Moving younger students from sentence combining to paragraphing to short essay writing is easy when you have the right platform.
A Common Thread in an Uncommon World
What kind of academic writing should students be doing in elementary school? We know by reviewing the nation’s academic standards and most professional educators tend to agree that elementary students in grades two through four should be composing short, academic paragraphs, and that by grades five and six, they should be venturing into writing short essay responses and perhaps even giving multiple-paragraph papers a try. But what is the scope, sequence, and pace of learning how to write proficiently in these grades? When exactly should kids be moving from sentence combining to paragraphing to composing essays? Here things get a little hazy and perhaps “unstandardized”.
At essaypop, we are in a unique position to understand how writing is taught at all levels across the country as we have over a hundred thousand users in every state in the nation. We talk to teachers who teach writing every day, and more and more, these discussions have been with elementary school teachers.
Now, our users are by no means perfectly synchronized in their approach to writing instruction. In fact, one of the reasons we have a totally open source and customizable platform is because we learned early on that different teachers, schools, and even regions have very different terminologies, assessment rubrics, and methods for teaching kids how to write. Levels of rigor and writing expectations are not entirely uniform. And while there is quite a bit of variety and even disagreement on the subject, we’ve also noticed some consistent trend lines among elementary school teachers and how they teach academic writing to their students.
The most common thread we have found is that teachers who teach grades two, three, four, and five tend to, at varying degrees of complexity, have their students compose writing that does three basic things:
It expresses a thesis or claim.
It backs that claim up with some sort of evidence.
It then explains or makes sense of this evidence and ties it back to the claim.
We’re seeing across the board that academic writing for our youngest students consistently involves the interplay of these three elements (claim, evidence, and explanation), which really is in line with the various standard sets for these grade levels across the country. Of course, these elements aren’t exclusive to elementary school writing; they are consistently present in papers written by middle schoolers, high schoolers, as well as college students and professionals. Sure, more seasoned writers work with them in more sophisticated ways, but these three components continue to be the essential building blocks of good writing at every level. Learning is not so unlike gaining proficiencies in other disciplines such as math and science. Like those subjects, students master some conceptual fundamentals, then develop those in more sophisticated ways as they grow and mature.
The essaypop writing method has always maintained its roots in this understanding of academic writing and is why the platform is so perfectly suited for elementary school students. The frame-writing approach to crafting paragraphs, short essays, and even longer, multiple paragraph essays has consistently blended the components of claim, evidence, and explanation, and then stitched them into coherent and finished pieces of writing. In terms of scope, sequence, and pacing, we have elementary students build their basic compositional skills by degree, beginning with very simple pieces of writing using a single-frame template, and then working towards more sophisticated paragraphing, and eventually essay writing, using multiple-frame templates.
Starting Simple – Writing in a Single Frame
Younger students (grades two and three) begin using the essaypop platform to compose simple quick writes. Quick writes allow younger students to jump into the writing quickly and without restrictions. These are shorter, low-stake writing tasks that familiarize students with the essaypop system and build within students a level of enthusiasm and confidence as they answer prompts using a basic, single frame, approach.
Quick writes can be used for any occasion (warmup, exit ticket, reflection) and can be part of a structured lesson plan or be assigned spontaneously (because sometimes writing opportunities sneak up on us). They can even be set up as timed assignments.
Students are encouraged to share and collaborate in the interactive, Hive environment, and teachers are urged to write alongside their students using the demo feature. The assessment tool with pre-made rubrics can also be used to assess and score aspects of the finished writing such as organization, coherence, and mechanics. Here’s an example of what such writing will look like.
Article: The Power of Quickwrites – This article takes a deeper dive into how quick writes work.
Moving into Simple Paragraph Writing
Once a comfort level has been established composing single-frame quick writes, students move into simple paragraph structures where they state a thesis or claim in one writing frame, provide some sort of evidence or detail to support the claim in the next frame, then move onto explain or analyze the evidence and tie it back to the claim in the last frame.
