“Ms. Brown, you’re making me hungry!” I overhear a student say in class as I talk about hamburgers, Oreo cookies, and big, juicy watermelons.
What do these three foods have in common? What do they have to do with third grade? In my class these foods are used as analogies to help my students develop their writing skills.
At the beginning of the year, I use a hamburger to model the parts of a paragraph. The top bun represents the topic sentence; the meat represents the body; and the bottom bun represents the conclusion. Mixed in are all the delicious condiments: cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard, or what I like to call the “spicy details”. If you ask any of my former students, they would probably say my favorite word is “details”. These spicy details are what make their narratives unique and exciting.
How do we as third graders move towards writing a detailed paragraph and foster more sophisticated skills? Third grade is a time when I encourage my students to move away from bed-to-bed stories (e.g. “I woke up, did something, and then went back home and went to bed”). This is the time to focus in on a small, succinct moment in time that is meaningful and special.
Using a watermelon as an analogy, students selected a significant moment in their lives. In the most recent assignment the big idea was Spring Break. With the help of a planning sheet, students cut off slices of the watermelon to narrow down a smaller topic from the main idea, such as visiting the zoo or going to the beach. Then we got even more specific and focused in on the seeds- or the small moments in our lives. The seeds could be building sandcastles at the beach or going on an African safari ride at the zoo.
After the initial planning process, students used a web to answer the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and included sensory details so they could have the reader visualize the experience right along with them. Going through the writing process from planning to publication, students are set up for success if they are given relatable and tangible goals. I have seen the most hesitant of writers latch on to this idea. By the end of third grade, my students leave my class with a solid foundation of the writing process, as well as a new hunger to write.
Lauren Brown teaches third grade at Indian Mountain School.