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How to Write Well-Developed Paragraphs by PEEing Down the Page, or Writing PEE Paragraphs

Updated on February 23, 2017
donnah75 profile image

I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.

Students need to learn to write critically. They need to be able to analyze a work of literature or a historical period and back up their thoughts using evidence from a textual source. Although this has always been an expectation in most humanities classrooms, the recent shift in many states to adopt the Common Core Standards has reawakened the importance of critical thinking through writing. In NYS, educators are asked to take a hard look at the curriculum and to make sure that we are aligning it to these fresh standards.

As an English teacher, I know that when I was in college and graduate school, I had to write many critical papers. When I reflect back on the early years of college, I wonder if I felt prepared enough to tackle these assignments with confidence. I don’t really remember how I felt, but when I revisit essays from my freshman year, I get a little red in the face. Did I really write that? This reflection on my own work motivates me to teach my current students to gain the skills that they will need when they enter college. The Common Core standards are a guide to help educators create clear goals for learning in the classroom. I also believe, that as an educator, we must not forget our own educational experiences. We should use our experience to enhance the delivery of the state’s expectations. We can’t forget that we were once at the level of our students, and we need to help them grow by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Kids Love Gross!

I took on my first job as an English teacher not long after I graduated from college. At that point, I wasn’t planning to be a teacher. I was spending some time travelling and living abroad, and I found myself supply teaching (substitute teaching) in the East End of London. I learned many lessons through that experience that I still carry with me into the classroom every day. One of those lessons was a great technique for teaching students how to write well-developed paragraphs. It is successful, because it is easy and simple to remember. It is short and to the point. And, it is a little gross. Kids love gross. No matter what age they are, they also love when their teacher says something gross and related to bodily functions. They don’t easily forget that. So when I am teaching my students to write good, solid well developed paragraphs, I tell them to follow the PEE Principle and PEE down their page.

Created  by donnah75 using wordle.net
Created by donnah75 using wordle.net

Did she say "PEE"?

The PEE Principle is a simple way for students to remember to make a POINT, provide EXAMPLES, and EXPLAIN how their examples support their point. Those are the basic elements of a well-developed paragraph. First, students need to make a point. Sometimes we call this a topic sentence. Sometimes we call it a thesis statement. Sometimes we call it a controlling idea. It is a good idea to discuss with your student that these terms are similar. A point is an idea that controls the paragraph or essay. It is the main topic or thesis. I express to them that they shouldn’t let the vocabulary confuse them. Instead, they should think of a really good, strong point to make for their paragraph or essay. The stronger the point, the easier it will be to back it up with examples and explain.

Next, I ask my students to consider the examples. What evidence from the text supports their point? I ask them to be specific and choose evidence that they can incorporate into the paragraph. I encourage them to choose words and phrases, rather than whole paragraphs. Students like the general. They like to fill their page with long quotes from the text, even if the length of the quote takes away from their thoughts and words.

Last, I tackle explain. This seems to be the most difficult concept to grasp. First, I tell my students that incorporating explanation generally takes their paragraph from a summary to an analysis. I will say to them that a summary sounds like this:

“In the story, this happened….then this happened…then this happened…”

In an analysis, it sounds more like this:

“In the story, this happened, which shows….”

Using the Video in the Classroom

The video above uses Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story entitled "The Minister's Black Veil." I created this example to teach the PEE Principle concept as a way to approach answering one of the short response questions on the NY state exam. However, the example can be used to teach any general analytical writing using this concept.

Video Teaching Tips:

  • Watch the video before you show it in class in order to decide where you may want to pause and discuss.
  • Pause and allow students to find the components of the PEE priciple.
  • Ask students what they would highlight as the point (or example and explain). Discuss.
  • You will note that my discussion is not always direct, so that teachers can lead their own students through a productive discussion of the concept.

Modeling is Good Teaching

After we talk about the pieces of the PEE Principle, I always show my students models of well-developed and no-so-well-developed paragraphs. I put them up on the board and ask them to identify each piece of the PEE Principle. In a well-developed paragraph, students should be able to underline the sentence that is the POINT. They should be able to highlight specific examples from the text. They should be able to find words and phrases that fall into the category of explain.

Through this process, students will make discoveries, which will help them in their own writing. One of the things they will discover is that in a well written paragraph, the examples and explain often overlap. The pieces are not linear in their organization. Sometimes, the POINT sentence comes at the end of the paragraph. They will also discover that when the paragraph is well written, it is easy to identify the pieces. When the paragraph isn’t well written, they will discover that they are often confused about whether or not all the pieces are there. Or, they will argue with their classmates about which sentence really is the POINT, when the point isn’t clear.

The last step in the process is for students to take a good hard look at their own work and the work of their peers. Often after we write an essay or a paragraph, I will ask students to work in pairs, high-lighter in hand. I will ask them to read their own work and their classmate’s work, underline the sentence that they believe is the point, high-light the examples, and circle words and phrases that show evidence of explanation. This is a good reflective exercise for students to evaluate on their own if they are writing well-developed paragraphs.

