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Teaching tips & resources


How to Help Your Child Organize their Thinking (Part II)

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Beyond generating good ideas, using the right graphic organizer results in prewriting with focus, clarity, and organization. Repeated use of graph organizers also helps your child recognize and model their writing after the established text patterns that comprise all great literature.

Here are three graphic organizers and a sampling of ideas for their use.

1. Craft a well-organized paragraph with a Sandwich Chart.

Whether your child is writing an informational essay or a descriptive paragraph, strong paragraphs are the building blocks of good writing. This chart, and its hamburger equivalent, looks elementary, but the simplicity is what makes it a great structure for writers who need help organizing related ideas around a single, focused topic.

Keep in mind that a good paragraph should be at least five sentences. It begins with a topic sentence (top bread/bun) that introduces or states a main idea, followed by detail sentences (the filling), and a concluding sentence (bottom bread/bun) that restates the bid idea or argument.

Have your child practice using the sandwich chart with short writing assignments, such as written responses to literature, descriptive or how-to paragraphs, or summarizing stories or events. Alternatively, use the sandwich chart as a revising tool. Take a sample of your child’s writing and select a particularly confusing or weak paragraph. Ask them to deconstruct their writing into the chart in order to see which features of the paragraph are missing or which ideas do not relate to the topic. Feel free to add extra “filling” as needed for both of these activities.

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2. Create an exciting story with a Story Map or Plot Curve.

If your child loves to tell stories, help them begin to see the essential elements of a good story using one of these graphic organizers. Often building enthusiasm and interest for storytelling begins with discussion, thorough brainstorming, and the creation of rich word banks (see our previous posts on these topics).

From there, encourage your child to work on one feature of their story at a time (e.g., setting then character), following the order of the graphic organizer to create a logical flow to their storyline with a step-by-step sequence of events. In each box have your child create a bulleted list of their ideas—just nouns and verbs instead of complete sentences. For example, if I were creating a dreary winter setting I would list: icicles hung, snowdrifts swallowed up, wind froze, Christmas lights struggled, house sat. Remind them to use powerful, vivid verbs. As they move to drafting, they can build out these details into longer sentences.

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3. Organize a persuasive essay with a Persuasion Map.

Students enjoy writing persuasive essays, especially when they choose topics they care about. If your child is a reluctant writer but has strong opinions about sports, movies, schoolwork, rules, their community or friends, encourage them develop their opinion and convince others through argumentative writing or speaking.

Use this visual organizer in the early stages of essay prewriting to identify an argument’s weaknesses. For example, does your child have enough information to prove their point or reasoning? Is each reason, fact, and example is unique? As they conduct research, have them categorize their notes onto the graphic organizer. Then scavenger hunt together for repeated words. Discuss ideas that seem vague. Ask them to add clarifying details or continue their research to collect more information.

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Adding these or any graphic organizer to the writing process is like looking up the directions before you travel to a new place; it provides a supportive visual roadmap to the final destination, making the journey easier.