Learning Paragraph Structure Through Design

By Erica Gaeta-Castori, January 27, 2010

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

400 minutes for classroom activities


When students enter third grade they are faced with many academic challenges. For one, students are expected to produce more fluid and lengthy writing pieces as they apply to classroom instruction and state testing measures. In order to begin writing essays for upcoming school years, students in third grade are expected to produce paragraphs, which include a Main Idea and Details to support this central idea. By the end of third grade, most students are expected to write not one, but three complete paragraphs, each with it’s own central focus. The following lesson plan allows students to design a “tool” to be used individually or in a group setting. This “tool” will aid in the creation of a proper paragraph. Prior to proposing this model for instruction, students will gather data regarding paragraph structure and then students will analyze his or her actual writing in an effort to visualize problems and then generate possible solutions. To finalize the process, students will design a solution using diagrams, models, written and/or oral presentations that will then be presented to a larger audience (classmates and the teacher). This lesson is designed for third grade students in the first few months of the school year.

National Standards


Students will:

  • understand the process of proper paragraph structure
  • create/design a learning tool that will be used to demonstrate the steps necessary for creating a complete paragraph
  • present his/her tool and address the needs of the audience (classmates/teacher)
  • identify and define problems with writing paragraphs correctly
  • gather and analyze data
  • determine performance criteria for successful solutions while generating alternative solutions and building prototypes
  • implement choices and then evaluate outcomes


  • Venn Diagram for use with formulating a proper paragraph
  • SmartBoard technology and/or overhead transparency
  • a variety of visual art supplies/materials


  • handout
  • classroom set of art supplies to fit the needs of the lesson


  • articulate: give voice; put into words or an expression
  • challenge: a demanding or stimulating situation
  • develop: evolve; make something new, such as a product or a mental or artistic creation
  • edit: prepare for publication or presentation by correcting, revising, or adapting;
  • evaluate: form a critical opinion of
  • finalize: make final; put the last touches on; put into final form
  • frame: frame of reference; a system of assumptions and standards that sanction behavior and give it meaning
  • generate: bring into existence; produce
  • investigate: conduct an inquiry into or study in order to ascertain facts or information; research
  • paragraph structure: a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development
  • sentence: a string of words satisfying the grammatical rules of a language
  • share: communicate


Day 1: Introduction to Writing a Paragraph

(Aim: To identify and discuss key features of paragraphs)

1. The teacher introduces the lesson by posing a scenario: What if students had a tool to make writing better?

2. Teacher uses SmartBoard technology to show two sets of paragraphs: one that is written correctly, one with several mistakes. Students review the difference between a well-written paragraph and one that needs improvement.

3. Students talk in turn with a partner to discuss examples.

<spa Students brainstorm what they think makes for a good or poorly written paragraph based on examples.

5. Teacher and students discuss findings and the teacher generates a class list of parallel ideas on a T-Chart.

6. Teacher gives students the definition and true features of a paragraph structure. Students receive a Venn Diagram containing the format for correct paragraph structure seen below.*

7. Students share out information at the rug- what have you learned? Students write an entry about what they learned.

(*A paragraph is a unit of writing that consists of one or more sentences focusing on a single idea or topic. A well-written paragraph often has the following structure:

  • Topic Sentence: This sentence outlines the main idea that will be presented in the paragraph.
  • Support Details or Examples: This is the part of the paragraph that presents details, facts, examples, quotes and arguments that support the main idea.
  • Conclusion Sentence: This sentence summarizes the main idea of the paragraph. It may also lead the reader to the topic of the next paragraph.)


Day 2: What are Main Idea and Details?

(Aim: Students will define two terms-Main Idea and Detail and learn how these terms apply to the creation of a simple paragraph.)

1. Students orally brainstorm what they think the terms Main Idea and Detail mean

2. Teacher displays a chart with the definitions of said terms posted in marker. Students review and discuss

3. Teacher presents students with a paragraph on the SmartBoard. Using two different colored markers, the teacher underlines the Main Idea sentence and detail sentences.

