Topic Sentences and Transitions

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 1 class period
15 minutes
Materials: 4-5 well-written student essays (see Related and Resource Websites below), 1 copy each


One of the keys to successful essay writing is mastering topic sentences and transitions. When students are able to successfully use these two types of sentences at the beginning and end of each paragraph, they will greatly increase the overall smoothness and flow of their writing. In this lesson, students will learn about the purposes of these types of sentences, their placement in the essay, and how to write them.

Purpose – The goal of this lesson is for students to explore the purposes and techniques for writing topic sentences and transitional statements.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the purpose of both a topic sentence and a transitional statement.
2. Write a topic sentence which denotes the paragraph topic and the author’s stand on that topic.
3. Write an effective transitional statement which connects the ideas of a preceding paragraph to those of a subsequent paragraph.

National English Education Standard
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Teacher Background
The teacher should be familiar with the purposes and components of topic sentences as well as transitional statements. The topic sentence precedes each paragraph and gives the main idea of that paragraph. This sentence is very similar to the thesis statement in that it contains both the topic and the author’s opinion on that topic. Transitional statements conclude each paragraph and connect the ideas of that section with the ideas which are presented in the succeeding paragraph. This adds to an overall smoothness in writing style due to the connections drawn between related topics.

Related and Resource Websites
Resources on Topic Sentences and Transitions:

Sample essays:



1. Before class begins, take the 5 student essays you have copied. They should be typed, have no grading marks on them, be written on different topics if possible, and the name of the writer should be blotted out. Take these essays and cut them up by paragraph- make sure you choose student papers that have good use of topic sentences and transitions. Place the cut up paragraphs in a box. You may wish to cut the paragraphs in such a way that the edges of the paper no longer match up perfectly (thus making it harder for students to simply match paragraphs like puzzle pieces).

2. As students enter the room, be waiting for them at the door with the box of cut up paragraphs. When the students are seated, instruct them that they have been given pieces of various essays that you want them to re-assemble. They must read over the paragraph they have and then wander around the room, comparing their paragraph to those of other students. The goal of the activity is for the students to match up their paragraphs based on subject matter and transitions, and form five complete essays. Tell the students that once they find the students who are holding the other paragraphs that are in the same essay, they must work together to order them properly (introduction first, followed by the body paragraphs and conclusion). Give the class about 10-15 minutes to find their missing counterparts.

3. When the class has re-assembled their paragraphs into complete essays, check their work to see that they make sense and that the paragraphs are ordered correctly. You may want to have them tape the essays back together and tape them to the board, so that other groups may come up and evaluate the essays to determine whether or not they make sense. Have students put a checkmark next to the essays that make sense, and an “X” next to those which they feel have been mismatched. You may want to read a few essay sections aloud and let the class evaluate how they sound- are the paragraphs correctly ordered?

4. After this activity is completed, ask the class to describe the process by which they were able to match up the paragraphs. What parts or sentences of the paragraph were especially essential to making sure the paragraphs were in the right order? (the first and last sentences). Explain to the class that their task was made easier by topic sentences and transitional sentences. Ask the class to explain what the purpose is of the first (topic) sentence and the last (transition) sentence. If students are unsure, explain that a good topic sentence should come at the beginning of the paragraph and state the overall subject to be discussed in that section. A good transition sentence comes at the end of the paragraph, and connects the ideas of that section with the ideas to come in the next section. This creates a smooth flow of ideas from one section to the next, and makes it easier for the reader to follow the path of your argument.

Answer any questions the students may have, and then allow them to review their final project essays, looking specifically at their topic sentences and transitions. Encourage the students to evaluate their paragraphs carefully, to see if the ideas are clearly stated and connected from section to section. Students should make corrections where needed.

Students should work on their final project essays.

Embedded Assessment
During the activity, check to make sure students are re-assembling the cut up essays correctly, relying on the topic sentences and transitions of each paragraph as a guide. When the final project essays are evaluated, the use of topic sentences and transitions should be evident.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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