Teaching Topic Sentences Using Models

Crafting Good Topic Sentences that Focus the Reader

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Kelly, Melissa. "Teaching Topic Sentences Using Models." ThoughtCo, Aug. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/topic-sentence-examples-7857. Kelly, Melissa. (2017, August 30). Teaching Topic Sentences Using Models. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/topic-sentence-examples-7857 Kelly, Melissa. "Teaching Topic Sentences Using Models." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/topic-sentence-examples-7857 (accessed October 20, 2017).
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Topic sentences can be likened to miniature thesis statements for individual paragraphs. The topic sentence states the main idea or topic of the paragraph. The sentences that follow the topic sentence must relate and support the claim or position made in the topic sentence. 

As with all writing, teachers should first model good topic sentences in order to have students identify the topic and the claim in the sentence, regardless of the academic discipline.

For example, these models of topic sentences inform the reader about a topic and the claim that will be supported in the paragraph:

  • Topic sentence: Pets are important to many people because they can improve the overall health of the pet owner. 
    • topic="pets" 
    • claim="improve the overall health of the pet owner"
  • Topic Sentence: Coding requires a number of different skills.
    • topic="coding"
    • claim="many different skills."
  • Topic Sentence: There are many reasons why the housing in Singapore is the best in the world. 
    • topic = “housing is the best in the world”
    • claim="many reasons"
  • Topic Sentence: Drama class requires students be collaborative and willing to take risks.
    • topic ="Drama class"
    • claim ="be collaborative and willing to take risks." 

Writing the Topic Sentence

The topic sentence should not be too general or too specific. The topic sentence should still provide the reader with the basic 'answer' to the question being posed.

A good topic sentence should not include details. Placing the topic sentence at the beginning of a paragraph ensures that the reader knows exactly what information is going to be presented. 

Topic sentences should also alert the reader as to how the paragraph or the essay has been organized so that the information can be better understood.

These paragraph text structures can be identified as compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence, or problem/solution.

As with all writing, students should be given multiple opportunities to identify topics and claims in models. Students should practice writing topic sentences for many different topics in all disciplines using different test structures.

Compare and Contrast Topic Sentences

The topic sentence in a comparison paragraph would identify the similarities or similarities and differences in the topic of the paragraph. A topic sentence in a contrast paragraph would identify only differences in topics. The topic sentences in compare/contrast essays may organize the information subject by subject (block method) or point by point. They may list comparisons in several paragraphs and then follow those with contrast points. The topic sentences of comparison paragraphs may use transition words or phrases such as:ƒ as well as, correspondingly, ƒ compared to, just like, likewise, similarly, and the same as. Topic sentences of contrast paragraphs may use transition words or phrases such as:  although, conversely, even though, however, in contrast, on the other hand,  to the contrary, and unlike. ƒ

Some examples of compare and contrast topic sentences are:

  • Animals in the same family share common characteristics. These characteristics include…
  • A purchase of a small car has both advantages and disadvantages. 

Cause and Effect Topic Sentences

When a topic sentence introduces the effect of a topic, the body paragraphs will contain evidence of causes. Conversely, when a topic sentence introduces a cause, the body paragraph will contain evidence of effects.Transition words used in topic sentences for a cause and effect paragraph may include: accordingly, because, as a result, consequently, for this reason, therefore, or thus.  

Some examples of topic sentences for cause and effect paragraphs are:

  • I am great at a grilling a steak, but I can never seem to make a good cake. This is because…
  • The United States Civil War was started for a number of reasons. The causes of the Civil War include:
  • The Great Depression was a period of great distress and economic problems for many Americans and individuals across the globe. The effects of the Great Depression include:

Some essays require students to analyze a cause of an event or action. In analyzing this cause, students will need to discuss the effect or consequences of an event or action. A topic sentence using this text structure can focus the reader on the cause(s), the effect(s), or both. Students should remember not to confuse the verb "affect" with the noun "effect." The use of affect means “to influence or change” while the use of effect means “the result.”

Sequence Topic Sentences

While all essays follow a specific order, a text structure of sequence explicitly alerts the reader to a 1st, 2nd or 3rd point. A sequence is one of the most common strategies in organizing an essay when the topic sentence clearly identifies a need to order the supporting information.  Either the paragraphs must be read in order, much like a recipe, or the writer has prioritized the information using terms such as then, next or finally.

In a sequence text structure, the body paragraph follows a progression of ideas that are supported by details or evidence. The transition words that could be used in topic sentences for sequence paragraphs may include: afterward, before, earlier, initially, meanwhile, later, previously, or subsequently.

Some examples of topic sentences for sequence paragraphs are:

  • The first reason why a real Christmas tree is preferred by many to an artificial one is:
  • Successful leaders of large companies often share similar traits. The most important trait includes:
  • Changing the oil in a car is easy only if you follow the steps.

 Problem-Solution Topic Sentences

The topic sentence in a paragraph that uses the problem/solution text structure clearly identifies a problem for the reader. The remainder of the paragraph is dedicated to offering a solution. Students should be able to a  provide a reasonable solution or refute objections in each paragraph.

Transition words that can be used in topic sentences using the problem-solution paragraph structure are:  answer, propose, suggest, indicate, solve, resolve, and plan.

Some examples of topic sentences for problem-solution paragraphs are:

  • Students can avoid getting sick when they go away to college by taking certain precautions. Proposed precautions include...
  • Various health agencies suggest that there are many kinds of pollution that can affect your health. The different kinds of pollution include…
  • Texting while driving has increased the number of auto fatalities. One answer to this problem could be…

All of the example sentences above can be used with students to illustrate the different types of topic sentences. If the writing assignment requires a particular text structure, there are specific transition words that can help students organize their paragraphs. 

Crafting Topic Sentences 

Crafting an effective topic sentence is a necessary skill, especially in meeting college and career readiness standards. The topic sentence requires that student plan what they are trying to prove in the paragraph before they draft. A strong topic sentence with its claim will focus the information or message for the reader. In contrast, a weak topic sentence will result in an unorganized paragraph, and the reader will be confused because the support or details will not be focused.

Teachers should be ready to use models of good topic sentences to help students determine the best structure for delivering information to the reader. There must also be time for students to practice writing topic sentences.

With practice, students will learn to appreciate the rule that a good topic sentence almost lets the paragraph to write itself!