Teaching Kindergartners to Write PARAGRAPHS!

Today I am going to tell you how I am teaching my students to begin to write PARAGRAPHS!  (Yes, you read that correctly- paragraphs!  It could happen!)  They are very short paragraphs, but they are still paragraphs, none the less!  Okay, some of them have only two sentences, but hey- this is kindergarten, for goodness sake!

These are Kimmie Butkus' Fishy Hearts!

Along the way, I would like to post some pictures of our little "Fishy Hearts" that my class made.  I am especially proud of this project, because my "baby" Kimmie came up with the idea for this art project!  She will be 21 years old this month, and is studying to become a teacher.

This is my daughter Kimmie with one of her best little friends!  Doesn't she look a lot like her mother?

She is also an aide in a Kindergarten class at my school, and so she created this art project for them, and then shared it with me.  It was perfect, because it tied in both Valentine's Day and our unit on sea animals as well.  I would give you a free download of it, but there really isn't one!  All we did was take a paper plate and have a parent cut out a triangle for the mouth ahead of time.  Then we went to the Ellison Die Cut Machine and pre-cut some large hearts for the tail fin and some small hearts for the gills or side fins.  (I guess you have to decide what those little hearts on the side of the fish represent, LOL!  My class thought they were gills!)

We gave the kids a one inch black square to form the eye; all they had to do was cut off the corners of that square to form a circle.  After that, the children used water colors to paint the fish.  It was a wonderful project, and went right along with a book that I found called, My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall.  In this book, the author/illustrator uses hearts to create a whole zoo full of animals.  The children enjoyed the book, and then LOVED making their "Fishy Hearts!"  So three cheers for Kimmie!  By the way, Kimmie is also the soloist on all of my albums so far, so if you ever hear a solo voice in one of my CD's, you are hearing my daughter Kimmie singing!  She sang on the Addition Doubles Song on Musical Math, for instance.

Last year in a blog entry, I posted a Writing Rubric that I had created to include on my presentation called, "Developmentally Appropriate Ways to Get Kindergartners Writing."  I adapted my version of this writing rubric from one that was originally made by a teacher from my district that is now retired.  I made some changes that I thought were appropriate, and added my own artwork that I based on writing samples that I had collected over the years.

This is a sample page from the book.

One problem with this rubric is that it only addressed writing conventions, and did not address the problem of staying on topic.  So for example, if a child that writes the first sentence about lions and the second sentence about Easter Eggs, then there was nothing in the rubric to address this problem.  Indeed, many years ago when the original rubric was written, we had only begun to scratch the surface of getting kindergarten students writing enough to even THINK about whether or not they were staying on topic!  (In our own defense, we had only half day Kindergarten at that point, and the standards were MUCH lower, as well!)  In any case, up to that point, we were pretty glad to have had a legible sentence or two that the child could read back and had illustrated.  This is probably why the rubric did not include any notes regarding content.  Given that problem, I am revising the rubric that I had posted last year to include a few notes on the content of the child's writing, and re-posting it here for you today if you are interested.

This year, we are being trained in using Step Up to Writing.  At the Kindergarten level, this means that we are supposed to work with the children orally to first brainstorm ideas.  Then we train them to organize their thoughts into paragraph form.  Finally, we teach them to write these thoughts down, hopefully into a paragraph that they can read back.  Assuming that they can write phonetically and that they can write a few sight words, then they can at least make an attempt to do this!  Admittedly, this really is a very TALL order for Kindergarten students!  But we are breaking it down into the tiniest of steps to help them along.  This is how we did it this week:

First, we read some books about Valentine's Day, and then brainstormed a list of things that happen on Valentine's Day, and what we like about it.  Then, I tried to get the children to give me a "Big Idea Sentence" that would tell us what our story about Valentine's Day would be mostly about.  They gave me several ideas, including sentences like, "I like Valentine's Day," "Valentine's Day is Fun," and "Valentine's Day is Cool" or "Valentine's Day is Awesome!"  I told them that any of these sentences would work just fine!

