ESL Writing Lessons: Structure a Paragraph

This writing activity helps English students learn how to write a well structured paragraph by learning and practicing how to:

1 Write a good topic sentence.

This is the first sentence of the paragraph. This sentence tells the reader the main idea.

2 Provide evidence and details to support ideas.

This is a hard lesson to learn for some students. They think that when they make a claim no proof, evidence or details are required. This is not a mistake – it is a cultural difference in writing styles.

3 Write a whole paragraph.

Finish the idea or paragraph with a conclusion. This gives the paragraph unity and cohesion.

Writing Activity

  1. Choose two things which might not normally be compared.
  2. Find three ways to describe how they are similar.
  3. Write a full paragraph with a topic sentence, proof and a conclusion.

Example Paragraph

Here is an example by a middle school student, about school and jail.

School and jail are similar in many ways. First of all, I have to wear a uniform in both places. I hate wearing the same clothes as other people. Also, both places make us wear what they want. Just as if we were a doll. Second of all, I have to spend a lot of time there. At school, students have to stay from 8am to 4pm for 3 years (just counting middle school). Similarly, in jail people have to stay as long as the judge said. Finally, there is only one way to be free from school and jail. To get free from school you should graduate. To get free from jail you should wait for the day the judge said you can be free. These are the similarities between school and jail. Still, the most important thing is that I hate both places.

How to Write a Topic Sentence?

There are several different topic sentence styles.  There is no right or wrong answer. Here are two suggestions.

1 Specific Sentences

Write a topic sentence with three points. This sentence follows a pattern called parallel structure.

  1. Subject: Favorite Sports
  2. Three Points: soccer, biking, roller blading
  3. Topic sentence: When I have some free time, I like to spend it outside playing soccer, riding my bike, or roller blading.
  1. Subject: The Best Place for a Family Vacation
  2. Three Points: good sights, pleasant location, cheap rooms
  3. Topic sentence: The best place for a family holiday is Namhae Island because of the good sights, beautiful scenery and low-cost rooms.

2 General Sentences

These sentence are generally short and don’t tell the reader the reasons. The main idea is in the comparison. The details come in the paragraph. Here are a few examples.

  1. My hometown and college town have several things in common.
  2. Although the iPhone and Samsung Galazy S look different, they are similar in many ways.
  3. Work and school are similar in three ways.

How to Write a Conclusion?

The last sentence of the paragraph is important. It is like the candle on a birthday cake. Both of them make the product seem finished and complete. How can you have a birthday cake with candles? We can ask the same question about a paragraph. How can a paragraph be complete without a concluding sentence?

The conclusion does not have to be long. Nor does it have to repeat everything from the first sentence. Some writers use a hook. That is a word or idea that links up with a theme or idea in the topic sentence.

What to write? It might be … a final thought or something that you learned.

Here is a sample paragraph. How does the writer use a hook to connect the first and lasts sentences?

Walking down the street I noticed a new bookstore had opened in my neighborhood. The front of the store looks like an old English book shop with a large wooden door that is surprisingly heavy. Just inside the main door, there is a small box with used books. Oddly, these books are on sale for $1 per kilogram. Near the back, there is a tall bookshelf with great classics like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Near the cash machine, there is a rack with a good supply of magazines like The Economist, Time and Asia Weekly. I’ll be spending a lot of time in this book shop, which is right around the corner from my house.







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