It is very cute when children first begin to write. Their sloping one to three sentences are adorably messy but easy on the eye. But by around ten, they might be turning in pages of dense sentences with no rest for the eye. This makes parents and teachers long for the young writers to start to write paragraphs. But at what age do children start to write paragraphs.
Children are introduced to paragraphs around age ten and start to become competent at writing paragraphs at around age 14. The personal circumstances of students, such as second language, writing experience and additional learning needs can impact when paragraph writing starts and could be as late as 16 years old.
We all know that kids develop at different speeds. As babies, it is obvious: one child is an early walker but a late talker; the other is the opposite. However, this remains true even as tweens and teens. But what is even more interesting with introducing and teaching children how to write paragraphs is that it is often the kids in the middle of the pack that take to concept the easiest.
Introducing Paragraphs To Children
Paragraphs are often introduced in the third grade, which is typically when children are turning ten. They are often shown the three-paragraph or five-paragraph essay formats. The concept is relatively simple:
- Introductory paragraph
- Main body of writing
- Conclusion to the writing
The majority of students and children will understand how writing paragraphs is supposed to work, but there are still some who will need a little more support and guidance on how to write paragraphs.
To help with this there are many worksheets with outlines to help with paragraphs in both fiction and nonfiction writing, such as story maps and story mountains. Again, children with their inbuilt creatively often adore these worksheets and will happily fill these out.
However when it comes to writing, you might still be handed a dense sheet of text with perhaps a single random page break. It will take practice for them to automatically start writing in paragraphs.
Interestingly, even when kids grasp the three or five-paragraph essay assignment, they might not transfer the skill to their other writing. The next writing piece will return to dense blocks of texts. Also, if you set a quiz, test, or exam and they are writing under pressure, even kids who usually write paragraphs will often abandon the concept.
This is very common and should not be considered a reflection of a child’s intelligence. In fact, it is often the more prolific writing kids that forget. These children are so focused on getting their thoughts down and have so much to say that they neglect to pause to indent for a paragraph.
The eagerness to get their thoughts onto the paper is often why prolific kids neglect to put their work into paragraphs, even in high school. Where the less eager writers might stick paragraphs in just out of boredom or as a delaying tactic because they don’t have much else to say.
Thus, many adults caution kids to slow down and think about what they are doing. They explain that this will reduce mistakes. However, this advice should be given sparingly, it can encourage kids to hold back, write less, or even worse, freeze up.
Teaching Paragraphs In The Second Draft
One of the most fascinating experiences is visiting a class of preschoolers who have yet to learn to read or write and ask them to tell you a story. The eager and creative minds will spill out all sorts of weird and wonderful tales, where things go BOOM and CRASH, and the laws of gravity and logic are easily broken.
Go visit that same group of kids when they are in the third grade and ask them to tell you a story. Tragically, many of them will freeze. They will worry about writing the “right” story. They think there should be a “correct” answer. Even kids who start writing will keep losing their train of thought as they fret about spelling and grammar.
It is a sad fact that we often educate the creativity out of children as they progress through their school years.
This happens even if you let them mind map and make outlines first. Story maps will get filled in, but then the kids might stare at the blank sheet of paper and write nothing. This frustrating situation can get worse when paragraphs are introduced. Now the kids have another thing to worry about or to get wrong.
Stressing kids out stops them from writing with ease. They lose their train of thought if they keep stopping to look up how to spell words and fret about grammar and how to write paragraphs in the correct structure.
There is an easy fix: let kids make mistakes. It takes a while to gain their trust that you honestly will not get upset if their writing is a mess. But once you earn the kids’ trust, they will write across that page with the same eagerness they verbally told tales all those years ago in preschool.
Then, once they’ve got there writing on paper, teach them how to fix their work and how to organize both their thoughts and writing into paragraphs. In the real world, we call it editing or proofreading. Once they are comfortable making their mistakes and recognise that
1) they are children and are supposed to make mistakes, and
2) that they won’t be belittled or get into trouble when they do then you can introduce higher grammar and teach how to write paragraphs.
By nine or ten, kids are familiar with paragraphs because they’ve seen them in books and guided reading readers. Even the less prolific readers can still understand the concept and you can use social media to help them see real world examples of paragraphs. You talk about how the eye scans, how it needs a break, and remind them how easy it is to read on social media, thanks to all the spacing.
When its put into real world examples it is like light bulbs go off. The kids suddenly get it.
To make sure you can turn that understanding of paragraphs
So help them through the draft and find where the paragraphs go. You can try the following ideas:
- Sometimes handing the kids colorful pens, and have them put ¶ symbols into their work.
- Grab scissors and let them cut it out into chunks and paste them on a fresh page. (Kids love scissors and glue long after they’ll admit it.)
- Interactive notebooks work well to teach how to write paragraphs and have the added draw of using technology!
- Put together the text from a book you are reading in class and make it all into one big chunk of text. They can then try to cut the tet into where they think the paragraphs would be.
- They can also do the above with their own work, however its is less pressure and easier to work on someone else’s work!
The aim is to get them to view their writing not as “right” or “wrong” but as something to play with and change. Because that’s what professional writers do: make a messy and ugly first draft, then fix it draft after draft after draft. Stephen King even wrote a whole book on this called On Writing, that’s really about rewriting which includes sections on how to effectively write paragraphs.
Thus, let the kids “forget” their paragraphs. Then turn them into detectives and get them to “find” them after their thoughts are down on paper. Turn it into a game. Have them hunt for the paragraphs in each other’s work.
Another fun exercise is to take a page from a book you know the kids enjoy, mash it into one block of text and then let them cut or mark where the paragraphs should be. It is much less stressful to mess with somebody else’s writing than your own.
But not all children are going find the mistakes or learn to write paragraphs by reading. These kids will need to hear it. Frankly, using their ears is an excellent idea for all to try. We discuss this in the section below.
Finding Paragraphs By Ear
Babies don’t learn to talk by reading. Instead, one of the first ways we learn about language is through our ears and listening. Thus, one of the most powerful editing tools is reading your work aloud.
You see, our brains naturally fix things, which is how optical illusions are made. This is why it is so easy to spot everyone’s typos but your own. Because your brain knows what you were trying to say and fixes it so it “looks” right even when autocorrect has made it otherwise. But when you read aloud, your brain has to slow down and deal with reality.
Reading aloud your written work makes you use your senses differently. When you talk, you are using your mouth and also hearing your work. This makes you “hear” or “see” errors in a new way. It also shows where the natural pauses in your writing exist.
This will enable you and your students see where paragraphs should naturally occur. This will then lead on to being able to construct texts and write paragraphs rather than just longer and longer sentences.
So talk to kids about music. Read them poetry in verse. Let them “hear” where these natural shifts are in stories and texts they already love, such as Harry Potter. Then get them to read their work aloud and hear where there should be natural shifts in the piece, also known as paragraphs.
When children finally start reading their work aloud the solution to their mistakes in the first draft often becomes obvious. They begin understanding how to edit their work and improve their second draft. It’s an excellent trick; even adults should use it.
Introducing children to paragraphs is often done around the age of ten. It then followed up with teaching how to write paragraphs. However, it usually takes many years before kids will consistently use paragraphs.
A child will often have greater success with the concept if not required to worry about them in their first draft. Teaching them how to make a second draft will help kids write proper paragraphs. earnign English akes time and lettign children know that they are perfectly ok to make mistakes as long as they learn from them is as important as actually techign them the skills of the language.