We did have to discuss some of the suggestions that were a bit off, such as the more specific sentences, such as "We give cards on Valentine's Day."  I kept telling them that I need a "bigger idea," and tried to point them to a sentence that would tell MORE about the holiday, rather than just one thing about the holiday.  I asked them, "Does that tell me one thing about it, or more than that?"  We settled on one sentence, and I wrote it down.  Then, according to our Step Up To Writing program, we give that sentence a green dot.  That is supposed to help the kids organize it in their minds.  The green dot sentence is the "Big Idea Sentence."  After that, the supporting sentences get a yellow dot.  As you can see, some of the children have started adding their own colored dots to their own writing, too!

This is what I demonstrated to my class whole group.  Note the colored dots.

Then after that, it was easy!  All we had to do was think about our list of things that we liked about Valentine's Day and make up sentences about them.  I just had to remind them that, no matter what- the sentences HAD to be about Valentine's Day!!!!  NO MATTER WHAT!  Because if we start out talking about Valentine's Day, then we must keep talking about it, and we can't start talking about sharks or iguanas, etc.

My class hasn't gotten to the point where we finish up our paragraphs with a conclusion sentence, but I know that one easy way to do it is to have them just rewrite their first sentence at the end of their paragraph.  In any case, I think my students did very well with it!  I am posting some writing samples from the children in my top two groups.  Naturally, some of the children in the bottom two groups needed quite a bit more support to complete this task.  (And yes, I do group by ability.)  And when the children in my lowest group got to my writing table, I guided them through it, step by step.  I keep a dry erase board next to my table and I wrote on it as they wrote on their papers.  Together we sounded out each word and talked about how we might spell and write it, and then they copied my sentence down onto their papers.  I let them know that if they dawdle and get behind, they are on their own, and I am not going to help them catch up later.  So they had better sit up and follow along and just DO IT!  They are a good group this year, and I generally don't have any trouble getting them to follow along with lessons like this, thankfully!  This is how I differentiate my writing lessons for my lowest group.

With the group that is one step higher than they are, I get them started with the first sentence, and then release them to finish the second sentence on their own.  The top two groups do the whole thing on their own, though I do answer questions and help sound out words as needed.   The Sounds Fun Poster, cards, and songs are really a big help when trying to get kids to sound out words and write them down!  Here is a look at what the Sounds Fun Phonics DVD looks like, for those of you that are not familiar.

I am constantly amazed by how much it helps to have a visual aid right there in view all the time in the form of that Sounds Fun Poster, mounted on a tri-fold presentation foam board.  I can move it wherever I need it to be at any time, and that makes a big difference.  Whenever the kids need to write a sound that they do not know, they just refer to the poster or the cards on the wall, and copy the sound that goes along with the character.  So if they need a /ch/ sound, they look for the choo choo train, and copy the "ch."  If they need a /th/ sound, they look for the boy that is blowing raspberries and copy the "th."  If they need the /oo/ sound, then they look for the monkey that says, "oo-oo," and copy the "oo."  It makes sense to them, and it's fairly easy.  (For a more detailed overview of how it works, click on the link for the CD below and scroll down.  There are videos of the songs, too!)  Many of them have memorized the letters that go with each character, too, because of the songs on the CDBy the way, the first volume of the Sounds Fun Workbook is finished and is up on the website now as a download!!! (The printed book will arrive in a couple of weeks.) **Update! Workbooks for both volume 1 and 2 are complete and on the website!**

This is the Sounds Fun Poster stapled to a Tri-Fold Presentation Board.  I can move it around wherever it is needed.

None of the children were allowed to copy from the brainstorming list that I made, nor did I allow them to copy from the sentences that I wrote in front of them as a group.  I erased the sentence from my white board easel, and the brainstorming list disappeared from the easel the day before sometime during playtime!  :(  So all of that was just plain gone.  In any case, even if I were to have written the whole thing on a large chart paper, I still wouldn't have let them copy any of it, because I consider that to be a hindrance to the goal of them learning to sound out words.  If I let them copy something, then they will never attempt to sound out those words, and that is a learning opportunity that is lost, in my opinion.  Besides that, our school does not have the budget to buy us anymore large chart paper, I have been told!  So I guess it all works out that I don't want them to copy it anyway!  It's just a shame that the children cannot refer back to our shared writing samples later.

