A traffic light serves as a tool for students to use when writing a simple, color-coded paragraph that has a beginning, a middle, and an end
writing, sentence, paragraph, main idea, topic sentence
Begin this lesson by showing a picture or a drawing of a traffic light. Discuss what the different colors on the light signal drivers to do. (Discuss how a green traffic light means "go" and a red light means "stop.")
For young students, you might provide an outline drawing of a traffic light for them to color. The word Go might appear in the section to be colored green; the word Stop might appear in the section to be colored red; and the word Slow might appear in the section to be colored yellow. The students' colored pages will serve as a tool as they write paragraphs with a beginning, middle, and end; they can use the drawings as they self-assess the paragraphs they write.
Present a paragraph that you have written that includes a good topic sentence, some explanatory text, and a solid closing. Write the first sentence of the paragraph in green, the middle sentences in black (for ease of readability), and the closing sentence in red. The following simple paragraphs might serve as examples:
Fall is my favorite time of year. The fall air is crisp and cool. Pumpkins decorate doorsteps up and down my street. The smell of fallen leaves fills the air. That is why I like fall so much.
When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. Astronauts explore places where people have never been before. They make new discoveries about our solar system. Some astronauts even walk in space. Being an astronaut would be fun and challenging work.
Discuss why those paragraphs seem to work. Talk about how the "beginning" sentence presents a main idea; the "middle" sentences support, or explain, that main idea; and the "end" sentence wraps it all up in a good closing.
Next, you might provide a good beginning (green), or topic, sentence and practice as a group writing good support (yellow) and closing (red) sentences to go with it. You might choose one of the following topic sentences:
Finally, spend a little time talking about a good way to close, or end, this paragraph. Have students choose what they think will be the best ending from among the ideas that are presented. Use a red marker to write that ending sentence.
Then it is time to read the entire paragraph. Have students read it to themselves. Then read it aloud in unison. Ask students if they are happy with the result, or if they might improve on it in some way.
Next, have students choose one of the remaining topic (green) sentences -- or create one of their own -- so they can practice writing their own middle/support (yellow) sentences and good closing (red) sentences.
You might use another tool to help students as they write their 5-sentence paragraphs: Present a drawing of a hand. Use a green marker to write the number 1 on the thumb, a black marker to write the numbers 2, 3, and 4 on the fingers, and a red marker to write the number 5 on the small finger. Students might even trace their own hands in order to create this tool.
This is a very basic paragraph plan. I usually start with this and within a short time my students are able to elaborate or expand each supporting sentence. After writing a paragraph or more together, your students will be able to do this independently. You will want to use the modeled paragraphs for other writing mini lessons -- for example lessons focused on writing titles for a paragraph, choosing the best adjectives, and so on.
AssessmentYou might introduce a rubric that students can use to verify that they did the work. Did they include a go and stop sentence? Are there three good supporting sentences between the go and stop sentences? Is the go sentence indented?
Brenda Armstrong, Ann Whitney Elementary School, Hamilton, Texas