Grassroots: The Writer’s Workbook 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 sleep. 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 possible. 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 relationships. Those rare people who stand up for their beliefs despite public pressure possess moral courage. 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 moments/stories. 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. Understand General and Specific On a piece of paper, write: 1. __ 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 3. __ rose __ flowering plants __ living things __ plants __ the Betty Boop rose 4. __ Chronicle sports writer Jim Jackson __ California __ North America __ San Francisco Chronicle office building __ Earth 5. __ athletes __ Curry’s skill __ basketball players __ guards __ Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry 6. __ actresses __ movie stars __ Halle Berry __ successful black actresses __ 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 parents). 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 rewarding. These topic sentences all explore the same topic—attending college—but each controlling idea is different! 1) Write the Controlling Idea below each sentence. Computer games improved my study skills. 7. White-water rafting increased my self-confidence 8. Immigrants frequently are stereotyped by native-born Americans. 9. A course in financial planning should be required of all college freshmen. 10. Your topic sentence should be limited and complete. It should make a point that is neither too broad nor too narrow to be supported in a paragraph. The more specific the topic sentence, the better the paragraph. Which topic sentence will produce the best paragraph? 1) 2) My recent trip to Colorado was really bad. My recent trip to Colorado was disappointing because the weather ruined my camping plans. Which topic sentence will produce a better paragraph? 1) 2) The Each-One-Reach-One tutoring program encourages academic excellence at Chester Elementary School. Tutoring programs can be found all over the country. A Topic Sentence Must Be Complete! It must contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought. Do not confuse a topic with a topic sentence (COMMON MISTAKE!). Topic: The heroism of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger. 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 count. Rewrite These Sentences: 11. I am going to write about cell phones. Rewrite: 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!