Friday, April 16, 2010

Mr. Hueller's Crash Course on the Paragraph

In formal writing, an idea is often fleshed out in a paragraph—a group of several sentences that begins with a topic sentence, becomes more detailed in its supporting sentences, and finishes with a concluding thought on the idea. The topic sentence is typically the most general sentence in the paragraph; it articulates the paragraph’s main point. I might write, in the topic sentence of a paragraph, that “Seventh-grade girls went gaga for Edward Cullen last year until they met Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo; that’s when they stopped writing love notes to a vampire and began waxing poetic about a whiny, blond-haired boy with bangs.” Supporting sentences provide the facts, details, and tidbits that make the paragraph engaging and worth reading. In that paragraph about seventh-grade girls and Leo’s Romeo, for instance, I might write a sentence about how many of the girls would talk loudly about him just to hear the boys around them groan. Perhaps I’d write another sentence about how I have to admit the guy can act. That’s a lovely movie, DiCaprio’s Romeo and Juliet. Finally, the concluding sentence would remain on topic but might add something for the reader to think about. In that sentence, I’d probably write about how the girls moved on to Taylor Lautner—a werewolf!—the next year and then Justin Bieber. I’d recognize a pattern here—last year’s seventh-grade girls seem to fall first for glamorized gothic creatures and, in the spring, for pop stars with bangs. All of this happens in a paragraph, which is a convenient way to organize and articulate what one knows.

Do you see that I modeled paragraph structure in my own paragraph above? I made bold my topic and concluding sentences, which sandwich supporting sentences. Here’s another paragraph (below) that gives you a second model.

Seventh-grade girls went gaga for Edward Cullen last year until they met Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo; that’s when they stopped writing love notes to a vampire and began waxing poetic about a whiny, blond-haired boy with bangs. For these girls, film clips of the passionately red-faced heartthrob spewing Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter with all his being were the highlights of our English class’s Romeo and Juliet unit. “Then I defy you stars!” young DiCaprio/Romeo shouts to the heavens, as seventh-grade viewers wish only that he was mourning them and not that annoying girl Juliet. The girls ooh and ahh. “He’s so dreamy,” they say. “He’s hot!” they exclaim. They do this in part so they can watch the boys in class groan. And yet, I have to give the young Mr. DiCaprio credit. The guy could act (and still can, as we see in his more recent films). It’s not all his fault, either. This year, as eighth-graders, the girls moved on to Jacob Black before discovering baby-faced Justin Bieber—in other words, they tend to fall for glamorized gothic creatures in the winter and pop stars with bangs in the spring.

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