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Paragraphs — Part I

How do you know when to start a new paragraph?

Yep, that’s all for this post. Do some thinking and then leave an answer in the comments. It’s an important question and one that many writers in our classrooms need answered!

(For those of you who are over-achievers, ask your students and leave their thoughts in the comments!)

I’ll share your responses and my thoughts tomorrow in part II of this post.



Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

13 thoughts on “Paragraphs — Part I Leave a comment

  1. I like to use this poster with kids that I call the New-P, New-P rule. They paste it into their writers’ notebooks in the reference section at the back of their book. It goes like this:
    New P-erson, New P-aragraph
    New P-lace, New P-aragraph
    New P-eriod of Time, New P-aragraph
    New P-lot event, New P-aragraph
    New P-oint of View, New P-aragraph
    It’s a great way to start with general paragraphing rules!


  2. I think kids need some guidelines so they can get into the habit and practice of making paragraphs. I tell them to start new paragraphs for new speakers, changes in setting, changes in time, and if the paragraph just feels too long. I’m going to be working with my kiddos on it soon as we are revising and editing our work.

    As a writer, I often change my mind about where paragraphs begin and end. It is probably more art than science.


  3. When the gears shift…as a writer I just feel it, and when I read other writers, whether it’s Henry James or Roald Dahl, I just feel that that is what they feel as well.
    As a teacher, I share the rules, but we work together during our writing conferences and our writing circles to make sure that the rules make sense in our writing pieces. It’s like line breaks and stanzas in poetry, isn’t it – the reader needs paragraphs to absorb shifts in who is speaking and what is happening, just as the writer does in creating scenes and the progression of thought.


  4. It can help to share that most times, changing a paragraph is when the following happens: new settings, new speakers, new ideas, additional details about the same thing, yet I feel the real answer is “It depends.” It depends on what experience the child has in writing. Then, I might share a few signposts to help students see the signals, but only then. Can’t wait to see your answer too, Ruth.


  5. We just worked on paragraphs today. I also tell my students to start paragraphs for new speakers and new settings. Even more so, we discuss how paragraphs alert the reader to a change. I encourage them to play around with different paragraph options and try out different ways of grouping their sentences. Then they pick the paragraphs and structures they think sound the best.


  6. In my classroom our shorthand is “when someone new talks or something changes”, but we talk a lot about how it can be tricky to decide where to put new paragraphs.

    One of my students told me in a writing conference last week that one of things she wants to work on as a writer this year is paragraphs, because: “I practiced them last year, and looked at a lot of books about them, you know, like mentor texts, and I know the trick about somebody talking, but I’m still not sure when they go!” So we’ll be looking at them again this year, but I think I’ll share with her that we, the grownups, are also “still not sure when they go”.

    I know that when I write, I play around with paragraphs while I’m still drafting. Which is a definite advantage of drafting on a computer rather than on paper!


  7. I also agree with everyone. A friend once told me that paragraphing is a “break for the reader’s eyes”…also I maybe read…Barry Lane perhaps, “Imagine that you are reading a book and have to go to the washroom- the paragraphs help you know where you left off and then where you restart after you get back to your book. I loved this idea. I will be sharing everyone’s ideas with the 4th graders that I’m so lucky to work with this year. xo nanc PS The more you write the easier this becomes.


  8. I agree. Knowing when to begin a new idea or thought for young writers is difficult. I find telling students if the next idea is different from the rest, give it some space for the reader to “digest” your satisfying paragraph. Then begin anew to let them “chew” the next idea.

    While we are on the subject of paragraphs, my students have a hard time remembering to indent when beginning a new one. Any suggestions or cute “phrases” to help them remember?


  9. I agree with all……new paragraph for each change in speaker, new idea/ topic, change in scene/time period or tone, to emphasize a point….. This is so difficult for students!


  10. This is such a good question. My students have been writing stories, and the one thing I keep having to tell them is to start a new paragraph when you change speakers. Then I show them models of this.

    Students often ask me how long their paragraphs need to be. Well, there is no clear answer. Some need to be 3-5 sentences, some need to be shorter, some longer.

    One thing I do know is when there are no paragraphs, it is difficult to read. So writers need to think about their readers and make paragraphs that help the reader. This would make a good topic for writing workshop.

    (I went back to my response and made it into three paragraphs instead on one.)


  11. I think my fingers know before I do. They press enter before I’ve consciously thought about it. Sometimes after a few sentences, sometimes they wait awhile. At times, it’s only one sentence. But when the idea changes, or maybe the tone, or when I’ve said something that I want to really resonate as the last sentences and I want to leave it there, hanging, and the only thing to do is to start the next thing on another line.


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