If your students are struggling with writing well-developed paragraphs, or essays, that show evidence of their critical thinking, then this might be a technique that gives them success. I have taught it in my classroom for years. After switching from teaching ninth grade to eleventh grade, I discovered that the students in my classroom for a second time remember the technique from when I had them as ninth graders. They won’t easily forget this technique and it might help them become stronger critical thinkers and writers.

Written by Donna Hilbrandt.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt

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    • Seafood Gumbo profile image

      Seafood Gumbo 4 years ago from Laurel, MS

      I'm a retired English teacher and love this concept. Wish I had read it years ago.

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 4 years ago from Minnesota

      voted up! This is freaking awesome.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      your concept of writing paragraphs using the "peeing down the page" method is very useful. I have used variations of this concept in teaching writing to my EFL students. Voted up and sharing.

    • profile image

      Wilbart26 4 years ago

      You are right about that, that's why I keep improving myself. Your method is good and another knowledge has been added to my brain. Thanks for sharing and keep up helping people.

    • yoginijoy profile image

      yoginijoy 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      This is a great idea! I have some students that have difficulty with writing critically, even in college. I am going to try this next semester. Thanks for sharing. Voting up and awesome!

    • recappers delight profile image

      recappers delight 4 years ago

      This is a very clever approach, and I hope you have a lot of luck with it.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Paul Kuehn and yoginijoy: This has been a great approach for both my struggling students at any grade level and my ESL students. Let me know how it goes if you try it.

      Wilbart26 and recappers delight: Thank you!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Perfect they will remember this!

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Angela Brummer: Yes they will! Thanks for reading.

    • SPK5367 profile image

      SPK5367 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Great idea. I will use this with my own children and the other homeschool kids I work with. Thanks for the "gross, but effective" idea.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks SPK5367! My students took their state exams on Friday, and as I walked around the exam room, I saw that several had PEE written next to the question on their exam page. I love it when they listen!

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

      You are the kind of teacher we need in our classrooms. I think this lesson would help a lot of hubbers as well as your students! Nice hub, well written and full of good info. Congrats!

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, TT2.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Well I know where to go when I need help with my grammar. I loved your story. We were just talking the other day about how kids love all those gross type of words. I always call them bathroom words. Voted up.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, moonlake. They do love it when an adult says something that they think is inappropriate and gross. It gets them going everytime! Thanks for reading.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I love the PEE method. Mind if I use it? Great hub. I gave you all the votes. You make some great points.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Of course you can use it! I didn't invent it. As I said in the article, I learned it while teaching in London about ten years ago. It works, so use it and share it :) Thanks for the votes!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      What a great method, and how cool that you developed it yourself! I like that it's easy to remember and to the point. Learning to write is a continual process and we can always sharpen our skills. I hope this improves mine! Thank you for sharing.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, vespawoolf. Although, like I said, I didn't invent it. I learned it while teaching in London. It is a great technique that works, so I share it as much as I can. Thanks for the read.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      Yes, you did say that! Sorry. You made it your own and thank you for sharing it with us.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      No worries, vespawoolf. I just didn't want to claim credit for something that isn't mind. I have indeed made it my own to work for my students. I hope others will as well. :)

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      You're an honest woman and I really respect that! Yes, it's a wonderful idea and I hope to benefit from it. : )

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 4 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Good teaching technique you have there.

      It is similar to the techniques I use to teach and prepare my ESL students for their IELTS and TOEFL tests.

      Ooops I think I need a PEE.

      Good job here, Donna.

      Peace. :)

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, richawriter. We PEE'd in my classes all day today! It really is effective. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      The PEE technique is awesome, Donna. I agree it makes things simpler and easier. Thanks for sharing.

      Voted up and useful.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      rajan jolly: I was just at a conference that focused on the Common Core standards (New York State), and one of the graphic organizer templates matched the PEE Principle perfectly. It is always nice to have our work validated, and I got that from the conference today and from you. Thank you!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      I particularly like the fact that you show both good and poor examples when teaching. When I was in college, the college was too snooty to do that. I saw lots of great poetry, but, without the contrast, never learned what makes great poetry different from only good poetry.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Sid. I also learn by example and need the levels as well.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 4 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Use PEE - and you got them. This is so clever - and our students need this to help them remember - and yes, gross is best. I no longer teach but a dear friend is teaching history - and often essay writing is necessary. My friend is brilliant at sharing the world with her students but as soon as they have to write an essay they tune out.

      But now...give them the opportunity to PEE and I am sure it will make them perk up.

      Well done and thanks a million!

    • profile image

      PeeLover 4 years ago

      I think this is a great idea!

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      BKCreative: I hope it helps. I am trying to find some time to write more about this. I am working on a video too. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading and sharing.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Peelover. :)

    • rondmrn profile image

      Ron Mariano 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Wow, I love this article. I will practice the PEEing concept. The next time I tutor a student, I'd like to share this article with them and the whole technique of writing, PEE style!

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks rondmrn! It simple and kids remember it! Good luck and thanks for reading and commenting.

    • donnah75 profile image
      Author

      Donna Hilbrandt 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      I just converted this hub to a video hub for anyone who wants to check out the video exemplar.

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