Teaching paragraph structure


Help! Iím teaching a developmental English class this semester (Iím accustomed to instructing more advanced courses) and need to present strategies for organizing paragraphs in next week's class. Does anyone have a suggestion for a short activity to introduce this material to an extremely remedial class?  Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

One of the biggest hurdles in teaching remedial college courses is that you are dealing with adults who possess real-world experience, but may not have a knowledge of formal writing technique. The trick is to address their needs without making the curriculum seem "babyish."

Frankly, I'm not suprised that we have remedial courses, given the worksheet-driven quality of most high schools; students just don't get a chance to write. I've talked to many students who have told me that the first time they ever wrote a paper was in their freshman composition class (and that is usually the last time they write one, too).
But I digress ... I have had to implement many strategies to reach students who varied in their abilities, all within one class! One thing you could do is to first demonstrate to the whole group how you construct a paragraph. Use a whiteboard or overhead projector. I would begin by either selecting a real-world topic or having the students come up with one. Then create a "web" with the topic in the center and have the students call out associated topics. Draw lines connecting the central topic to the satellite topics. (Your web will resemble a two-dimensional version of those old styrofoam solar-system models!). Now narrow your choice of topics by relevancy -- I would limit them to three. Work as a group to create sentences about the selected topics. Now link the sentences together to form a paragraph. Does it sound strange? Go back and change the sentences to make them fit together more smoothly.

After modeling this process, have the students break into small groups of about three or four students and have them try to write it for themselves. It may be an artifical way to write, but when you are a person with little to no writing experience, it can be very helpful as a way to get started.

Adjunct Sally:
I have a great simple lesson on paragraph structure that I use for all of my composition courses (remedial or otherwise). It's called the S.E.E. paragraph, and I can't, for the life of me, remember where I got it from, but I'm fairly confident that it works.

S - Statement or topic sentence (controlling idea for the paragraph)

E - Evidence (proof or support of the statement -- can be examples, facts, numbers, anecdotal evidence, etc.)

E - Explanation (explains how the evidence relates to the statement)

I generally like to think of my teaching in cooking or building terms so I use the idea that the S.E.E. paragraph is like a sandwich or a house. You remove one element and it all falls to pot essentially.

Email me if you want to discuss this further or you want my handouts.



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