Peeling away at paragraphs
Paragraphs are a collection of sentences that relate to a topic or idea. Usually there are between four and eight sentences in a paragraph. Paragraphs are more than physical breaks in writing; the sentences should have some connection with each other and with the writing as a whole (where the paragraph is part of a longer piece of writing). The sentences should share the same focus, tone and point of view.
Various acronyms are used to assist students with paragraph writing and it is common practice to see teachers using these. Here are some of the acronyms that are commonly used:
point, explanation/elaboration, evidence/examples, linking/clincher.
topic sentence, explanation/elaboration, evidence/examples, linking/clincher.
topic sentence, explanation, development, linking
The Hamburger Graphic Organiser is also used to assist students with paragraph writing.
While teaching students to write paragraphs using a formula can be a good place to start and will assist writers, especially those who struggle, take care as formulaic writing can severely inhibit the development of personal style and voice.
The PEEL, TEEL or TEDL paragraph structure was developed in the Humanities and is well suited to expository writing. It does not, however, work for all types of writing. As a teacher, one of the best ways to decide if PEEL, TEEL or TEDL is the structure that you want is to write the paragraph yourself and see if it ‘fits’ these structures.
Teachers can help students master and then move past the PEEL, TEEL or TEDL paragraph structures to become comfortable and competent writers through activities that explore the structures, cohesive ties and organisation of paragraphs. My new guide, Hooking students into learning in all curriculum areas, contains 17 hooking exercises that focus on developing students’ ability to construct good paragraphs. The exercises can be adapted to fit any curriculum area and are designed to take between five and ten minutes at the start of the lesson.
One of the exercises featured in Hooking students into learning asks students to locate PEEL sentences in a piece of text. This text should be prepared by the teacher, so it is relevant to the subject being taught and shows the PEEL structure. Students are then instructed to pair up and highlight the different sentences of a PEEL paragraph using different-coloured highlighters. This exercise provides reinforcement of the PEEL paragraph formula and helps students become adept at identifying the point of the paragraph, the explanation and linking sentences.
Incorporating further exercises that look at the structure and components of paragraphs into your lessons will help students master the paragraph formulas. It will also help them to develop the confidence to experiment with other ways of structuring paragraphs.