From Outlines to Paragraphs (part 4)
Step 4 in the writing process is writing the main body of the essay. If you’ve followed Steps 1-3 in writing an essay (see previous Homeschool blogs on writing), then the actually writing becomes rather easy. Each of the main points in your outline will become a paragraph.
If your students are young and just starting out, you will need to teach them four specific things:
The definition of a sentence: A sentence is a complete thought with a subject (who or what the sentence is about) and a verb (what the subject is or does/has done). Every sentence must begin with a capital letter and end with a period (which could be an exclamation point for strong feeling or a question mark if the sentence asks a question).
The definition of a paragraph: Each paragraph is one section of writing that has one distinct topic. All the sentences in the paragraph must be about that specific topic.
Indentation: Every paragraph starts on a new line and must be indented. Indentation means to start the first line several letter spaces over to the right from the left margin line. To give young children an idea of how far over to start, tell them to space two fingers beside the margin line of the paper and put the first letter of the first word in the paragraph just to the right of their second finger. Depending on the size of the child’s fingers, a one-finger indent may be sufficient.
Topic sentences: Every paragraph must have a topic sentence. It usually is the first sentence that starts the paragraph. A topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is about.
Now the students are ready to begin writing. For young children whose handwriting and spelling skills are fairly well developed, have them write only one paragraph each day. For children who are just learning handwriting skills, have them dictate sentences for you to write down for them, showing them how you indent each paragraph. Older students could write the entire main body in a day, using their outline.
The outline made in Step 3 will be the writing guide. In a simple essay, the main points in the outline (i.e., I., II., III., etc.) will become the topic of each paragraph. Turn the first main point into a sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph. For now, don’t worry too much about style; that will come later. Simply make the first topic point into a sentence. [In a more complex essay with subpoints under each of the letters in the outline (i.e., if your outline has A., B., C. with 1., 2., 3… under each letter), each of the letters (the A., B., C. points) could become a whole paragraph and the letters in the outline would become the topic sentences.]
After the students have a written a topic sentence, turn each of the subheadings (the A., B., C. of the outline) into sentences to complete the paragraph. Continue in this way until all the main points (I., II., III., etc.), with the points under, them have been turned into paragraphs. Again, don’t worry about style. Simple sentences are fine at this point. Style will come with the crafting of the writing in a later step. Let the students just get the outline turned into paragraphs and sentences.
Here are the steps we’ve done so far in essay writing:
Choose a topic (not too broad: “Animals” is too broad; “Giraffes” is manageable). Write the topic in the middle of a blank page. Then write around it all the ideas you can think of about that topic. This is your “Dump Page.”
Turn your “Dump Page” into lists, organizing like things together. Title each list.
Turn your lists into an outline. If some of the lists are similar, group them together under broad headings.
Turn each of the main topics in the outline into a paragraph, using the main topics as the topic sentences and the subpoints as the body of each paragraph.
In Step 5, the students will add the introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraph.
I'm convinced that the primary reason students (and adults) hate essay writing is because they don't know how to get started. They don't have the step-by-step tools to get from blank paper to finished product. Once you know the steps, it's really pretty easy. You just have to sit down and follow the process. It takes time, yes. But it's really not that hard. Like anything else, writing takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it gets. And the easier it gets, the more enjoyable it is. So, give those writing assignments regularly—your children might even begin to write just for the fun of it!