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Personal Essay Body Paragraphs

Last week I shared I had begun personal essays with my students. This was the first attempt for both my students and myself tackling this genre. I focused solely on the structure for several days and we drafted many flash drafts. I made mini-charts detailing the structure for students to have close at hand. You can see the chart here.

Once students had become more comfortable with the structure I decided to do an on-demand style assessment to see what they could do with less hand holding. It was eye opening. I noticed that many students were following the structure, but as structures do, it was limiting their ability to elaborate and generate details that would add interest. I also noticed that all the work we did on paragraphing during our personal narrative unit was absent. I decided I needed to break this portion of the essay down a bit deeper for students.


We worked together to make a chart showing the breakdown of what our body paragraphs would look like. Students definitely need more time to digest this new genre. I am learning a lot about what pieces I can use from our narrative unit to support this new unit. I think my next step is to work on the elaboration of their supporting evidence. I’m a little worried it could turn into an “and then, and then” situation! We will be talking about how to say a lot in a few sentences to support their statement. We also need to discuss ideas for paragraph transitions.  A T-chart may also make an appearance showing our common problems (confusion and common problems with solutions on the other side to help those still struggling).

I have one more week to cram in as much as I can before the holiday break and then I will only have a few weeks to review and cross my fingers. Hope to revisit this topic with good news in January!

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

2 thoughts on “Personal Essay Body Paragraphs Leave a comment

  1. During boot camp, I have found that analyzing a student mentor text, and then breaking that mentor text into a T-chart helps with understanding the structure of an expository essay. I love your assessment piece. It is so important for us to look at what our writers are writing every day. After I read what my writers have written for the day, I leave an artifact with a compliment and the TP we need to work on for the next day.
    It’s so important for our writers to celebrate what work has been accomplished for the day, and what we need to work on during our next conferring session. As we draft together, I color code my introduction, my thesis and the reasons. The reasons are then color coded within the different paragraphs. I follow the same procedure within my conclusion too. It’s a grand time for me when my writers say to me, “Mrs. D. you could have made that sentence stronger by…… Mrs. D. could you use a stronger word?” Our writers have so much wisdom to share with us.


  2. I love this entry, Betsy. I’ve been working with the 4th grade boxes and bullets unit, and did the essay boot camp lesson in the first bend. The teachers followed with the lessons in the first bend. As you know, the second bend is all about elaboration of ideas, and how to stream one thought together with the next, the real writing of any writer in any genre. At that point, someone slipped in a graphic organizer! It immediately poisoned the well. I love the work you’re doing here and the fact that you did that quick assessment, and are now moving into elaboration. Because without that piece, our kids write dull and skinny essays. They never learn how to stretch their pieces and add their own person–ality to their writing! It’s the part that cracks the essay wide open and gives voice and distinction to each students’ work!


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