Writing Chocolate Cake

Teaching a child to write and to value their imagination go hand in hand. Writing for real begins when children believe that their ideas are important enough to do the work of shaping words on a page that will communicate that idea.

You could begin to teach a child to write like this:

“A paragraph consists of one or more sentences focusing on a single idea within a specific structure that enables a reader to understand the idea.”

Or, you could begin like this:

“Let’s write a chocolate cake!”

In my experience, the second option is nearly groan free.

Set out paper and pencil for later. Begin with discovery. You might bake a cake from scratch or assemble a cake with pre-baked cakes, pre-made frosting, and a variety of decorations. You might try several chocolate cake recipes and have a taste test. Either way, as you are exploring chocolate cake, discuss the process of discovery along the way. Once the discovery session is complete, encourage your writer to pick up their paper and pencil to begin the process of communicating what they discovered to someone else. Remind them that their writing is a gift twice as delicious as chocolate cake.

Walking writers through the process of crafting a paragraph about chocolate cake is easy as 1, 2, 3… I promise!

1.  Hook: The first sentence in a paragraph outlines the idea that will be presented. But more importantly, this is the sentence that grabs the reader’s attention, first impressions matter. This sentence can be a statement, a command, a question, or even an exclamation. The goal is simply to entice the reader to read on. Honestly, once writers have crafted the Hook, words flow until they hit the Clincher.

Ask the writer, “For our paragraph about chocolate cake do we want a flavorless, bland topic sentence like this…?”

I am now going to tell you about chocolate cake.

Of course the resounding response will be, “NO!”

At this point remind them that the bland sentence is not wrong, but it’s not original, not creative, and it certainly will not inspire the reader. Now, together try playing with the sentence to make it grab the reader’s attention.

Craft a small sentence in collaboration and focus on finding just the right adjective to describe chocolate cake. Here “mouthwatering” can be exchanged with a variety of great words and phrases: tasty, lip smacking, scrumptious. Begin the list making until the writer come up with their own words to fill in the blank. Add the word and the hook is their own.

Chocolate cake is a mouthwatering treat.


Provide a few facts about chocolate and encourage them to choose one that they find amazing and then, encourage them to write it in their own words.

Did you know that a long time ago, chocolate cake wasn’t chocolate, but a spiced cake more like gingerbread made to eat with a cup of hot chocolate?


Have them begin narrative style, “Tell a story that includes chocolate cake facts in a make-believe story.”

It all began on a dark and stormy night when I decided to bake a chocolate cake. 

2.  Body Sentences: This is the part of the paragraph that presents the details, facts, and examples that support the main idea. With reluctant writers, three sentences is a good place to begin, “Now write three more sentences that tell the reader something you discovered about chocolate cake.” As writers become more confident, not only will sentence count increase, but more specific details and more interesting language will begin to emerge. 

3. Twist: This last sentence of the paragraph should not only summarize the main idea of the paragraph but it should leave the reader with something to think about.

Ask the writers again, “For our paragraph about chocolate cake do we want to end with a flavorless, bland topic sentence like this…?”

That is all I know about chocolate cake.

And, again, the resounding response will be, “NO way!”

Remind them, “Bland sentences are not original, not creative, and certainly will not inspire the reader.” I begin by modeling ideas, allow them to use a phrase from my twist, and soon enough the writers come up with some pretty fantastic ideas of their own.

Chocolate cake reminds my taste buds to blast off!

Chocolate cake, even the smallest silken-spun morsel is just right any old time.             

Chocolate cake, like a well-crafted paragraph, is worth every single bite.

At the Intersection of Math and Writing



I began the writing workshop with Cuisinare rods and colored pencils. My writers looked puzzled.

“Today you're going to make a Cuisinaire construction and then describe how you made the construction with words on paper so that a reader will be able to navigate through the paragraph to create an identical construction.”

This is my idea of a hands-on How To paragraph.

“Just like math, when writing instructions you have to show all your steps.”

Young writers need to practice working through the process of crafting words. It's challenging teaching young writers that words need to be wisely chosen and crafted carefully to accurately communicate a specific idea to an audience of readers. This is challenging because the task is a process that involves tremendous effort on the part of the writer and young writers want to skip steps. Participating in this work over time sets a foundation for the rhythm of the writer's routine to be established.

Before beginning, I  challenged my writers to keep in mind the cardinal rule of our writing workshop:
“Words are scribbled on paper for a reader to read… your words are a gift.”

The young writers eagerly spent an hour an a half contentedly drafting rough drafts paragraph that they took home to self-conference and craft to final draft.

“Next week we will exchange final drafts and see if readers can make the construction.” 

Begin all writing experiences by breaking the task at hand into steps. Remind writers that writing is a process. Getting young writers to engage in process is a tricky business that takes time to root, but truth be told, process alone takes the daunting out of writing.

We broke this specific project down as follows:

What's your big idea?
Make a construction with Cuisinaire rods. Map the construction on graph paper with colored pencils.

Write it down…!
Begin by use a topic wheel to outline each step involved in the construction. Craft a paragraph following the topic wheel outline. Be sure to introduce the topic with a sentence that hooks the reader into the big idea. The supporting sentences should include specific details that will allow the reader to navigate through the Cuisinaire construction without a hitch. Craft a single sentence at the end of the paragraph that will conclude the exercise and add an interesting clincher that makes idea of the paragraph echo in the mind of the reader.

Conference with yourself and someone else…
Now, re-read what you wrote and decide, as a reader, if you are accurately communicating your big idea. Use a red pen to make changes. Ask someone else to read your work and to add red marks when they find confusing areas, holes, or dead ends in your “How To” paragraph.
Make a final sweep with the red pen for common errors—spelling, punctuation, capitalization, tense, and so on.

Final Draft
Use your best handwriting or type up a final draft!