Worksheets: What do you think?

The "What do you think?" page is arguably the most versatile and the most important page in the lesson sequence. The questions on the top left of the page can be used for class discussions or pair work. With classes that are less willing to speak up in front of a large group, I like to organize a pair rotation: half of the students arrange their desks in a circle (or rectangle)and the other half arrange their desk in a larger circle so that they are paired up with students in the smaller circle. Set a time limit for students to discuss the first question. Once time is up, have all of the students on the outer circle rotate so that they will have a new partner. In order to build fluency through repetition and also hear how a new partner answers the question, have them answer the same question several times with different partners before moving on to the next questions.

There are thousands of websites that give good explanations of paragraph writing but it is rare to find a resource that provides more than one or two samples that are structured with ESL/EFL students in mind. In response to this lack of viable models for our students to follow, just one month after beginning to offer free lessons, ELLLO now has 48 sample paragraphs to guide students.

To help students internalize and mimic the structure of the paragraphs, it is important to understand the following features of each of the paragraphs. All of the paragraph are written with 5 sentences:

Sentence #1 always begins with one of the following words so that students are forced to begin with a complex sentence construction.

Even though, Although, Wherever, Whenever, As soon as, As long as, Even if, Until, Since, Unless, After, Where, As if, If, or When

Sentence #2, #3, and #4 support the topic sentence with reasons, details, and facts. Transition words like "first, second, third" or "First of all, in addition, and equally important" help students internalize this structure even more clearly.

Sentence #5 is a concluding statement that explains sentence #1 in a different way but does not introduce any new information.

After reading the sample paragraphs and discussing which questions match the responses, I ask students to respond to one of the paragraphs using the 5 sentence structure in the samples.

So that students can learn from their mistakes, I make corrections on their paragraphs and have them rewrite and place the revised paragraph in their portfolios. Later, these paragraphs can be used for presentations and as part of monthly assessments where I ask them to memorize a paragraph that they think was particularly interesting and reproduce it word for word. I have found that this extra step really helps them realize and push beyone some of the ingrained patterns of their language development.

As soon as students become proficient at writing 5-sentence paragraphs, they can move on to longer responses using a similar structure. More on this progression will be reflected in future lessons geared more toward intermediate level writers.

A tip of the hat to Rita Meskel who introduced me to the 5-sentence paragraph in a recent workshop. The structure is very formulaic and may stifle some creativity but I have found it to be extremely effective for helping learners understand the elements of writing that are most commonly assessed in entrance exams and standardized tests. The activities are loosely based on the program "Step up to writing" Read more!