Tomorrow I teach a lesson on paragraph writing in the Environmental Science class. That is one hostile audience! They are not really interested in the science, and I am sure they will not be interested in what I have to say. Writing is supposed to be taught across the curriculum, so I do admire the science teacher’s efforts in this regard. However, when I taught junior high, my fellow teachers and I found that particular stance to be a hard sell with both parents and kids. The science teacher thinks she should be able to ask for an answer in paragraph form and get a paragraph. With a topic sentence and complete sentences inside it. The kids think she is picky. They think that when she asks them to label their math problems, too.

Here is my plan. Even though high school paragraphs should ideally be six to eight sentences long, I will settle for five. She wants them to rewrite the supposed paragraphs they wrote for a lab on distillation. I am going to take the best answer from that class, put it on the white board, and ask the kids if it is a paragraph. If not, why not. And so on. The teacher says she doesn’t mind if I give them an opening sentence, so I will do that if I need to. She asked three questions. We can answer those for sentences two, three and four. Then we will need a wrap-up sentence.

You would think that kids should have a grasp on paragraphing in high school, but many of them do not. I’m not quite sure why. I know that many of them do not read for pleasure, and I think that readers pick up some of the structure unconsciously, but a bigger reason for the problem, it seens to me, is that they just don’t think the things you learn in school are important.

I don’t know how to fight indifference, although I try daily as I go about my duties. Tomorrow, the lesson about paragraphs will be a direct onslaught. I sure do hope some of it sinks in.


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February 2006
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