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

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

Created by donnah75 using

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.

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Written by Donna Hilbrandt.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt


Brian on April 24, 2020:

I like that mnemonic. I'll remember it.

Rohan Kalonia from New Delhi on January 04, 2020:

Hey a budding writer here, I have to say your article helped me a lot and gave me tips that I was searching. i will definately use this PEE method in my upcoming article and make good efforts. thanks

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 28, 2019:

I laughed my way through this one, but it is practical. I guess that in my day, we learned to structure paragraphs the hard way. In journalism we are taught to write an article or a news story by a method called the "inverted pyramid." That's when the facts are stated in the first paragraph and then the discussion comes down in the order of importance. There is such a thing called the pyramid, which builds the story from the top down, but it's rarely used unless for building suspense.

Kathy Burton from Florida on March 05, 2018:

Great article. We talked about 5 x5 paragraphs for our son for the writing tests he had to take when he was in school. Five sentences with at least five words each. 1 introductory sentence, three explanations and 1 sentence to conclude. How boring...wish we had know about PEEing down a page.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on August 19, 2013:

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

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on May 20, 2013:

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

Ron Mariano from Orange County, CA on May 20, 2013:

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!

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on May 07, 2013:

Thanks, Peelover. :)

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on May 07, 2013:

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.

PeeLover on May 07, 2013:

I think this is a great idea!

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on May 07, 2013:

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!

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on March 17, 2013:

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

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on March 17, 2013:

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.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on February 04, 2013:

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!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on February 04, 2013:

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

Voted up and useful.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on October 09, 2012:

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

Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on October 08, 2012:

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. :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 16, 2012:

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

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on September 16, 2012:

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. :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 16, 2012:

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

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on September 16, 2012:

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.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 16, 2012:

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.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on August 03, 2012:

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!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on August 02, 2012:

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

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on July 04, 2012:

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.

moonlake from America on July 04, 2012:

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.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on July 03, 2012:

Thanks, TT2.

Sondra Rochelle from USA on July 03, 2012:

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!

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on June 17, 2012:

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!

SPK5367 from Pennsylvania, USA on June 17, 2012:

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.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on June 09, 2012:

Angela Brummer: Yes they will! Thanks for reading.

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 09, 2012:

Perfect they will remember this!

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on June 05, 2012:

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!

recappers delight on June 04, 2012:

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

yoginijoy from Mid-Atlantic, USA on June 04, 2012:

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!

Wilbart26 on June 03, 2012:

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.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on June 03, 2012:

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.

Donna Hilbrandt (author) from Upstate New York on June 03, 2012:

Thank you!

R D Langr from Minnesota on June 03, 2012:

voted up! This is freaking awesome.

Seafood Gumbo from Laurel, MS on June 03, 2012:

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

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