The magic of 3
Learning specialist Kendra Wagner joins us today as a guest blogger.
The Magic of 3
Ask teachers what is meant by this phrase and they will likely answer: “The 3 body paragraphs of a 5-paragraph essay.”
I tell my students that the 5-part essay is designed to frame your thinking and make you a smarter person! It is a model of speaking or writing that is common across the professions of law, public speaking, journalism, and storytelling.
I make the analogy to football practice, with a warm-up, 3 main drills, and a cool-down. I also explain how, in the courtroom, TV and movie lawyers use 3 arguments with a short intro and their concluding statements. This wakes the kids up.
Ah, the power of what happens on a screen.
Notice I didn’t call it the “Rule of 3” because there are many strategies to becoming a skilled writer, and many “right” ways to write. Some kids find freedom in this, but others find it restricting: Why can’t writing be more like math? One correct answer. One correct way of constructing a sentence.
When these students beg to write only two body paragraphs, or a hefty four, I’ll let them if they make a good case for why a book character makes only two turning-point decisions in their novel, or for why the science museum might only have two interesting exhibits.
While the “Magic of 3” makes a great template to hang a child’s hat on, it should not be too rigidly enforced. Though a powerful paper can consist of two body paragraphs with compelling reasons or examples, these usually work best after establishing a comfort zone with the “Magic of 3.”
More Applications of the Magic of 3
The “Magic of 3” doesn’t stop with main points and paragraphs; it also applies to sentence building and word choice. I think you’ll find the following tips helpful as you guide your budding writers.
3 Topic Sentences
Here’s a good guideline: require students to come up with 3 options for a topic sentence (or thesis statement), and then choose one for their story or essay. This encourages prevention of topic sentence phobia, and reinforces the idea that there is no single right way to write.
3 Powerhouse Verbs and Adjectives
During the revising process, when students’ writing seems flat (or “wimpy,” as some of my middle schoolers call it), it is likely missing some powerhouse verbs and interesting adjectives.
Offer this guideline for powerhouse verbs: For every 3 long sentences, there should be at least 3 strong emotion or action verbs somewhere within those 3 sentences. (For 4th grade and above, a long sentence = 10-25 words.)
There should also be 3 adjectives, which can be as simple as color or number words.
These verbs and adjectives can be distributed in any way across the 3 sentences. Not every sentence needs one.
First try: We went to the water park. I liked the Geronimo slide best, but my brother was scared. It was hot and we all had fun and then went home.
Revision: We played all day at the water park and slid down ten slides. My favorite was a fast one called Geronimo, and it was the scariest, so my brother hung onto me as we skidded down. We beat the heat by staying in the water all day.
Verbs: played, slid, hung, skidded, beat, staying
Adjectives: ten, favorite, fast, scariest
When kids are stuck at short, simple sentences, suggest using one of the 3 most common conjunctions—and, but, so—in the middle of the sentence, with a full sentence on either side of the conjunction. This is known as a compound sentence.
First try: I really like soccer. I get to do a lot of skill practice. It is all year round.
Revision: Soccer is a way to improve a lot of different skills, and you can practice and play year-round.
First try: There are many ways to use time wisely doing homework.
Revision: Homework is important, but students need to find ways to use their time wisely to get the most out of it.
3 Sentence Builders
When students need to improve word retrieval, sentence development, and ease with writing in a show, don’t tell style, provide the following drill practice. Have them create single, unrelated sentences using at least 3 of the “5 Ws and How” in each sentence. For example:
After the long meeting, Lucy raced home in a flash to feed her dog, who was waiting on the porch.
While some kids find freedom in the writing process, others find frustration. “Why can’t writing be more like math, with its correct answers?” These kids want specific rules for constructing a sentence. The Magic of 3 offers a great template to provide your child with the structure s/he craves. You don’t want to dampen the creativity of writing, so it should not be rigidly enforced. But establishing a foundation with “The Magic of 3” can help some kids find the comfort zone they need to take the stress out of writing.
Thanks to Kendra Wagner for guest blogging today! A learning specialist in Seattle, Kendra teaches children reading, writing, and thinking skills. Her specialty in ADD and dyslexia grew out of her work in schools as a reading specialist and consultant. She has a particular interest in written expression and helping unearth children’s voice. Visit Kendra’s website, blog, and Facebook page.
Photo: lollyknit, courtesy of Creative Commons
Sign up for the WriteShop list to get your free 33 printable word bank prompts.