4. Through Shared Reading, students read aloud the passage.

5. Finally, students get a sheet containing a paragraph. Using two different colored markers, students must underline the Main Idea and Detail sentences.

6. Have a brief teacher-led conversation to discuss findings.

(Note: In lessons one and two, students are observing information, documenting findings and analyzing information about paragraph structure. This applies to Steps One and Two of the Design Process.)

Day 3: Can We Identify Problems in Paragraph Writing and Seek Possible Solutions?

(Aim: Students will identify the problems in paragraph writing that is going on in the classroom and take the time reexamine, rethink and redefine the problem.)

1. Students generate possible solutions by quickly record ideas through writing, sketches, diagrams and/or models.

2. For the first half of this two-part lesson, students work in partnerships and analyze entries from their Writer’s Notebooks. The teacher will confer with students at this time.

3. Students generate a list of ways to model correct paragraph structure in an effort to aid themselves and other class members. Partners will observe each other’s books, and students will be asked to investigate the problem and collect data such as work samples. Students can ask to photocopy his/her or other student’s writing as evidence. Students will record as many possible ways to model good writing as they can.

4. Students either write, sketch, diagram or model possible solutions. Students will brainstorm possible solutions to the problems students face while forming paragraphs (sentence structure). They will draw/sketch out possible solutions such as handmade graphic organizers, games and the like. Students are encouraged to discuss the pros and cons.

Days 4 and 5: Editing and Developing A Tool for "Perfect Paragraph Writing"

(Aim: Students will take it to the next level developing ideas with the most potential from the brainstorming session.)

1. Students will continue to work with their partners

2. The teacher should facilitate by clearly defining the task of creating a model for instruction

3. Students should receive materials such as Post-It notes, colored and non-colored paper, pencils, pens, crayons and markers, tape, stapler/staples, rubber bands, cardboard and poster board, etc. Students will be asked to begin creation of a model or tool that would help students learn the proper way to form a paragraph.

4. At the end of the two days, students are expected to create a workable model that could be used as a tool for instruction in the classroom.

Day 6: Let’s Evaluate and Share the Process and Ideas

(Aim: To share, test and review the handmade tool for instruction with peers and administrators.)

1. Students will discuss the tool and how it works.

2. Teacher and peers will critique the tools purpose and use.

3. Partnerships will evaluate the observations made by the teacher and classmates and consider ways of improving the solution/tool.

Day 7: Finalizing the Solution

(Aim: For students to develop ideas further and create the representations of final solutions via diagrams, models, written or oral presentations.)

1. Students use the remaining class time to polish up models.

2. Students clean up any unused materials and prepare for the following day, which includes having each partnership “articulate” the solution and process. Students are reminded at this time to try to “sell” his/her idea in a way that will attract class members and the teacher.

Day 8: The Final Presentation

(Aim: To present the final solution and articulate why and how this tool meets the needs of third graders.)

1. Students will present their tools for learning

2. Following the presentation, the teacher will facilitate a discussion on what went well, what didn’t work. Students and teacher provide feedback and students are rewarded for their efforts. The classroom teacher and two to three other hand-selected school members will help critique the student’s work.


Students are assessed on how well they work together in a partnership, how well they understand the correct paragraph format, and on how well they present information to others. It would be a great idea to work together with students to create a rubric for assessing this project.

Enrichment Extension Activities


Teacher Reflection

This lesson would be best implemented within the first couple months of third grade. How students are paired up is very important and within the first couple of months a teacher begins to get to know students learning styles. Depending on how well students retain information, this lesson can be differentiated appropriately while keeping with the steps of the Design Process.


  1. The Common Core Learning Standards have raised the expectation levels of students’ writing with more focus beginning at grade three, since they take their fist Statewide assessments. As a wriiting teacher, I see and feel the challenges, struggles, of and frustrations of our students. This design lesson would be a great tool for me as I plan my lessons. It will also allow students to be a part of creating the writing process. This would help them to take ownership of their learning and I’m sure would lead to writing success. PS: I was curious as to why some of the information have lines through them?

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