Teaching Paragraph Writing: Topic Sentences

Topic Sentences in Paragraph Writing by The Teacher Next Door

I’ve always loved writing, so it makes sense that I also love to teach writing.

Teaching writing though is not always easy. What seems so intuitive to us, does not always seem natural to our students.

So, when I teach paragraph writing, I really like to use the Step Up to Writing Model as my guide… You may be wondering if it’s possible to use this method if you don’t have any Step Up to Writing materials on hand. The answer is, yes! Once you understand the Step Up philosophy, you’ll find that it is a very doable writing method to use in your classroom.

What I like about this method is that it teaches paragraph writing as if it were a recipe…First, you add this kind of sentence, then you do that… While at first glance, we may think true writing is not based on a recipe, but I think it provides an awesome start.

Think about a child learning to read… we start with letters and sounds, not novels, right? How about learning to play an instrument, we start with single notes, and not symphonies.

In the same way, this method starts at a very basic level, with the idea that as students master the paragraph’s components, they are eventually able to use those as a springboard to beautifully written, creatively thought-out pieces.

When they have a solid foundation for writing, they can augment the recipe like a master chef might change a recipe in the kitchen.


So, what exactly do I do in my classroom to teach paragraph writing? I decided to write a series of four blog posts, to explain it in more detail. Let’s get started with the first one …Topic Sentences.

1. Introduce the Parts of a Paragraph: Color Code and Outline

Once I introduce each part of the paragraph, I have the kids color code a great deal, using paragraphs I’ve created or ones that previous students have crafted successfully. The example above shows a typical half sheet paragraph, ready for color coding and outlining.

I put my copy on the document projector, the kids each have their own half sheet and we go through the whole paragraph as a class, discussing each sentence and then color-coding it together.

The colors we use are: Topic Sentences and Conclusion sentences are highlighted in green, Star ideas are yellow and Details are red.

This follows the Step Up to Writing Model. To highlight sentences, I let kids use markers, colored pencils, or crayons, but really, I prefer markers as they work the best to highlight papers.

I really love the introductory color coding. It not only reinforces the concept of a paragraph and gives them a basic “recipe” for it, but these paragraphs serve as good writing models for the kids to follow.

Once we’re done color coding a paragraph, we flip our paper over and make a t-chart (words, not sentences) on the back in pencil. This reinforces the idea that every paragraph should have a certain organization and this is how the author organized his/her paragraph.

Here’s a T-Chart template so you get a better idea of how the kids can create their own. The stars are for each of the three star ideas (reasons to support the topic sentence), and the numbers on the right are the details that provide examples and explanations which support each star idea.

Of course, you can make your own paragraphs and materials for this but I do have a print and go resource to target these skills.

2. Introduce Different Types of Topic Sentences

When I was in school, I know we never were taught that there were different types of topic sentences, that each could be identified and named, so this was a really new idea to me but one I have since fallen in love with. I purposefully teach the kids five different ways to create a topic sentence and spend a few days working on each type.

It’s my feeling that if kids at grades 3 – 6 (and even higher) can master a basic set of five and use them with ease, this puts them in good stead as a growing writer. We go over examples together, the kids write a sentence on their whiteboards as I give them a topic, and we discuss how there are lots of “right” answers when it comes to writing, but also some choices that are better than others.

Briefly, here are each of the five topic sentences I introduce:

1. List Statements:

A List Statement tells the reader exactly what the paragraph will be about by listing the three star ideas. For example: My favorite sports include soccer, football, and basketball.

2. Power Number Statements:

Power Number Statements do not tell the readers each of the star ideas but use number words (many, few, a number of, four…) to present the general topic. For example: There are several things you can do to become a better writer.

3. Two Nouns and Two Commas:

Two Nouns and Two Commas always starts with a noun (a person, place, or thing), describes it, and then makes a statement about it (an appositive). The description part of the sentence is surrounded by commas (one before the description, and one after it). For example: Roald Amundsen, an explorer, was the first to find the Northwest Passage.

4. Occasion Position:

Occasion Position topic sentences start with an occasion (a dependent clause) and use words like when, whenever, although, even though, and they end with the writer’s position on the topic (an independent clause). For examples: Whenever we celebrate the holidays, we always include some special traditions.

5. Get Their Attention:

These topic sentences try to grab the reader’s attention by making a statement that is thought-provoking, controversial, or interesting. For example: The Italian Deli serves the best pastrami sandwiches in the country.

My Topic Sentence Packet explains each sentence type with lots more detail and has practice pages for each type as well.

3. Review All Five Topic Sentence Types

Once the kids have a pretty good handle on the five types of topic sentences, I love to do this really fun chocolate chip cookie review lesson. I start by telling the kids the story of how chocolate chip cookies were invented by accident (a copy of the story is included in the Topic Sentence packet).

Then we do the handout that has lots of different kinds of topic sentences that all deal with chocolate chip cookies. When we finish correcting together, I used to love to pass out cookies for the kids to share…until the Health and Wellness policy changed at our school and it became a no-no…grrr.

We also love to play a sorting game (in the Topic Sentence packet) that has kids working in pairs to match up the topic sentences with their sentence type. Once “official” review activities are done, I keep right on reviewing as we work on writing throughout the year.

Sometimes we might be writing a paragraph for an essay and one child will give me a topic sentence example and I’ll ask what kind of topic sentence it was. Or I’ll say, our topic is __. Who can make up an Occasion Position topic sentence for this topic?


Ok… now that we’ve gotten a little more comfortable with Topic Sentences, we’re ready to tackle Outlining and Color Coding. Look for that subject in the second part of our four-part paragraph series!


Also, if you’d like the convenience of having all of the paragraph writing materials at your fingertips, you might want to take a peek at this deeply discounted bundle. It includes BOTH print AND digital formats!

If you’d like to get more teaching ideas for paragraph writing, here are a few posts you might like:

Star Ideas and Details



5 Tips for More Effective Paragraph Writing


Thanks so much for stopping by!


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Hi, I’m Jenn! With 20 years of teaching in the classroom and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, my passion is to support teachers and their students by offering helpful teaching tips and quality resources. Thanks so much for joining me here!

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