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Concourse 2

How to write a paragraph


If you want to write a good paragraph, you need to know three important things:

  1. How to tell the reader what the paragraph is about.
  2. How to order the information.
  3. How to link ideas together.

There are 8 tasks in this lesson.  When you see the word Task, stop for a moment and do the exercise.  You will learn more that way.

What the paragraph is about: topic sentences

The first sentence of a good paragraph tells the reader what to expect.  This sentence is called the topic sentence.

viking Task 1: Which of the following do you think is a topic sentence of a paragraph about the Vikings (picture) in North America?
  1. For many years people weren't sure if Newfoundland was the place in the stories, or if the stories were true.
  2. It was believed for a long time that the first European to visit Newfoundland was an Englishman called John Cabot.
  3. Ingstad explored Newfoundland in the 1960s, and discovered some amazing things.
  4. Now we know better.

Click here when you have your answer.

viking ship Task 2: Now read this and see which of the three sentences can be the topic sentence for this paragraph.

The paragraph is:

Starting in the late-700s AD, the Vikings began coming to the British Isles and France as well as to Iceland.  They also sailed to Russia and to Byzantium (now Istanbul in modern Turkey).

The three possible topic sentences are:

  1. Over the next few years other Vikings came to the area.
  2. One person who believed the Sagas told stories of real events was a Norwegian called Helge Ingstad.
  3. The Vikings' boats, which used oars or a simple sail, were very good boats at the time and the Vikings travelled a long way in them.

Click here when you have your answer.

What topic sentences do in different sorts of writing

In the examples here we have used a text which gives information.  In this case, it's about Vikings and North America.  However, topic sentences are also needed in other sorts of text.
Task 3: See if you can tell what they do in the following and then click on the table to see the answers.


Task 4: Now see if you can match the topic sentence to the type of writing.  The types of writing are the same.
When you have an answer, click on the table to see if you are right.


Ordering the information

This depends on the type of writing you are doing.
After the topic sentence, it works like this:

Saying how to do something
These texts are things like recipes for cooking or instructions for a machine.
You order the information logically: what to do first, second, third and so on.
For example 1:
First, heat the oil and butter in a pan and then add the onions.  Cook them until they are soft.  Then add the vegetables and the spices etc.
For example 2:
First, take off the cover by lifting it at the end.  Then remove the filter and clean it with a little warm water.  When it is dry, put it back in the unit and replace the cover.
Telling a story
These texts are often about yourself and say what happened to you.
Again, you need to help the reader by keeping to the order in which things happen.  So, you start with where you were, what happened, what you did and what other people did.
For example:
I arrived at the airport very early and the check-in desk was closed.  Because I was so hungry by then, I went up to the restaurant on the first floor and, to my surprise, I met my old friend from school.  He was sitting alone drinking coffee and was very pleased to see me.  We had breakfast together and I told him all my news etc.
Giving information
These texts are like the one about Vikings.
You tell the reader what the important facts are with one fact in each paragraph following the topic sentence.
For example:
Francis Drake left England on 15th November 1577.  At first, he met very bad weather and had to return to repair his ships.  He left again on 13th December and sailed first to North Africa before crossing the Atlantic.
Explaining something
These texts are like the ones you see in school books.
You keep one subject in each paragraph and you explain to the reader how something happens and/or what it does.
For example:
Hail forms when drops of water are pushed up into colder air in the atmosphere.  Then the raindrops fall again.  This happens again and again and each time the drops get heavier.  When they are too heavy they fall out of the air and hit the ground as hail.
Arguing and discussing
These are often texts you have to write in examinations.
Each paragraph will have one main point (the topic sentence) and then an example of what you mean and why it is important.
For example:
The second problem is that smoking is very unhealthy for people who breath in the smoke from other people's tobacco.  This is called 'secondary smoking' and doctors have shown that it is almost as bad for you as smoking yourself.

Linking ideas

Task 5: Look at the parts in black in these sentences.  What do you see?

John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497 but he wasn't the first European to visit.  The first ones were the Vikings who sailed there 500 years before Cabot.  They wrote about their visit in stories called the SagasThe Sagas tell the story of Eric the RedHe sailed to Newfoundland in the 10th century.

Click here to get an answer.

Do you see what's happening?

  1. The subject of the first sentence is John Cabot and the sentence goes on to tell us that he was not the first European.
  2. Then, The first ones (Europeans) becomes the subject of the next sentence which tells us about the Vikings.
  3. They (the Vikings) becomes the subject of the next sentence which tells us about the Sagas.
  4. The Sagas is the subject of the next sentence which tells us about Eric the Red.
  5. Finally, He (Eric the Red) is the subject of the last sentence.

It looks like this:

vikings paragraph explained 

Task 6: Now, what's the next sentence?  You have a choice of three here.  Decide which sentence should come next.

  1. John Cabot was born in Italy.
  2. In the 10th century, the climate was warmer than now.
  3. The Vikings came from Scandinavia.

Click here when you have an answer.

Task 7: Try to put these sentences in the right order.
First, find the topic sentence.  Put that first and then see if you can put the other sentences in the right order.

  1. At L'Anse aux Meadows the Ingstads found the remains of a Viking settlement.
  2. He noticed that the places in the Sagas were similar to Newfoundland.
  3. The Norwegian Helge Ingstad believed the Sagas tell us about real events.
  4. Ingstad explored Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula in the 1960s, and noticed how a place called Vinland in the Sagas was just like well a place called L'Anse aux Meadows.

Now click here for the right answer.

Task 8: Now try a short exercise ordering a paragraph from a story.  Click here to do the exercise.


Do not!

The way you write a paragraph in English is probably not the same as the way you write one in your language.
In English, paragraphs usually work in a simple way:
    Topic sentence → Information → Example
in other languages, you may give information which is not about the topic and you may make general statements about the subject of the whole texts.  Do not do this in English!
In particular, do not include information that is not about the topic.


Remember, when you write a paragraph:

  1. Start with a topic sentence.
  2. Order the information logically.
  3. Link the sentences by taking the end of the last sentence and making it the subject of the next sentence.
  4. Make sure everything you write in the paragraph is about the topic of the first sentence ONLY.