On a lighter note, check out the writing sample above!  The little boy that wrote it told me exactly what he wanted to write, and then I helped him sound it out so that he could get it done.  He wanted to write, "God gave us Valentine's Day.  He is our Father."  The only thing that I encouraged him to change was to write "He is my Father,"  since were running out of time, and I knew that he could already spell "my," (because of the spelling song from Sing and Spell Vol. 1) and it would be quicker! (This is what the Animated Sight Word Spelling Songs look like.)

Later, I read all of the children's papers back to the class.  After I read his paper, one of the children looked over at him and said, "Wow, God is your father?  That's COOL!"  (I think the other child was picturing Jesus sitting down at the table nightly, eating dinner with him and helping him with his homework, LOL!)  There were exclamations of agreement in the class, as many of the other children congratulated the first boy on having GOD as his father, as I tried to suppress my giggles and smiled in wonder at this beautiful conversation!  Then the little boy that wrote the sentence burst out in irritation, "He's EVERYONE's Father, not just MINE!"  (I think that if he had known the word, "DUH!" he would have added that onto the end of his sentence, too, but thankfully he did not.)  After he clarified this point, half of the class all said, "Yes, He is everyone's Father," while the other half just sat there, saying, "Huh?"

I wished that I could have clarified what was going on there, but you know how it is in a public school....  We just have to leave it up to children to deliver the lessons that God wants delivered.  I hope that enough of them go to Sunday School, Awanas, and Vacation Bible School to make that happen.   :)

- Heidi

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  1. I love this post! thanks so much for sharing ideas on writing with kindergarten kids. PS - I love what the little boy wrote about God! I get this a lot and it always makes me smile! the conversations are amazing!

    Thanks again!

  2. very cool I would find the book and use it in the classroom, I made a bilingual blog El kinder de Maestra Nieves where I post ideas,songs, fingerplays and worksheets Ive created in English and Spanish

  3. Thanks for sharing, Heidi. It is truly amazing what they are capable of if you put it in their terms and their "language". Once they have their sounds and their "chunks" under control (thanks to your songs!) the sky is the limit Krissy
    Mrs.Miner’s Monkey Business
    with these babies!

  4. We teach the kids to write a "3 page story" rather than a paragraph. but it sounds like the same process. We use Units of Writing.

  5. Heidi rocks! I teach First, but can adapt so many of your great ideas and use them, too. My kids really enjoyed "My Heart is Like a Zoo" and I found heart animal printables at www.dltk-holidays.com. The kids just colored, cut them out, and assembled. Made a cute bulletin board! Also... I love your tips for writing and will definitely try the green and yellow dots with some of my strugglers. I think I'll add a red dot for that ending sentence. Finally... my Sounds Fun phonics poster doesn't have "very, name, and cried" at the bottom. Do I have an older version?

  6. Hi, Katina!
    Thanks! Yes, you have an older version of the poster. Next time you order, email my husband at Greg@heidisongs.com, and he will send you an updated version at no charge. We'll just slip it into the package with your other things. Just make sure that you email us either before you place the order, or immediately after it so that we don't send your order out without taking care of it. Sometimes our order filling staff is so efficient that they fill the orders the very same day that they come in, so if you delay at all, we could miss it.

  7. Great ideas Heidi. I just purchased your kindergarten kit with my Adopy=-a-Classroom funds. I have been emailing back and forth with Greg and I was not going to give up, if there is a will, then there is a way! My school is going to train us on something called the event frame. 3rd-5th is getting the training first due to SOL testing in the Spring. From what I understand, your paper is divided into the 3 equal parts. Your Big idea sentence ("K" uses picture to go with big idea), then you leave the middle box empty and go to the last box that ends your story or is your conclusion. The kids go back and fill the middle in. The thought process here is that it give them a beginning and ending anchor and then they put the meat into the sandwich so to speak. Many of my kids get lost in the middle because they can't unjumble their thought process as to what is middle material and what is the end or conclusion. I am looking foward to the training. I use Kid Writing which is totally detailed and explained on Nelliesedge.com website. It is very usuer friendly and written for beginning with beginning writers in mind. It gives them lots of strategies and ways to continue when they get stuck and you are not their to help because you are in group. Thanks for all of your selfless posts, I know it is very time consuming be you are reaching and helping educators across our country! Sincerely, Ginny :)

