SUPPORT LESSON TOPIC SENTENCES. The aim of this lesson is to help students use paragraphs optimally to organise and structure their writing.

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1 SUPPORT LESSON TOPIC SENTENCES STARTING OFF The aim of this lesson is to help students use paragraphs optimally to organise and structure their writing. Topic sentences are sentences that tell the reader what the topic/main idea of the paragraph is. A topic sentence is like a sub-heading in the form of a sentence. It is usually the first sentence of the paragraph. Like a sub-heading, it is short and general. The details follow in the rest of the paragraph. These details all expand on the topic sentence. PURPOSE AND PRACTICE The above paragraph has an example of a topic sentence. It starts off with a topic sentence which states what the paragraph is about i.e. the main idea (topic sentences) and makes a general statement about the main idea. The next sentence contains an analogy. The third and fourth sentences describe characteristics of topic sentences and the fifth and sixth sentences explain the relationship between a topic sentence and the rest of the paragraph. All of the sentences tell us more about the main idea of the paragraph i.e. topic sentences. Why have topic sentences? Firstly, they make reading easier as the reader doesn t have to keep figuring out what the main idea of a paragraph is. Secondly, they make one s writing more organised and structured and thirdly, together they make the logical flow of ideas clear. On the next two pages are worksheets for the students. The worksheets provide opportunities to practise: identifying well-written topic sentences distinguishing between well-written and badly-written topic sentences writing topic sentences. These activities on topic sentences follow on the Support Lesson on Mind maps. 245

2 IDENTIFY TOPIC SENTENCES Below is an extract from the book The Broken String by Emilia Potenza. These paragraphs are about the!kung San community in Namibia. Each paragraph gives us information about different aspect of life in their community. Each paragraph is about one topic/main idea. Underline the topic sentence which introduces this main idea. How big is a family and who belongs to it? A family consists of a mother, father and children. A man can have more than one wife if he wants to. Three or four families that is between fifteen and forty people usually live together in what we call a band. Everybody belongs somewhere and no one has no relative whatsoever with whom to live. The territory to which a person belongs may be that of his father s people or that of his mother s people: whatever territory his family is settled in will be his n!ore that is the place in which he lives or comes from, the place to which he belongs. We have no chiefs or political leaders. No one gets treated in a special way because of their status. People do not want to stand out or be above others because this draws unfavourable attention to them and may arouse envy and jealousy... of course there are often fights. But we have a way of handling conflict. We talk. When a quarrel breaks out between a husband and wife, relatives and friends get involved and help them to stop the quarrel. We don t quarrel very often but I do remember one terrible fight I had with my husband. He tried to force me to leave with him when I wanted to stay visiting my parents. You know how he did this? He snatched my baby from my arms and walked off with him. I was so cross. I could have killed him. I ran after him and hit him on his head with my digging stick, went round in a circle stamping my feet in great, high stamps and then followed him home. But mostly we solve conflict by talking. To have a fight is to have failed to find a solution by other means. Fighting is dangerous someone might get killed. 246

3 USE TOPIC SENTENCES TO PREDICT WHAT IS IN THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH Topic sentences are short, general statements. The rest of the paragraph expands on this statement. The paragraph can support the topic sentence with reasons, details, examples, descriptions, explanations, analogies, anecdotes, comparisons, contrasts, metaphors, causes, consequences etc. Look at the topic sentences below (all from The Broken String) and say what kind of information you think the rest of the paragraph will contain e.g. a description of the wedding ceremony and reasons for some of the customs. TOPIC SENTENCES Below each topic sentence write down the type of information that you think will follow. 1. But, I was about to tell you about!kung weddings. 2. We!Kung, like all other people in human history, live in an uncertain world. 3. We have many spells, herbs and forms of magic which make people better. 247

4 DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WELL-WRITTEN AND BADLY-WRITTEN TOPIC SENTENCES Each paragraph below has three topic sentences to choose from. 1. Choose the best one for each paragraph. 2. Give a reason for your choice. PARAGRAPH 1 We use their skins for all our garments and for bags; we use their bones and horns to make tools and other things; we use cocoons to make rattles and ostrich eggshells are used for carrying water. In all these ways, nature is once again our provider. (From The Broken String by Emilia Potenza.) Topic sentences 1. The animals and insects of Nyae Nyae supply us [the!kung] with many things. 2. The animals of the world supply us with many things. 3. Ostriches are very useful animals. PARAGRAPH 2 This limit corresponds to almost exactly 273 C. It is impossible for any object to have a temperature lower than this. This becomes the basis of the Kelvin scale of temperature, on which zero equals this absolute zero of temperature. (Adapted from Physical Science by Brink and Jones.) Topic sentences 1. Temperature is limited. 2. The Kelvin scale of temperature was named after Wolfgang Ludwig Brad von Kelvin, a famous scientist of the 18 th century who, apart from discovering the Kelvin scale of temperature, was also known for his revolutionary chicken farming. 3. While there is no upper limit to the temperature of an object or substance, there is a lower limit. 248

