sentence. YELLOW means SLOW DOWN – this is the three or more sentences that support the main idea. I wrote each of the the four seasons on the board and we came up with ideas as a class about things that are special about that particular season. We then used the ideas from our brainstorming session to write three sentences about our topic. Once again, I was careful to model my three sentences I was going to write for my paragraph. I used three of the ideas from the board, turned them into sentences, and then wrote them in the yellow section of my paper. Once my students had written their three sentences and I had checked for capitalization and spelling, I used my smelly yellow marker to color in the yellow spot. Because of our time constraints, I had to spread this process over two days with my students. We did the brainstorming and my modeling one day, then their writing and my checking on the next day. You gotta do what you gotta do, right? Whew – day two and three were finished.
Day three (or four, if you need to stretch out the yellow section) is all about that conclusion. GREEN means GO – this is the conclusion or summary of the paragraph. This is the sentence that wraps up all of the wonderful things that you have written. I modeled the sentence stem of “ I love _____!” but the students were able to use another sentence started if they preferred. We talked about how this is not adding any new information, just mentioning what you had written about. I checked the writing and gave them the green go mark!
Our last day with this paragraph was the most fun for me to watch. It was time to FINALLY write the paragraph! We had been doing the hard work all week and it was time to put it all together on paper and publish our writing to all to see! The students were amazed when I transferred my sentences from the stoplight paper to the tablet paper and saw how much work we had put into the writing. We discussed that we were not adding any new information, we were just moving our sentences from one place to another to show others how smart we were. It was exciting to see my little authors bloom!
In hindsight, I should have had my firsties draw a picture to match their paragraph, but oh well. We will definitely be doing this activity over and over. I’m thinking that we can even put our final paragraphs into sheet protectors and make a book for our library center. Like I mentioned earlier, we did opinion pieces this first time because I think they are the easiest ones to start with, but you can use this technique with so many other types of writing.
If you would like to check out a product that I made to go along with this Stoplight Paragraph Technique, click on the picture below!
I’d love to hear how you use this technique, or another writing techniques, in your classroom!