Crafting Paragraphs from the Middle Out

Using paragraph of the week to teach the students good paragraph structure by writing the middle sentences first.When I am teaching my students how to write a paragraph, I begin with the middle sentences.

I know, I just heard a collective *gasp* amongst you all.

Why?  What?  How?  Huh?

I know traditionally we have all started teaching paragraph writing with the topic sentence.  I mean, that is what the kids are going to actually write about, right?  So why not start with it?  Well, I find that if I start with the topic sentence, I get paragraphs that are either super short and bland, OR they are off topic because the supporting sentences don't actually match the topic sentence.  How many times have you read a paragraph that started off with "My dog is white and sweet." and then started to veer off topic into other things about the dog?  Using such a narrow topic sentence backs the kids into a corner they don't know how to get out of.  So starting in the middle has been a successful way for me to get my students to write clear, coherent, broad paragraphs.

Let me show you how I do this with my students.  Now, I am going to use my Paragraph of the Week to do this. Why?  Because I use it in class with my kids.  It is scaffolded and ready to go and makes my life waaaaaaaay easier, so the pictures you will see are going to be of that resource.  You don't have to use it though.  You can take these ideas and use regular paper and your own prompts no problem.  I just personally like the POTW :)

When I start brainstorming a paragraph topic with the kids, I ask them to write at least 10 things on the paper that go along with the topic that you would like to write about or include in your paragraph.

Now that the student has everything he could possibly need to write about the subject at hand, I ask him to write one sentence talking about the topic.   For example, if the subject is "Reasons cell phones should be banned in public places", the student might write:

Cell phones are a nuisance to all people except the one talking on it.

Organizing wriitng with the middle sentences first.
This sentence becomes the detail.  It answers the topic and gives a detail about it.  But I, as a reader, want more.  I want some explanation.  WHY do you feel that way?  Tell me more.  This is then an explanation sentence.

No one around the caller wants to hear what is being said as they don't know the other half of the conversation, causing unnecessary noise that bothers 99% of the people in the area.  

That then becomes, as I like to call it, a "Detail/Explanation" combo.  It helps the reader to see just what you mean with elaboration on the one detail.  It gives more.  It makes the writing a bit more interesting.

I ask my students to write three of these combos before they ever get to the topic sentence.  The kids are sticking to the subject (banning cell phones) the entire time, but they aren't hindered by sticking to just one topic within that subject.

Once all three "Detail/Explanation" combos are written, the kids can then look at them holistically and decide upon a topic sentence that captures the essence of what is being said.  The same goes for the conclusion sentence.

Write the middle sentences of a paragraph first.  It helps keep the kids focused and structured.
At the end of it all, the students have a nice, broad, clear, coherent paragraph.  Does it have structure?  Yes.  Is the paragraph on topic?  Yes.  Does it jump around and get all crazy?  No.  Is it a bit boring?  Probably.  But that is ok.  Once my kids have mastered this whole paragraph process, starting with the middle, then moving to the framing sentences, I am able to teach more of the writing craft that truly makes their paragraphs sing.  This is just how I start my students.

What tricks to writing paragraphs do you have?  Please share them!  


  1. Maybe this explanation is why I simply LOVE your paragraph of the week product. I have never, in all of my years of teaching, ever had my kids start with a topic sentence. It's way too easy to get "stuck" on it and then the writing is bland and boring. Once I started using this product, it was like angels were singing to me :) I'm moving down to 3rd this year (from 4th/5th) but I am still going to use these because I love the structure of it. The kids enjoy it as I pull out the ones that align with our current units (narrative vs opinion for example).

  2. I love the detail/explanation bundled together. So smart to help them elaborate. I'm off to check out your paragraph of the week on TPT. :)

  3. I am a huge fan of your paragraph of the week pack - it made a huge difference in my writing program (I may have told everyone I know to buy it!!). Once we got the form down my students really took off with the amount of detail and interest they brought to their writing. Thanks a million! (If only I could still use it in Grade 1!!!)

  4. Thank you so much ladies! I appreciate it.....and am so glad you are finding success with this way of teaching writing too!!


  5. I love this! What a great idea to start in the middle!! I'm going to try it :) Thanks, Stephanie!!

  6. I will be teaching a 5th grade ELA class for the first time in six years again this fall. I purchased the POTW from TpT! I am excited to use it!

  7. I am so on-board with this format and POTW! Week 2 and the kids are doing great. Thank you so much for this resource and advocating for writing from the "inside out. " It makes a lot more sense.

  8. Do you ever grade these? If so what's your rubric?


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