Teaching Paragraph Writing: Color Coding and Outlining

Teaching paragraph writing is crucial in my mind. When you consider all of the reports and papers a child will need to write during his/her school years and all of the professional writing some kids will eventually be doing in later careers, you realize that this is one of the skills we teach them that has a very practical, useful purpose.

This post is the second in a series of four on Teaching Paragraph Writing. If you missed the first post, and would like to read more, it was about Topic Sentences.

Once we’ve introduced the basic parts of a paragraph, worked on color coding paragraphs and focused on topic sentences in detail, it’s time to look at star ideas.

So, what exactly are Star Ideas and how do you use them in paragraph writing? Let’s get started…

1. Explain Star Ideas in Depth

Although we’ve briefly touched on what star ideas are at this point, it’s time to look at them in-depth! I tell the kids that star ideas are the supporting sentences, the reasons which back up our topic sentences. Star ideas are our proof.

So, if the topic is One Person I Admire, the star ideas would be the reasons why you admire this person and might include ideas such as caring, hard-working, and sense of humor. If the topic was Favorite Sports, the star ideas might be Football, Baseball, and Tennis.

Since there are usually three star ideas in each paragraph, I teach the kids to always use three as their goal, while explaining that some paragraphs may only have two and others may have four but we’re going to stick with three for now.

2. Use Whiteboards to Practice Star Ideas

I love activities that are interactive and ones that allow all of the kids in my class (or as many as possible) to participate at the same time.

Whiteboards not only allow everyone to participate but let me see at a glance who has it and who doesn’t. If you don’t have a set yet, for about $15 you can have Home Depot/Lowe’s cut white shower board for you into 12 x 12 pieces. To me, this is one of the best $15 I spend each year!

Here’s what I do with the whiteboards for this activity… First, the kids draw three stars down the left side of their whiteboards. Then we play a game where I name a topic and the kids write three possible star ideas (a word or two, NOT a sentence).

So, if I gave the topic of __ School (my school), some kids might write kids, teachers, principal…someone else might put working, learning, playing…someone else might put classrooms, playground, lunchroom… All of these would be acceptable answers, which leads to my little chat about how different our answers can be in writing, and still be correct.

BUT that doesn’t mean that all answers are always correct and we go over that too. To prepare for this activity, you can make a list of topic ideas beforehand (sometimes thinking of them off the top of your head can be tough!), or there’s also a copy included in the Paragraph and Color Coding resource, that works on paragraph organization.

3. Teach the Concept of Star Ideas Being “Parallel”

After we’ve practiced the star idea game several times, I like the kids to play a different game to work on star ideas. When all of the kids have their whiteboards out, I call on three kids for one team and three kids for the second team. Each team brings whiteboards and expo markers to the front and faces the class. One team is on the right and the other is on the left, with the captains in the middle.

I’ll do a quick diagram to make it a little more clear:

Team 1 X X X (← team captain →) X X X Team 2

I explain that when writers write star ideas, those star ideas need to go together or match. They have to be”parallel”. I give kids some examples and we talk about why the example is or isn’t parallel. For example, if the topic was the ocean and someone chose sharks, sand, swimsuits… those star ideas by themselves would be okay but together are not so great. They don’t really go together at all.

A better option might be swimming, making sandcastles, surfing (things you do at the beach)…or sharks, eels, octopus (scary ocean creatures).

After a few examples, I explain the game. I give the teams the same topic and the captain on each team writes down the first star idea for his/her team. Once the second team member has seen it, that person writes down a second star idea that goes with the first one (is parallel). The second person shows the third team member that star idea and then the last team member writes down the last star idea.

I also have each child show the whole class their star ideas as they finish them. It seems like a race but in reality, it isn’t. Both teams may “win” if their star ideas go together. After both teams are done, I read the star ideas out loud and the rest of the class gives a simple thumbs up (sideways) or down to indicate if that team was successful. If they weren’t I gently question them to help them realize the error of their ways, lol.

4. Introduce Details

If star ideas were people, their best friend would be the details. Just like star ideas support the topic sentence, details support the star ideas. Details allow the writer to go more in-depth and to give explanations and examples the prove their star idea. Without details, a paragraph would be like a skeleton, in need of some “meat on its bones”.

In fact, without details, a paragraph seems choppy and certainly not as interesting. So, we spend a bit of time working with details and do some whiteboard work with this too.

5. Use Colored Construction Paper Strips to Organize a Future Paragraph

Now we’re ready to plan our very first official paragraph of the year…woohoo! I give each child colored construction paper strips that I’ve cut beforehand. The size isn’t super important but I use 2 inches by 9 inches for each. Each child gets two green (for the topic and conclusion), three yellow (for the star ideas), and nine red (for the details).

The topic I always like to use for this paragraph is “My Favorite Season”. It’s one that kids usually have a strong opinion about and one that everyone can relate to. First I ask the kids to lay out the strips in the correct order on their desks. I check to see that everyone has green, yellow, 3 red, yellow, 3 red, yellow, 3 red, and finally green.

Then, I ask the kids to write a word or two (NOT full sentences) on the paper strips. This is our planning guide…our outline. I usually gather these up after a quick check-in with each child to make sure he/she is on the right track and then paper clip each one in order and put them away for later. In a week or two, after we’ve finished working on ALL of the parts of a paragraph, the kids will be ready to take out these strips and use them to make a nice first paragraph.

Now that we’ve looked at star ideas, I hope this has given you a few ideas that you can use in your classroom. The next post (3rd in the series on Teaching Paragraph Writing) will be about Conclusions.

Also, if you’d like the ease of having a whole bundle of paragraph materials that are ready to print and go, here’s my Complete Paragraph Bundle, a resource I really love using! My favorite part…now it includes BOTH print AND digital!

If you’d like to get more teaching ideas for paragraph writing, here are a few posts you might like:

Topic Sentences



5 Tips for More Effective Paragraph Writing

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Hi, I’m Jenn! I love to create resources that hit standards, are engaging for students, and save teachers time. It’s my goal to help you help your students have fun while learning! Thanks so much for joining me here!

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