Saturday, 18 September 2021

It started with one blank page…paragraphing

 A long, long, long time ago I wrote a blog about using readymade structures for creative writing. It was something that grew in popularity and this continued when I wrote my book.

Structuring writing is probably one of the hardest aspects of writing. It isn’t the first thing a student thinks of and it is definitely one of the things that holds students back. That and commas, but that is for another blog.

When students write, there is so much going on in their head. What to write? What words should I use? What has the teacher asked me to include? What did I get wrong last time? There’s so much to think about in the early stages of writing that it is easy to drop a few important things. Commas get forgotten. And structure is forgotten. There are so many things to think about that the page of whiteness becomes alienating. Scary. Horrifying.

The first ‘write’ is always the hardest. It’s easy to forget this. Come on: you’ve been writing for years. Every year, I get students struggling to write initially. Putting thoughts on a blank page is totally natural for English teachers because we have automated the process. Yet, for any student in school, it isn’t an automated process. Instead it is an manual process. That manual aspect is what we forget. We forget the blood and sweat it takes. We have a fully functioning automated writing brain. We have automated structuring, paragraphing, self-correction and so many other things. Years of reading endless Mill’s and Booms has given you so ready off the peg structures.

A teacher’s job is to help build to automaticity, but isn’t a fast and quick process. Admittedly, we don’t do enough to build this. We don’t make some aspects automatic while the student develops the manual aspects. Building ‘automacy’ or whatever you want to call it is probably easier with some aspects of writing. Paragraph structure is one of those areas, but it is slightly underdeveloped.   

I build students by offering them some automatic structures for writing paragraphs. I am including some new ones here today and you can see some old ones here. I often start with paragraphs when doing creative writing with Year 10 and Year 11. It is easy to start with words and techniques, but, sorry, structure and paragraphing are paramount in the early planning stages. I give them a structure so that they can focus on the words and techniques. If you focus first on words and techniques, it is very hard, but not impossible, to build a structure.  It often takes quite a sophisticated reader to build a structure with words and techniques first. When you focus on structure, ideas and meaning often follow. So too does the confidence.

 The following are some paragraph structures. I tend to use a simple paragraph as a model. I don’t use fancy paragraphs for the simple reason that the structure is the most important thing. Students must be able to see the structure. If they have to wade through purple prose and the teacher’s attempt to break into publishing world, then they aren’t going to see the wood for the trees or the structure from the techniques. Then, I show them how you can add digression. The structure is there to hang idea on. They can add a bit more to the idea or they can add an aside. Regardless of this, the structure is there.


[1] Was it …? Was it…? Was it …? Was it… that…?

Was it the gentle lapping of the waves? Was it the endless trees circling the lake? Was it the soothing chirping of the birds amongst the dense trees? Was it the fact that there wasn’t a human being for miles that made this place perfect?

[2] The three thread paragraph

Quiet, peaceful and calm was what made this place so unique and special. Quiet leaves gently swayed in the wind. Peaceful animals searched and scrounged amongst the trees. Calmness was everywhere.

[3] The same adjective followed by the opposite paragraph

Twisted were the branches as they snaked up into the sky. Twisted was the path between the lifeless bones of the trees. Twisted were the leaves on the ground. Straight was my path out of here.

[4] Adjective, comparative and superlative paragraph

Cold was the lake and all the stones around it. Colder were the metallic coloured fish swimming and twirling in the lifeless water. Coldest was the bottom of the lake where nothing moved. 

[5] Sometimes…  Somewhere…. Somehow/ Someway….  paragraph

Sometimes he was invisible. Somewhere near people were cheering and singing. Somehow he was  trapped.

[6] Never … Never … Never … Never had I … paragraph

Never had the sea felt so cold. Never had the world looked so empty. Never had the sky looked so cruel. Never had I felt so content.

[7] Preposition X3 and then something profound paragraph

Under the moon, a man stood silent. Under his eyes a tear snaked down his cheek. Under the tear, his mouth was a single line. The letter, spelling out his divorce, sat at his feet.    

[8] Before, now , soon paragraph  

Before, the garden was an oasis of calm. Now, it stands forgotten and neglected. Soon, it will a jungle of brambles hidden under rubble.

[9] Light, shadows, darkness paragraph  

Light sprinkled itself on the carpet. Shadows slowly sneaked behind the furniture. Darkness was on its way

[10] He, she, it paragraph*

He smiled at her. She lowered her eyes. It began in that one single moment.

* You need to emphasise the comma with this one otherwise you sound like you are saying something rude.

[11] Verb, verb, verb paragraph

Smiling to herself, the woman sipped her coffee. Savouring every moment of it was her plan. Forgetting what had happened yesterday like it wasn’t even a big deal.  

[12] Abstract, concrete noun paragraph

Hope filled the room. The man had opened the window. Happiness could be heard outside. Children were playing and chanting a song on the green garden. Depression still sat in the room. The woman held on to the photograph as sat silently in the room.


As a rule for the structures, I tend have a triplet. Then, there is a mood change. That can be either a gradual change or a change in the last sentence. Through these examples and over time, I am helping to show students how they can structure a paragraph. What it entails. What it looks like. What components you could use. What connects things. You cannot teach paragraphing in one or two lessons. It is one of those skills that comes with time and exposure. These structures start the journey. Getting students to use them and adapt them is part of the process.


See that blank page there. It isn’t really a blank page, because you can use this structure. Now see what you can do with it…

Thanks for reading,


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