Usually students don’t ask how to write effective English paragraphs.
That’s because it’s usually too late when they realise they need help writing a good paragraph (such as 1am the night before a deadline).
The truth is we don’t often realise we need help until it’s too late. We don’t look for the prevention, we look for the cure.
So, think of this article as the prevention and the cure to essay writer’s block and you need to write an essay for the next day.
Ready? Here’s what you’ll learn:
- The 4 key parts of a paragraph – when you know these you have the basic tools to write an essay.
- How to effectively structure your paragraphs for maximum marks
- One of the biggest mistakes that many students make in their writing (and how to avoid it)
- The relationship between the thesis statement and your paragraphs
To make it really easy for you to see how a paragraph is put together, there are two parts to this article.
Part one is the model paragraph and part two is an analysis of the model.
The Model Essay Paragraph
This paragraph is part of a longer essay that I wrote on how to become an independent language learner a few years ago. It’s a topic that I truly believe in. In fact, research has shown time and time again:
The most successful English learners
are the ones who are independent in their language learning.
But that’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s look at the paragraph:
(Don’t worry too much if you can’t understand everything. Just get the general idea first)
The first step in the transition from teacher-centred to learner-centred requires the teacher to make sure that the learners are capable and ready for autonomy. One factor that affects this is teacher dependency. It is widely known that classrooms have revolved around the teacher since the dawn of teaching, and this has resulted in most learners being dependent on the teacher. Because of this dependency, most learners are not prepared for autonomy as it requires the responsibility to be shared (Lazar 2013). Another factor for consideration is strategy awareness. Since many learners have been receptive and passive for most of their language learning, it is likely that they lack an adequate knowledge of learning strategies to become autonomous. Consequently, to become autonomous, learners require careful strategy training and scaffolding (Cotterall 1995). Therefore, the teacher has two different roles. They need to be a guide to help learners become less teacher dependent, and a learning strategy instructor.
There are four key parts to this paragraph (and most paragraphs):
- The topic sentence
- The main points
- The supporting sentences
- The concluding sentence(s)
Click it for the bigger image!
Let’s look at these in more detail.
The Topic Sentence
The topic sentence gives the main theme or discussion point of the paragraph. Everything that you write in your paragraphs should relate to the topic sentence.
“The first step in the transition from teacher-centred to learner-centred requires the teacher to make sure that the learners are capable and ready for autonomy.”
In simple English, this means that you can’t just become an independent learner, you need the proper training first.
Now, because the topic sentence talks about independent learning, the information in the paragraph must relate to being ready for independent learning.
So, look at the next section. Do the main points relate to independent learning?
Quick Tip: The topic sentence in your English paragraphs should relate to your thesis statement
The Main Points
These are the main ideas within your overall paragraph theme. You might have just one main point, or you might have four or five.
In the example paragraph there are two main points:
Teacher dependency (this means relying on the teacher) and strategy awareness.
Do they relate to independent learning?
Yes, because you can’t be an independent learner if:
- Everything you learn and do is because a teacher told you to do it.
- You don’t know which strategies to use.
Quick Tip: A really good way to show these points is to use numbering phrases like:
- One factor is… Another factor is….
- The first benefit is… The second benefit is…
- One belief is… Another belief is….
This makes it easy to structure your points.
The Supporting Sentences
These are sentences which you use to argue, support, describe, explain or define your main points. In your English paragraphs, having a main point is not enough. You need to expand on these main points to really persuade or inform your audience.
Let’s look at one of the examples:
“It is widely known that classrooms have revolved around the teacher since the dawn of teaching, and this has resulted in most learners being dependent on teacher.”
This sentence explains the main point (teacher dependency). It also shows that teacher dependency is a known issue.
“Because of this dependency, most learners are not prepared for autonomy as it requires the responsibility to be shared (Lazar 2013).”
This sentence expands on the sentence before it and shows the relation between the topic sentence and the main point.
The purpose of the supporting sentences is to support and relate to your topic sentence.
Quick Tip: To make this really easy, think about how you can support your main points when you plan your essay.
This sentence (or sentences) should give your final opinion on the topic. It’s your chance to bring together the information or points that you made and present them. All of your paragraphs should have some sort of conclusion.
For example, in the example paragraph, I made two points:
- Most classes focus on the teacher, not on the student.
- Most learners don’t know how to learn. For example, they don’t know which vocabulary strategies work for them.
So, in my concluding sentences, I suggested a solution to these two points:
“Therefore, the teacher has two different roles. They need to be a guide to help learners become less teacher dependent and an instructor in language learning strategies.”
Make your concluding sentences punchy, effective and relevant.
Quick Tip: Your concluding sentence should relate back to you topic sentence.
Make your concluding sentences punchy!
Putting All Of Your Paragraphs Together
This paragraph is not just on its own. A paragraph is never just on its own. It’s always a part of a larger piece of work.
So it’s up to you to make it fit.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest mistakes that students make is writing paragraphs which don’t fit their essays.
To avoid this, you can ask yourself these two questions:
- Does your paragraph relate to your essay question?
- Does your paragraph support your thesis statement (or tactically help your stance)?
If you answer ‘no’, you might need to delete or rewrite your English paragraphs.
Remember the thesis statement is the really important sentence in your introduction.
Now that you know how to write an effective paragraph, help your friends! Share this article with any of your essay writing friends.
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And before you go, answer this question:
What more can you learn from the example paragraph in this article?
Leave your comments below.