[Pack a punch: Verb. (Idiom). to have strong effect or outcome.]
If you want to really improve your students’ writing abilities and analytical thinking, you might consider incorporating Paragraph of the Week into your teaching approach. It might sound basic, but this simple, tried and tested strategy has the potential to create powerful learning for your students.
Firstly, what is paragraph of the week?
Set the students a different paragraph topic each week and give them the time and resources to plan, draft, edit and write. Provide feedback. Repeat.
How do I set it up?
Set a weekly topic that is relevant to and integrated with your regular class content or skills.
Provide students with the tools of the trade by way of models (for the PROCESS of writing, for the STRUCTURE of writing and an EXEMPLAR of good writing).
Is there a trick?
Sort of. Firstly, you have to actually provide class time for students to do the task properly. Secondly, you should endeavour to provide meaningful feedback to students on their paragraphs so they know how to improve.
Why does this strategy pack a powerful punch?
Practice makes perfect. The additional hours students spend planning, drafting, editing and writing will start to add up over the course of the term or school year. Also, having students come back to the skill again and again allows for spaced practice over time, which increases the depth of the learning.
Students learn by doing. Take your students off the content-driven, frenzied treadmill that has become the norm and give them time to consolidate some concepts, focus deeply on one issue and hone their craft.
Modelling demystifies the process. How many students do we see launching into writing without proper planning or thought about what their finished product should look like? Good writing comes from planning, drafting, editing and revising. Providing a model for the process of writing (the ‘how’) and the structure of their writing (the ‘what’) gives necessary scaffolding and clearly sets the expectation for what the work should look like.
Feedback allows for progress. The right kind of feedback lets students know where they are at and what they need to do to move their learning forward.
It enhances (rather than hinders) teaching of subject matter. If the Paragraph of the Week is used strategically in conjunction with your regular subject matter, it can help students organise their ideas, think analytically and revise important concepts.
It makes for a low prep lesson. Provided the topics and models have been set up at the beginning of term, teachers can enjoy a bit of breathing space knowing they have this lesson sorted.
This powerful strategy has the potential to improve the writing skills of students in any content area, which is why it really does pack a punch.