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After the Essay: The Paragraph Reviewed
by Jennifer


     Frequently, when we learn a new skill, we can forget an old one.  So it can be with learning the essay.  Once all your focus in writing has been switched from a single, previously awe-inspiring paragraph to the might of the five -paragraph academic essay, it’s easy to forget what a topic sentence looks like.  All of you who are clear on the differences, read elsewhere.  Those of you who, like me, occasionally want to write that three-point topic sentence for a paragraph, read on.  Following is the paragraph, revisited.


     When we write, we must have ideas.  We must have something to write about.  Otherwise we find ourselves, hour after hour, staring at a blank page and wondering blankly how to fill it.  It happens to everyone.  Brainstorming (writing a list of ideas no matter how crazy), directed freewriting (writing line after line about everything you can think of about a topic), and concept webs (circles of main topic and details) are three great ways to get ideas.  Just remember to give yourself a 2 – 3 minute time limit, if it’s a test.  Then you’ll have ideas to use and enough time, even on a test, to organize your ideas and write the sentences.  Get your ideas first, and 60% of your work is done.


     Other points to be sure of are, for example, a title.  The title is just a few words telling the reader what they’re going to read about.  Put the title 2 lines above your paragraph, and remember to capitalize the main words.  You don’t have to capitalize every “of”, and “and”, and “in”.  Titles are very important.


     Also important is your topic sentence.  It’s really hard to remember after being asked for essays, but remember your topic sentence is just that:  a topic (singular, no “s”) sentence.  Don’t put three points in your topic sentence.  For a paragraph, one topic is required and enough.  You’ll be able to write more, shortly.


     After your general topic sentence, then you can add your very-specific, focused support. One of the best ways to develop or support your topic sentence is by showing, not telling.  And to do that, use examples.  Don’t tell a teacher, for example, that your grandmother is kind and good and fair.  Instead, use examples of times when she was kind and good and fair, and it will be clear that she was all those things.  That’s what teachers mean when they say, “Show, don’t tell.”  Give us examples of times when she was those things in your support.


     Finally, don’t forget to include a concluding sentence.  Let the reader or your teacher know that, “This is definitely the end of this piece of writing” by saying, “When all is said and done, my gran was the best person I have ever known.”  The end needs to finish your writing so that there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that you have just ended the best piece of writing you’ve ever done.  A good ending is a satisfying and a clear way to finish your paragraph.


     Following is a different kind of paragraph we’re writing for the Literature/Composition 9/10 class.  It is a work-in-progress, and it comes from that wonderful story, “The Gentleman of Rio en Medio,” by Juan A. A. Sedillo.  We’re working on using story proof to prove the points we are making in our paragraph are true.  In the upper English levels, and into college, you need to give story proof to get a mark for an answer.


Don Anselmo


     Don Anselmo is an old-fashioned man who cares most, in life, about his family.  For example, one day he decides to sell a lot of land he owns to Americans.  He talks with a lawyer, and they decide, finally, on a fair price, “twelve hundred dollars, in cash” for eight acres of land.  (p. 44)  Several weeks later, the deed, or sale contract, is ready to be signed.  So, Don Anselmo comes to the meeting in the lawyer’s office, and there the contract is signed.  Later, it becomes clear that Don Anselmo’s family, his “sobrinos and nietos” or nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, still play on the property. (p. 46)  It turns out that the old gentleman had already given each of his family one tree on the property, so the new owners have to buy each tree from each one of his descendants.  In this way, Don Anselmo, by “planting a tree for each child” was starting each child out in life with a small income.  (p. 46)  Family is the single most important thing to Don Anselmo.


 How It Was Done: 


1.  First, we needed a general topic sentence with just one topic.  The story was about each tree needing to be bought individually from each child, so “family” was clearly the topic. 


2. Then, we went to the story for proof.  On page 44, the price for the land was listed.  That made the first piece of story proof.  On page 46, the last page, we learned that the children playing on the land were from Don Anselmo’s family.  There, the arrangements with each child made by the new owners was given to us, as well. 


3.  Finally, it’s important to have a conclusion that clearly ends your writing, so we restated the topic sentence for the conclusion to end the paragraph.



(October 3, 2010)

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