Effective Paragraphs

The Writer’s
Chapter 3: Developing
Effective Paragraphs
When I was growing up, my older
brother Joe was the greatest person in my
world. If anyone teased me about my
braces or buckteeth, he fiercely defended
me. When one boy insisted on calling me
“Fang,” Joe threatened to knock his teeth
out. It worked—no more teasing. My
brother always chose me to play on his
baseball teams though I was a terrible
hitter. Even after he got his driver’s license,
he didn’t abandon me. Instead, every
Sunday, the two of us went for a drive. We
might stop for cheeseburgers, go to a
computer showroom, drive past some girl’s
house, or just laugh and talk. It was one of
childhood’s mysteries that such a
wonderful brother loved me.
What do you notice?
Which of the following
sentences would make the
best topic sentence?
 Speed-walking
three times a week is part
of my routine.
 Staying healthy and fit is important to me.
 Every night, I get at least seven hours of
 I eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables
as possible.
So the paragraph might look
like this.
Staying healthy and fit is
important to me. Every night, I
get at least seven hours of
sleep. Speed-walking three
times a week is part of my
routine. I also eat as many
fresh fruits and vegetables as
Find the topic sentence here.
Some colleges are experimenting with using iPods
to deliver instructional material, complete with
musical clips, news, and even video.
Runners, hikers, and bicyclists sometimes use their
iPods as personal trainers that plan a route and
then provide maps, distances, and time goals.
Although most people still think of the iPod as a
digital musical players, others are using these
gadgets in creative and innovative ways.
Video iPod owners can search for their soul mates
using PodDater software to download short video
clips and profiles of available singles.
Find the Topic Sentence.
Each prisoner in the program receives a puppy,
which he feeds, cares for, and trains to be a service
dog for a combat veteran.
The convicted felons often feel, many for the first
time, a sense of responsibility, compassion for other
creatures, and the power of unconditional love.
The successful Puppies Behind Bars program improves
the lives of both inmates and disabled war veterans.
When a dog “graduates,” each trainer presents his
dog to a vet who returned from Iraq or Afghanistan
with brain or bodily injuries.
The disabled soliders say that the dogs not only open
doors, turn on lights, and dial 911 on special phones
but greatly ease their anxiety and depression.
What about here?
Physical courage allows soldiers or athletes to
endure bodily pain or danger.
Those with social courage dare to expose
their deep feelings in order to build close
Those rare people who stand up for their
beliefs despite public pressure possess moral
Inventors and artists show creative courage
when they break out of old ways of seeing
and doing things.
Psychologist Rollo May claimed that there are
four different types of courage.
Narrowing the Topic
Often your first step is to narrow the topic.
If you are asked to write about a person you
know, don’t make that person the topic.
Brainstorm qualities of that person or funny
Zoom in and pick one aspect of that person:
their sense of humor or the way they are with
their family or their courage.
Suddenly, you are no longer writing about a
broad topic, like “Joaquin,” but a narrow
topic, like, “Joaquin’s sense of humor” or “My
trip to Baja with Joaquin.
General and Specific
On a piece of paper, write:
__ chairs
__ furniture
__ Grandma’s oak rocking chair
__ household contents
Number the items with 1 being the most
specific and limited, 2 being the second
most specific, and the highest number
being the most general.
On a piece of paper, write:
2. __ Malian singer Habib Koité
__ music
__ African music
__ music of Mali, West Africa
__ sound
__ rose
__ flowering plants
__ living things
__ plants
__ the Betty Boop
4. __ Chronicle sports
writer Jim Jackson
__ California
__ North America
__ San Francisco
Chronicle office
__ Earth
__ athletes
__ Curry’s skill
__ basketball
__ guards
__ Golden State
Warriors guard
Stephen Curry
__ actresses
__ movie stars
__ Halle Berry
__ successful black
__ human beings
Writing the Topic Sentence
The next step is to write your topic sentence, which
clearly states, in sentence form, your narrowed topic
and a point about that topic.
A topic sentence can be very simple (My relatives in
Nicaragua look just like my parents)…
OR, better yet, it can state your attitude or point of
view about the topic (I was very moved by the
similarities of my Nicaraguan relatives with my
Think of the topic sentence as having two parts: a
topic and a controlling idea.
Topic: the similarities of my Nicaraguan relatives.
Controlling Idea: I was very moved by it.
Good Topic Sentences
Attending college has revolutionized my
career plans.
2) Attending college has put me in debt.
3) Attending college is exhausting but
These topic sentences all explore the same
topic—attending college—but each
controlling idea is different!
Write the Controlling Idea
below each sentence.
Computer games improved my study skills.
White-water rafting increased my self-confidence
Immigrants frequently are stereotyped by native-born
A course in financial planning should be required of all
college freshmen.
Your topic sentence should be
limited and complete.
should make a point that is
neither too broad nor too
narrow to be supported in a
The more specific the topic
sentence, the better the
Which topic sentence will
produce the best paragraph?
My recent trip to Colorado was really
My recent trip to Colorado was
disappointing because the weather
ruined my camping plans.
Which topic sentence will
produce a better paragraph?
The Each-One-Reach-One tutoring
program encourages academic
excellence at Chester Elementary
Tutoring programs can be found all over
the country.
A Topic Sentence Must Be
It must contain a subject and a verb and
express a complete thought.
Do not confuse a topic with a topic sentence
Topic: The heroism of Captain “Sully”
Topic Sentence: Because Captain “Sully”
Sullenberger landed a packed airplane on
the Hudson River and saved 155 lives, he is a
true hero.
More Top Secret Hints
 Don’t
begin a topic sentence with “This
paragraph will be about…”
 Or, “I am going to write about…”
 These extra words contribute nothing.
 Instead, make your point directly.
 Make every word in the topic sentence
Rewrite These Sentences:
11. I am going to write about cell phones.
12. A subject I want to write about is money.
13. This paragraph will discuss food.
14. Some things about college have been great.
15. Living in an apartment.
Narrow the topic and write a
topic sentence.
Choose from this list of topics or YOUR OWN
TOPIC. Narrow the topic and write a topic
sentence limited enough to produce a good
paragraph. Make sure your topic sentence is a
complete sentence.
16. Narrowed topic: _________________________
17. Topic sentence: _________________________
18. Now write the complete paragraph!

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