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Teaching Children About Paragraphs Gone Bad! November 20, 2009

Two Teacher License

Paragraphs have unity and coherence. In short, paragraphs have a single-minded, organized focus. There must be no information in the paragraph which does not serve that purpose. We call these “good paragraphs.” The best of the best are known as “perfect paragraphs.”

But not all paragraphs are good… let alone perfect. In fact, it doesn’t take much to make a seemingly good paragraph turn bad. I have rounded up two paragraphs that I am sad to say have gone bad. One we can salvage—the other is just plain bad. The first one can be saved—the second one has no future. With the second one, we will simply have to scrap it and start over.

This Paragraph Can Be Saved!

If you have even one detail that is not about the topic sentence, then it IS NOT perfect. Take a look at both the graphic and the example paragraph below. Do you notice how Detail B is out of control—off doing his own thing? Detail B is not talking about the topic sentence.  The solution with this paragraph is to edit or revise.

Detail B has gone bad!

Example:

Over the weekend my family and I went to the park. My dad and I played on the swings with my little sister until she was tuckered out.  I hope next weekend I can see the new  Space World movie.  The highlight of the trip to the park was the wonderful picnic my mom prepared. Going to the park with my family is always a great time!

One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. And talking about the Space World movie when you are supposed to be talking about the trip to the park spoils the whole paragraph. I recommend that the writer remove that one sentence and replace it will a different exciting detail. Can you think of an exciting detail to replace it with? Perhaps there was there a band of marauding squirrels trying to steal your food! That would be exciting!

Warning! Danger! This is a Bad, Bad Paragraph!

Here is a collection of disconnected sentences. Each sentence is a loner, a rebel. Each sentence is doing as it pleases without any care or concern for the unity and coherence of the group. It’s as if each sentence is saying, “Me! Me! Me! I want to do what I want to do!”

Once again, take a look at both the graphic and the example paragraph below. Some may try to claim that this is a paragraph—but it is not. It tries to be one—but it can’t. It’s an imposter—a fake. There is no main idea to this paragraph. There is no unity. There is no coherence.

So sad…

Example:

Over the weekend my family and I went to the park. It was fun. I want to see the new Space World movie. My birthday is next week. I hope one day my parents let me have a dog. Well, that’s all I have to say.

This paragraph will be difficult for others to read. It’s sad to see good sentences turn so bad! The only solution is to start over. What is it that you want to talk about? The park? The movie? Your birthday? Make a choice and stick with it!

By the way, if you teach elementary school writing or struggling middle school writers, be sure to check out Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay on the homepage!

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