Teaching Transitions in Writing: Tips for Helping high School Students Write Coherently With Better Transitions

Teaching Transitions in Writing: Tips for Helping high School Students Write Coherently With Better Transitions
Page content

After teaching students how to hook the reader with masterful leads, revise the middle for clarity and focus, conclude effectively, and

write effective paragraphs, I felt good about myself once again. I bragged to the custodians at my school and invited them to take a break (after emptying my trash) and just read what I write on the board every day. Then I realized parts of my students' writing were incoherent.

I had neglected to teach them how to make effective transitions in writing. In shock, I ran back to the custodians, begged them to leave my room (after emptying the trash and cleaning the white board), and canceled my camping trip to Big Bear Lake.

I had work to do. I had to devise a lesson plan that helped students make coherent transitions in writing. Here’s what I came up with.

Getting Started

Have students come up with their own definition of transition and write their responses on the board. Definitions will vary but most can be applied to writing. Understanding transitions in other contexts facilitates understanding their importance in writing.

Be sure your discussion includes the following:

  • Good writing presents and connects ideas in a clear, logical manner.
  • When used appropriately (please emphasize when used appropriately; otherwise, transitions bog down the reader–ironic, you must agree), transitions clarify connections for the reader and make writing coherent.
  • Effective transitions are more than just a list of words your middle school teacher gave you.


  1. Explain that transitions have different functions. Instruct students to copy down the following examples of how transitions in writing function.
  • to show time - one day later
  • to clarify cause and effect - as a result...
  • to show location - to the right...
  • to introduce examples - for example...
  • to add more information - in addition...
  • to contrast information - otherwise…
  • to conclude - in conclusion…
  • to compare - much like…
  1. Give students a writing sample, one with good transitions.

  2. Instruct students to identify transitions and the function they serve. This is best done in groups of 3-4.

  3. Discuss answers.

Revising for Clarity

Do this transitions in writing activity if you are teaching revision:

  • After you discuss each group’s findings, have them reassemble.
  • Instruct students to read each other’s rough drafts.
  • Readers should identify any part of each rough draft that lacks clarity.
  • Readers should identify and circle all transitions.
  • After the rough drafts have been marked appropriately, each student will revise his or her essay for coherence. For confusing parts, the writer should ask if transitions would make it more clear.
  • For each transition the writer uses, he or she should ask if the meaning of the passage would be less clear without the transition. If the transition adds no clarity, it should be deleted.

TIP: Many teachers drudge up a list of transition words. Although students should be aware of these words, they usually lead to lazy writing. In fact, I bet if you went through your writing and got rid of three-quarters of your “transition words,” it would make very little difference in meaning.

This post is part of the series: How to Revise Essays for Organization: Six Lesson Plans that Work

Organized people accomplish more. So does organized writing. teach your students how to organize their writing and how to revise their writing with these five excellent lessons.

  1. A Lesson Plan on How to Hook Your Reader with Dynamite Leads
  2. Writing Lesson Plan in Making the Middle Clear and Concise
  3. Lesson Plan: How to Write an Effective Conclusion
  4. Lesson Plan: How to Write Effective Paragraphs
  5. A Lesson Plan on Writing Coherent Transitions
  6. Lesson Plan: Writing a Good Topic Sentence