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This lesson was originally used with 4th graders to encourage discussion and awareness about when to start a new paragraph.

  • If possible show the students a copy of the book The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Sid Fleischman. It is a fun story written by a popular author. It has shipwrecks, pirates, adventure and a good dose of CA history mixed into it.
  • Read the first group of paragraphs. These paragraphs explain how the main character ended up on a pirate ship! Model your thinking aloud as you look at each paragraph and think about why the author chose to start new paragraphs when he did. Notice that this is a short story about a shipwreck that is broken up into a beginning, middle and end by the paragraphs.
  • On the board, write beginning, middle, end. Have students also put this on their worksheet on the line that reads These paragraphs show
  • Introduce the next set of paragraphs by explaining that at this point in the story our main character has been caught eves dropping on an important conversation about theivery and jewels. He was caught and thrown into a dark shed where a dog had also been thrown in.
  • Ask students to discuss with a partner or small group why they think the author chose to start his paragraphs when he did. Pay especial attention to the one very short paragraph.
  • Hopefully in class discussion someone will notice that making a very short paragraph brings great attention to a key moment in the story. Kids will have lots of ideas though, and that's the great part, they're all thinking about paragraphs!
  • Write something like importance on the board and have students fill it in the These paragraphs show line.
  • The next paragraphs don't need much introduction. Read them together and have students discuss their ideas. As a group come to the conclusion that these paragraphs show a new action or something like that
  • To introduce the next paragraphs, just explain that the main character is staying at a house where there is girl about her age. Have them discuss their ideas about the paragraphing. As a group come to the conclusion that these paragraphs show a new character.
  • Introduce the last paragraphs by explaining that the ship The Giant Rat of Sumatra and another ship are battling each other in the harbor. (The boys will love it). Read the paragraphs and let them discuss their ideas. As a group come to the conclusion that these paragraphs show a new thought (In the first paragraph he thinks the Captain is dead. In the second paragraph he learns that he's not)
  • Review all of the reasons an author may decide to start a new paragraph.
  • As an added challenge have students read in their own books and search for paragraphs that start for one of the reasons listed on the board. They can copy these paragraphs onto the blanks lines and then list the reason that they feel the author chose to start a new paragraph. Many of the students I worked with had a hard time actually getting this section done, but they sure did a lot of good looking and thinking as they struggled with it!
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