This basic three-frame template provides students with the basic organizational building blocks to begin the interplay of academic elements mentioned earlier. This approach can be repeated for several weeks (or for as long as needed) as students grow more accustomed to this kind of academic paragraphing. Again, students can be grouped in the Hive so that they may share and assist each other as they write and when they are finished. The Hive is also where the teacher will monitor student work and progress. Here’s what a completed three-frame composition looks like.
Progressively Adding Elements and Complexity
Once students master the basic concepts of claim, evidence, and explanation, then they can begin adding elements that will allow them to start crafting more sophisticated paragraphs, power paragraphs, and even short essay responses. A hook or opening statement frame can be added to help engage readers and add background or context. A closing statement frame can be added to the template so that students may sum up ideas, present a call to action, or provide some reflection. They can even add additional evidence in a way that transitions smoothly into the rest of the paragraph or essay and extend their analysis so that their voices and unique interpretation comes through more clearly and fluidly. This is simply done by adding new frames. Here’s what a paragraph looks like when additional frames have been added.
And all student writing is converted in real-time into perfectly formatted MLA documents.
Here is an article that includes a short video that you can watch with your students; it explains how the writing frames work.
Teaching Students “Where They Are”
While the essaypop Lesson Library has loads of grab-and-go, elementary-school-appropriate lessons, and each of these lessons begins with an assigned structure (quick write, simple paragraph, etc.), the essaypop platform allows teachers and students to quickly set up any structure, form, or template that they desire. Let’s say, for example, a teacher finds a quick write assignment that she likes but would like to convert it to a simple paragraph writing assignment because that’s what her students need. That’s easily done by changing the structure in the assignment dashboard. Maybe she discovers a multiple-paragraph essay in the library meant for middle school students but wants to convert it to a paragraphing exercise for her younger students; again this can be done instantly.
Teachers can also create their own lessons within the platform or upload lessons they’ve been teaching for years using the essaypop lesson creation wizard, and again, if the decision is made to simplify the structure or make it more complex, this is done seamlessly in the assignment dashboard. This structure/template flexibility allows you to adjust any lesson to where it needs to be depending on the group of students you are teaching at the time. Teachers can also customize the rubrics that will be used to assess the writing and the help content that students will see in the sidebar.
Support Them With Scaffolding
The essaypop platform provides two major scaffolding features that students can access as they write. The help content in the sidebar provides students with explanations and models for every element of the paragraph or essay. They are clear, student-friendly, and students never have to leave the writing area when they refer to them. The sentence starters appear in dropdown windows that descend from every writing frame and provide academic stems and phrases that can help students begin that particular element of the writing. Here’s what these scaffolding features look like.
Can Students Write Stories and Narratives Using Essaypop?
They sure can. The narrative templates are also organized into writing frames; it’s just that the frames represent different elements like setting, dialogue, action, etc. Approaching story writing like this gives students all of the advantages of essaypop, including color-coding, scaffolding, and social interaction and collaboration. Here’s what the narrative template looks like:
The Lesson Library has Tons of Pre-Made Lessons for Elementary
The essaypop lesson library has hundreds of lessons for elementary teachers, Simply go to the library, filter by grade level, choose elementary, and your of to the races. Here are just a few examples of elementary lessons that have been created by our team of National Board-certified teachers —
Essaypop is the perfect solution for elementary school students as it provides them with the opportunity to consistently practice the basic and fundamental components of sound academic writing. When they practice composing strong thesis statements or claims and then support these claims with sound evidence and insightful explanations, elementary kids learn the foundational “chops” that they will build upon as lifelong writers. The platform also allows them to build writing competency step-by-step as they tackle more sophisticated pieces of writing confidently. Essaypop allows teachers to adjust the task to the level that their students require, giving them the flexibility to appropriately control the scope, sequence, and pacing of the lesson as needed for different groups of students. There is no better writing platform for elementary school students than essaypop.