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April 18, 2010 Ten-Minute Paragraphs: Making Writing Accessible By Justin Lim
Grades 6–8, 9–12



    Teaching good writing is one of the most challenging tasks that teachers face. I say good writing because it's one thing to assign numerous journal entries without meaningful feedback and another to teach students how to frame cogent arguments with formal language. This year, something especially difficult for me was having to deal with a large English Learner population and numerous students with special needs. Luckily for my kids, I began incorporating Dr. Kate Kinsella's 10-minute paragraph scaffolded writing strategy.


    What are 10-minute paragraphs? They are short scaffolded writing routines to build essential language and organization skills. They follow a simple "I do it, we do it, you do it" model that takes away the anxiety that kids often experience when it comes to writing. My kids love the routines because of the structure. I love them because they teach good writing and not just any writing.

    Here's how to do it:

    1. Deconstruct the writing prompt - One of the biggest mistakes that teachers make is assuming that every student understands the writing prompt. My first step is to make sure that my kids have a clear understanding of the task. In some cases, if the prompt is not phrased as a question, I have them interpret it and rewrite it in question form.

    2. Brainstorm - I often like to have students get into pairs or groups and come up with ideas using some sort of cognitive map or graphic organizer. When they have had enough time to generate quality answers, I lead a short class discussion so that everybody can benefit from the best responses.

    3. Read an "I'll do it" sample paragraph - I then either answer the prompt myself (having written a response beforehand) or read a superior student sample. We break down the language and the structure of the short paragraph.

    4. Complete a "We'll do it" scaffold - Here's where this strategy is markedly different from most other writing assignments. Before my kids answer the prompt on their own, I provide them with a template with blanks and we fill in well thought out answers together.

    5. Have students answer the prompt on their own - Now that they have seen a formidable example and are equipped with a solid structure, my kids are ready to produce a much higher quality composition. I usually provide a word bank of academic words that I anticipate students might use or refer to the Academic Word List. If necessary, I might even provide them with a sentence starter for their topic sentences.

    Here is a sample 10-minute paragraph that I created for my Read 180 class. I used this template at the beginning of the school year, when most of my students did not know what a topic sentence was. 

    Pages from All Scaffolded Writing (157-230)

    Students often need scaffolds to prompt them to make the right turns when presenting an opinion. Some might contend that scaffolds stifle creativity, but the fact of the matter is that too many of our kids lack the means to verbalize their creative thoughts. I'm simply suggesting that we provide a structure to help them make the moves that seasoned writers make unconsciously, so that all of our kids can effectively express themselves. If we stay true to teaching solid writing techniques, then it's only a matter of time until the training wheels come off and our students gain the skills and confidence that they need to succeed!

    Warm regards,

    Justin Lim

    Rosemead High School

    El Monte Union High School District


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