5 HOW TO WRITE A TOPIC SENTENCE SUPPORT LESSON Topic sentences Topic sentences are easy to write if one has done a plan. The plan will tell you: 1. what ideas will form a paragraph 2. what the topic of the paragraph will be. Writing a topic sentence is an easy step from there. Let s take an example from another lesson. Below is the plan, in the form of a mind map, from the lesson on mind maps. As you can see there are five groups of ideas. Each of these groups will form a paragraph. The topic of each paragraph has already been written as a sub-heading. Your task is to convert the sub-heading into a topic sentence. Let s do the first one as an example. university or technikon costs HOD Deputy Principal Principal Subject Advisor TRAINING PROMOTION OPPORTUNITIES multi-skilled OVERVIEW OF TEACHING doing something worthwhile wellorganised QUALITIES NEEDED IN A TEACHER open to change patient creative DISADVANTGES variation always learning ADVANTAGES see development in learners difficult conditions work nights and weekends learners sometimes naughty EXAMPLES OF TOPIC SENTENCES FOR THE ABOVE PLAN With regard to teacher training, the most frequently asked questions are: Where one can study and how much it will cost? Where can I train to be a teacher and how much will it cost? What does the prospective teacher need to know about teacher training? The rest of the paragraph will give details about teacher training. 249

6 WORKING WITH THE WORKSHEETS SUPPORT LESSON Topic sentences 1. Worksheet on identifying topic sentences Paragraph 1: the topic sentence is the first sentence: How big is a family and who belongs to it? The rest of the paragraph gives details about how big a family is and who it includes. Paragraph 2: the topic sentence is the first sentence: We have no chiefs or political leaders. The rest of the paragraph explains this statement and gives reasons for not having political leaders. Paragraph 3: the topic sentence is the second sentence: But we have a way of handling conflict. The rest of the paragraph is about what this way is and why they choose it. It gives an example of how other ways do not work. 2. Worksheet on predicting the rest of the paragraph from the topic sentence Any answer is acceptable as long as it relates to the topic sentence. Below are some examples of possible answers. But, I was about to tell you about!kung weddings. This could be followed by a description of a wedding (who is involved, what happens, any special clothes that are worn etc); an explanation of why weddings are conducted like this (e.g. any symbolism in the wedding); an example of a particular person s wedding. We!Kung, like all other people in human history, live in an uncertain world. This could be followed by an explanation of how the world is uncertain (economically, politically, culturally) for the!kung. It could give examples of this uncertainty and describe how the group has reacted to it. We have many spells, herbs and forms of magic which make people better. The rest of the paragraph probably gives examples of spells, herbs and magic that the!kung use and it probably describes how these make people feel better what herbs are used for what ailment etc. 3. Worksheet on distinguishing between well-written and badly-written topic sentences Paragraph 1 1. The animals and insects of Nyae Nyae supply us [the!kung] with many things. (Correct: everything in the paragraph relates to this sentence) 2. The animals of the world supply us with many things. (Too general: The paragraph is not about all of the animals in the world, it is only about the animals in the Nyae Nyae region.) 3. Ostriches are very useful animals. (Too specific: The paragraph is about other animals too we know this because it refers to horns which ostriches do not have.) 250

7 Paragraph 2 SUPPORT LESSON Topic sentences 1. Temperature is limited. (This is not true: Upper temperature is not limited. Too broad: The paragraph focuses on lower temperatures, not temperature in general.) 2. The Kelvin scale of temperature was named after Wolfgang Ludwig Brad von Kelvin, a famous scientist of the 18 th century who, apart from discovering the Kelvin scale of temperature, was also known for his revolutionary chicken farming. (Too long: Topic sentences are much shorter. Too detailed: Topic sentences make a general statement. Irrelevant: The rest of the paragraph focuses on the limit of low temperatures, not on Kelvin the name is mentioned in passing.) 3. While there is no upper limit to the temperature of an object or substance, there is a lower limit. (Correct: The rest of the paragraph focuses on the lower limit of temperature it describes it, gives details about it and mentions how it is recorded scientifically). 4. Worksheet on writing a topic sentence The topic sentences for the other parts of the plan would look something like this: There are a number of promotion opportunities for teachers. There are several advantages in becoming a teacher. Teaching has some disadvantages. What qualities are needed in a good teacher? FINAL WORD The above activities are examples. For your lessons use the students textbooks where possible. These types of activities can be used for learning and assessment purposes. The concept of topic sentences stating the main idea of the paragraph can be adapted to giving speeches. Speakers should state the main ideas of their speech clearly in the introduction to the speech and again as they get to each main idea. The main ideas should be followed by examples, details, reasons etc. 251

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