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Tompkins Cortland Community College

Classroom Application - Pizza Analysis Activity <-- Back to Classroom Applications Page

Build a Paragraph Activity

(This activity was developed for English 99 - Basic Writing, but it would be helpful for any students who need to study or review basic paragraph structure. The building component of the activity can also be used as an ice breaker/team builder in any course.)



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While working on this activity, students will

-- get to know their classmates
-- learn strategies for effective team work
-- explore paragraph structure including the topic sentence, levels of support, transition, and conclusion


assorted building supplies (clay, toothpicks, Post-it notes, paper clips, pipe cleaners, tape, string, etc.)
example paragraph

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Part 1 - Build a Structure

1. Form small groups. Read and discuss the example paragraph. Underline the topic sentence and concluding sentence. Number the pieces of general support. Circle the second-level support and specific details. Identify transitional phrases and words.

2. Build a three-dimensional model that illustrates the structure of the example paragraph, including the topic sentence, levels of support, transition, and concluding sentence. If necessary, consider providing a "key" or other labels that explain how the model "works."

3. Share and discuss your paragraph model with the other groups.

Part 2 - Write a Paragraph

1. Use what you've accomplished in Part I to help you write a paragraph on a topic of your choice. You may continue working in groups or work individually. Either build a new model or use your group's first model to help plan the paragraph's structure.

2. Revise and edit the paragraph, using the model(s) to check structure.


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Each member of your group will complete his or her own project reflection form. However, you're welcome to consult with class members as you complete your form. Hand in your model/structure, your notes, paragraph drafts, final paragraph, and reflection form.

1. How does the model your group built help you understand the structure of the paragraph?

2. How did working with hands-on materials change the way you think about writing paragraphs?

3. Describe how your group worked together to develop/design the paragraph model.

4. Did you identify strengths in the other members of your group (or strengths of your own) that you were not aware of before? Please describe the strengths you noticed.

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Lisa designed the Build a Paragraph Activity guided by the three components of our theoretical model:

  • the unique learner - The activity was designed with the unique learners' MI (multiple intelligences) strengths/challenges in mind. The process is especially rewarding for students with interpersonal, visual/spatial, and bodily kinesthetic strengths. Students may discover that thinking about writing structure in a three-dimensional form opens up a new way of thinking about writing process and results. Furthermore, because students observe other groups building paragraph models as well as their own group building process, they often comment on the unique approaches other students take to solving the same problem.
  • the learning-centered environment - This activity creates a serious, yet lighthearted and non-threatening atmosphere in the classroom. It's fun! This creates a wonderful opportunity for the instructor to point out how humor can help create an environment that encourages creativity. This activity also offers the "hands-on" learners a chance to share their strengths in a classroom setting (writing classroom) where they sometimes feel like a fish out of water. If this activity is done early in the semester, it can set the tone for the entire semester. Students know this will be a challenging yet collaborative, supportive atmosphere.
  • The construction of meaning - Students develop a visual and hands-on "understanding" of the structure of a paragraph. Students build models based on their recognition of structural patterns. The model provides opportunities for developing metaphors about the writing process that are personally meaningful. For example, transition becomes the "adhesive" that fastens together elements of the structure. Also, the reflection activities are designed to help students construct meaning both from the process of the activity and from the results. The reflection activities encourage metacognition.

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