  8. This is a very interesting post Heidi- We have mostly half day kindergarten classes here in Alberta( though I do teach in a full day class). We also have differing age entrance so many of my students do not turn 5 until after Christmas- they do not have to be 5 until March 1. I like how you break the process down to make it kid friendly language. I can see using some of these skills when writing morning message together.
    I love Kimmie's fish- I do a story called Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister and this would make a great Rainbow fish.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas and expertise. I always learn something new as well as you giving me something to think about.
    Regards, Anna

  9. Heidi, your work is truly amazing and a reflection of our Father :)

  10. I love to see how other schools use the step up strategy. We are in California. Our whole school uses step up so that the kids can take their green dot "big ideas" and yellow "details" with them. Currently we are discussing the green dot of our paragraph as a class and then selecting one that everyone in the whole class will use. The children are then expected to do 2 or 3 yellow details on their own. (for those who are ready) We do leave up a chart / scaffold of one word ideas and lots of oportunities to stetch out words for themselves We are struggling with when to implement the final green dot, because they often fill up their paper with no time or room to do their "conclusion" "copy " sentence. We began this process in January and we already have kids using topic sentences in their independent journals:-)! So exciting!!!

  11. Great post! We have used Step Up and also 6 Traits of Writing... I like to use a little of both when teaching writing! =) I always loved the Step Up trainings because they were tailored to older kids and there was always a side note for K teachers to "just modify." So simple, right? ;-) I think writing is possibly the hardest concept we teach these little ones. Thanks for the great ideas!

  12. Heidi! Congrats on finishing the Sounds Fun Workbook! I am SO excited! My students are using the 'chunks' (digraphs, etc.) as a resource and it's become so 'natural' for them to include these chunks in their writing. I can never thank you enough for your help.

    (I just may make it out to the I Teach K! conference after all!!)


  13. You guys are all so sweet! Thanks so much for all of your kind comments. And Cher, I do hope that you make it out to ITK from Hawaii next summer! Make sure that you introduce yourself in person, okay? I can't wait to meet you!

  14. To Kristen F.
    Oh, yes, that Step Up manual is just about the most helpful thing I have ever encountered. "Just modify." How helpful! I never would have thought of that!
    The person that does our Step Up trainings is a good hearted teacher that has only taught high school. Last time, she taught us how to teach our K-2 students how to take notes! I know that she means well, but I really don't think that she understands what children that age are able to do.
    By the same token, I would make the world's lousiest trainer for high school teachers, I'm sure, since I have never taught it. But it seems to me that it's a pretty simple rule of thumb: the presenter should have experience teaching the grade levels that she is presenting for. Don't you think?

  15. This was shared as a comment by Loma Spencer on a different blog post, but I think she meant it to appear here on this posting. It's a great idea, so I am going to reprint it here!

    Loma Spencer said...

    I'd like to share an idea with you for helping your students with paragraph writing. Instead of having a traditional "Show and Tell" in your classroom you have what is called "Show and Explain." Students bring in a favorite item and they must verbally tell about their item using this format:
    I am going to tell you three things about my _______.
    In conclusion, ...

    I am going to tell you three things about my truck. First, my truck is red. Next, it is a dump truck. Last, it can hold a lot of dirt. In conclusion, I have told you three things about my red dump truck.

    This is a very basic example for students who need literal examples. It is also easy to differentiate for higher performing students. You can apply the model to field trip experiences or content area instruction. New transition phrases can be taught as needed and the conclusion could be altered to include how a student feels about an object or experience. You can set up a daily schedule for 3-5 students to do their "Show and Explain" in front of their classmates which also provides a public speaking opportunity for the students. This is a great homework assignment as well. Just provide an example for the parents and ask them to practice with their child at home before their assigned day for "Show and Explain." "Show and Explain" has proven to be a very successful way to help students organize their thoughts verbally prior to writing. Enjoy the strategy!
    Loma Spencer

  16. Hi Heidi,
    I have been following your blog for a while and am so excited to share with you my newly finished blog! Come check it out:


    I love all you songs and activities!

  17. Heidi......I hope that Step Up to Writing is going well for you. I have used it very successfully in kindergarten.
    I have also seen amazing results in other kinder classrooms. There are children who are writing five and six sentence paragraphs after making their own outlines or two column notes. SUTW revolutionized the way I taught writing in kindergarten. I hope you're having as much success as I have had.


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