Feeling Like Lenny
It took a while, but my students had finally learned how to write an introduction. I couldn’t wait to grade the next round of essays, but when I got to the body paragraphs, I began to weep. They had no idea how to write a paragraph, which types of paragraphs to use, or how to improve paragraph structure. I had failed at teaching paragraph writing. I needed to be punished, so I shook a can of soda, held it under my nose, and opened the tab.
The next thing I knew, I lay unconscious as John Steinbeck hovered over me: “You really need help…”
“On teaching paragraph writing?” I interrupted.
“No, you really need help–”
“teaching paragraph structure?” I interrupted again.
“No, you really need help. The soda can is wedged in your forehead and it needs to be removed immediately.”
I woke up with a massive headache and a lesson plan on top of me.
Paragraph Structure Basics
Four types of sentences make up a paragraph:
- Topic Sentence: the topic sentence states one main idea. Everything in your paragraph must be subordinate to the topic sentence (Need a good topic sentence lesson plan?).
- Supporting Sentence: a supporting sentence supports the assertion made in the topic sentence. Supporting sentences include concrete details, commentaries, facts, examples, opinions, interpretations, and analyses. Include as many supporting sentences as necessary, but not more than you need.
- Limiting Sentence: a limiting sentence limits the scope of the topic sentence. you can only have one per paragraph.
- Transitional Sentence: the transitional sentence provides a link to the next paragraph.
Types of Paragraphs
Three main categories of paragraphs exist:
- Direct Paragraph: a topic sentence followed by a limiting sentence (optional), supporting sentences, and a transitional sentence is the most common type of paragraph in an essay, article, or research paper.
- Pivotal Paragraph: the first sentence of a pivotal paragraph is a limiting sentence, followed by a supporting sentence and a pivotal sentence–one which turns the paragraph in a new direction. Although, but, yet, however, nevertheless, etc. are found in pivotal sentences. The pivotal sentence is followed by supporting sentences and a transitional sentence.
- Suspended Paragraph: in a suspended sentence, the topic sentence goes last. limiting and/or supporting sentences lead up to the topic sentence. Introductions/thesis paragraphs and conclusions are usually suspended paragraphs.
Note: a special thanks to Schaum’s Guide to Writing Essays for helping me learn academic writing.
Paragraph Structure Lesson Plan
Read any piece of non-fiction (like this masterpiece on the Detroit Pistons). For each paragraph, do the following (I’ve used the second paragraph from the aforementioned linked article as a guide. You may use it too):
identify the topic sentence (After moving from Fort Wayne to Detroit in 1957, the Pistons struggled for over two decades.).
identify the limiting sentence, if it exists (It wasn’t until the mid 1980s when Detroit head coach Chuck Daly instituted a more “aggressive” style of play that Detroit became a premier NBA team.) .
identify all supporting sentences and categorize them as a facts, examples, statistics, opinions, analyses, interpretations, etc. (Their fans affectionately called them “The Bad Boys.” (fact)).
identify the transitional sentence (In this case the pivotal sentence and transitional sentence are the same.).
identify the pivotal sentence, if it exists (Basketball aficionados, however, called them bullies and blamed “The Bad Boys” for the league’s downward spiral, a spiral thath saw the league fall from its pinnacle of excitement in the 1980s to its nadir of unwatchability in following years.).
Other ideas include
- Do the above assignment with a student-written essay.
- Choose a topic: Instruct students to write one of each type of paragraph.
- Insert a pivot paragraph into an essay and change the essay’s direction.
Click here for a complete standards based semester curriculum map with lesson plans and links.
This post is part of the series: Paragraphs and Sentences
Improving essays, articles, and research papers begins by improving sentences and paragraphs.