Mini-Lesson 1 – Get a Topic
Give students several paper topics related to the material you’re studying. For example, if you were studying “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain, you might make the following list on the board:
- The Banning of Huckleberry Finn
- Symbolism in Huckleberry Finn
- Theme of Huckleberry Finn
- Huck’s Decision to Help Jim Escape
- Tom Sawyer’s Part in Huckleberry Finn
Tell students to pretend that they are writing a paper about one of the topics on the list. Explain that they will have five minutes to come up with a strong topic sentence for that topic. When students finish, have them share their topic sentences with the rest of the class. Encourage them to discuss how two topic sentences are different, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Mini-Lesson 2 – Get a Paragraph
Take a paragraph from one from one of the following sources:
- A student’s essay from the previous year (get the student’s permission for this)
- A student’s essay from the current year (get the student’s permission for this as well)
- An online essay, with the source cited.
Delete the topic sentence of the paragraph and photocopy the remainder of the paragraph for students. Have students read the paragraph and come up with their own topic sentences for the paragraph. Discuss the students’ topic sentences and decide on the best one for the paper. Then reveal the original topic sentence and have the class discuss which is stronger.
Mini-Lesson 3 – Find the Topic Sentence
Take a paragraph from one of the sources mentioned in Mini-Lesson 2. Write each sentence on a sentence strip, including the topic sentence. Mix the sentences up on the board and have students identify the topic sentence and place the remaining sentences in order. Make sure that they discuss why they identified that sentence as the topic sentence.
Each topic sentence mini-lesson in this article can be used several times throughout the year. By the time your students leave your class, they’ll have a firm handle on what makes a strong topic sentence.