When you teach paragraph writing, teach the supporting sentences last. As a result, students are more likely to remember the importance of writing topic sentences.
What? But, I thought you teach in this order: topic sentences, supporting sentences, closing sentences, right?
On the contrary, that is how we read a well-developed paragraph. However, it isn’t the best way for beginning writers to learn to write a paragraph. After teaching for over 20 years, nobody asked but this is how I teach writing topic sentences to my students.
Consider this scenario–you start by giving your students a prompt on which to write. Now, remember what you’ve observed in the past. What do young writers do? Consequently, they write all the supporting sentences. Here’s an example…
The Problem with 1st Grade Writing
To start, the teacher writes and explains the following prompt to eager, beginning writers. Pencil and paper in hand, they sit back-on-back and feet on the floor in their seats. They are rearing to go as if they are about to race to an imaginary finish line.
Prompt: How to get ready for school.
As a result, your students’ writings go something like this:
I get up. I get dressed. I eat breakfast. I brush my teeth. I get my shoes on. I get on the bus. I’m at school.
Do you notice the writer wrote supporting sentences related to the main idea, but not a topic sentence or closing?
To be sure, this student has other issues with their writing, but for now, we are focusing on introducing the main idea.
For this very reason, that’s why children need lots of chances to practice writing topic sentences. They will need to learn that a topic sentence helps to draw the reader into their paragraph. Thankfully, there are many ways to do this.
Topic Sentence is the Entrance
As an example, think of the topic sentence as a door to a home.
The home is the paragraph. What are the different ways to go through the door–run, hop, skip, jump, slide, etc.
To clarify, topic sentence writing is like the door in that you have many ways to use words to say the same thing.
Let’s look at a picture prompt and a word bank connecting to the main idea.
Scaffolding the Topic Sentence
Looking at the word bank, notice that we are scaffolding the learning for an early writer: jelly, toast, make. From these words and looking at the picture, we can figure out the main idea is making jelly toast.
Start with using the I do, we do, you do scaffolding model.
“I do” teacher model
First off, the teacher models [I do] the different topic sentences one could use for this prompt. Here are some that were mentioned:
- I can make jelly toast by myself.
- I enjoy making jelly toast for a snack.
- This is how you can make jelly toast for breakfast.
- I’m going to tell you how to make jelly toast.
- Do you know how to make jelly toast?
We may continue to come up with some other simple topic sentences for this prompt. To differentiate, we could ask students to add in a bonus word. In the above example, we could use the bonus word “breakfast”.
Breakfast is typical oral vocabulary for primary students, but not as a spelling word. This bonus word alone creates mini-lesson moments on syllables, compound words, r and s blends, and vowel team rules.
“We do” together
Next, we move to the group part [we do] of the scaffolding strategy. Give students a different picture prompt with a word bank related to the main idea. For young writers doing this the first time, I suggest they write orally and just talk through their topic sentences. The teacher writes the student’s topic sentences on the board, chart paper, or a digital slide like a Jamboard™️. Let me explain.
Jamboard™️ is my new favorite way to digitally create color sticky notes easily and stick them to the image border. Google apps has Jamboard™️ in their lineup, so all you need is to sign into Google. Plus, it’s easier for students to manipulate their clicks compared to Google Slides™️.
“You do” independently with feedback
Last is the independent part of the scaffolding, which is you do. A great way to have students move to the you do part would be to assign them their own digital copy of picture prompts with word banks. They can then practice writing all the topic sentences they could come up with on their own.
Here’s the thing. It’s important to give students feedback on their writing so that they are feeling confident while improving as writers.
Related Resources to Writing Topic Sentences
Surely, you are ready to explicitly teach writing topic sentences. With you in mind, here’s a resource linked below that makes it easy for you to teach. After all, you’d want to have picture prompts and word banks already prepped for you in printable or digital for easy display? Well then, here you go!