Structuring paragraphs properly: using topic sentences
What are they? The topic sentence (usually the first one in the paragraph) sums up what the rest of the paragraph is going to deal with. A topic sentence will make a general point, not a detailed one It should refer to words from the question
Which of these is a topic sentence? The opening scene of ‘Macbeth’ is a memorable one for several reasons. When Macbeth kills Duncan, he feels so guilty that he forgets to leave the daggers behind, so Lady Macbeth takes them back.
The first is a topic sentence The first example leads us to expect that the rest of the paragraph will explain the reasons why the scene is memorable; the second example simply tells us part of the story. It gives no indication about what will come next.
Check ‘em out! Discuss how effective each of the following would be as a topic sentence at the start of a paragraph. For each example, write down an answer to the following: What clues are given about how the rest of the paragraph is likely to develop?
1 ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragic love story about two young lovers who lived in Verona in Italy in the Middle Ages.
2 The prologue to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ introduces the theme of fate.
3 Shortly after this Duncan came to visit Macbeth at his castle because he was very pleased at how well Macbeth fought in the battle.
4 ‘Trailed his slackness soft-bellied down.’ Here the poet is effectively describing how the snake slithers down and uses alliteration of the ‘s’ sounds.
Don’t forget to P.E.E. ! Never begin with a quote. This should never, ever happen if you remember to PEE! Point Evidence Explain NB there are various acronyms for this activity: SEE, SPQA, SQA etc, but the main point is, make a point before giving evidence, and follow your evidence with some explanation as to its validity!
5 The poet’s use of imagery creates a strong impression of the violent atmosphere on the streets of Brooklyn.
6 Lady Macbeth uses several different methods to put pressure on her husband to murder King Duncan.
7 In Act 1 scene 3 the witches prophesy that Macbeth will become King of Scotland.
8 Juliet was so excited after meeting Romeo that instead of going to bed she went out onto her balcony to think about him.
9 Charlie Forbes decides to take Tom to Towellan, but he is mocked by his colleague Todd for doing this.
10 The opening scene of ‘Macbeth’ establishes an atmosphere of mystery and evil which is developed in the rest of the play.
11 The author’s use of symbolism helps the reader to understand the development of the character of Tom Curdie.
12 ‘The delight of a realised ambition overcame him.’ This shows that Piggy is delighted to be free of adult control.
Destination…? Think of the topic sentence as a signpost. It indicates the direction in which the rest of the paragraph is going to travel… if you took the signposts away from the essay, you’d follow a line of argument, much like following a trail or a ski-run
This is NOT the kind of signposting we’re looking for in topic sentences! ONE direction at a time!
Mmmmm… ribs! You could also think of it as a bone—if you took the topic sentences away from the supporting material, you should be able to see the structure of the argument.
Planning and Topic Sentences If you’ve PLANNED your essay, you can even create topic sentences for each section, because you’ll know ahead of time what you plan to write in each paragraph/section of your essay
Your turn… You’ve already seen this question, and you’ve had a stab at writing your first introductory paragraph: Choose a play which you feel has a memorable opening section. Show how the content or the atmosphere of the scene or section provides an effective starting point for the development of the characters and the theme of the play. Let’s take a step back—what are the key words? What techniques will you be addressing? Have you addressed all five points you were given yesterday in your paragraph? Now PLAN the whole essay, giving a topic sentence for each paragraph (you’ll most likely end up with about 5 or 6 paragraphs).