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How to Write a Great Topic Sentence

Why Kids Hate Topic Sentences

Are your students baffled when trying to write a strong topic sentence?  Are you tired of seeing something like, “Cheetahs are very interesting animals” as the first sentence of every paragraph your child writes?

Topic sentences are important!  They are also difficult for most kids to master when they are learning to write a paragraph.

Topic Sentences Made Simple

In my homeschool writing programs, I tell students that the topic sentence needs to have two parts:

The Topic:  What is the paragraph about?  This might be cheetahs, or George Washington, or Disneyland.

The Controlling Idea:  This is what limits the topic to one main idea.  You can’t cover everything there is to know about cheetahs in one paragraph.  Maybe your paragraph is going to be about how fast cheetahs can run.  Or maybe your paragraph is going to be about the rides at Disneyland.  The controlling idea controls what can go into your paragraph, and it tells the reader what to expect from the paragraph.

To combine a topic (cheetahs) and a controlling idea (their speed) into a topic sentence, you make a statement (not a question) that includes both those parts.  For example:

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on Earth.

To combine the topic of Disneyland with the controlling idea about the rides, you might say something like this:

Disneyland has many thrilling rides for both children and adults.

Avoid These Common Writing Mistakes

One mistake a lot of students make is telling the reader what they are going to tell them.  They say something like this:  “I am going to tell you about the thrilling rides at Disneyland.”  Or “Here are some of the exciting rides at Disneyland.”  You want to avoid topic sentences like this.  Keep it simple.  Make a statement.  And don’t use personal pronouns like “I.”

You also want to avoid using a question as a topic sentence.  Questions work as “hooks” for longer essays, but for a topic sentence, it’s better to stick to the simple statement that includes the topic and the controlling idea.

FREE Online Writing Lesson

Get a FREE Online Writing Lesson about How to Write a Great Topic Sentence

If you’d like to receive a link to my free online writing lesson about how to write a great topic sentence, please go to my home page and provide your email address.  I will send you a ten-minute lesson that includes practice exercises and examples of how to write a topic sentence teachers will love.  Have your student watch it, and then practice the simple techniques any time your child writes a paragraph.

Online Writing Classes That Make Writing Simple and Fun

If you’d like more, my online writing classes for kids include easy, step-by-step instructions for writing the topic sentence, the detail sentences, and the concluding sentence that make a great paragraph.  My goal is to make writing simple and fun!

If you have questions or would like to get started, feel free to contact me at holly.dodson@verizon.net, or call me at 951-302-0540.

How I Discovered an Outstanding Writing Program for Children

Do you ever feel like writing is the hardest subject to teach?  Do your students balk at writing assignments, complain that they don’t know what to write, or just copy from a book or article? I address these issues and more in my online writing classes for kids.

Writing is one of the most difficult subjects to teach, and many parents and even teachers feel like it is too subjective, with no simple formula to follow.  Kids often hate it because it’s overwhelming, and they don’t feel confident.  One of the primary goals of my online writing courses is to improve student confidence so they can begin to write more independently.

How I Discovered an Outstanding Writing Program for Children

I first discovered Andrew Pudewa and the Institute for Excellence in Writing when I was home schooling my own daughters.  Andrew was a keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by River Springs Charter School.  Although I was a teacher, a tutor, and an experienced home school mom, I had not yet found a writing program that simplified the writing process for students.  Other subjects were so much more objective, and there were step-by-step approaches to teaching them.  Skills were taught in a logical sequence, and each skill built on the previous ones.

Writing, on the other hand, seemed so subjective.  And overwhelming.  I worked with many tutoring students who hated to write, and I struggled to find a way to make it easier and more enjoyable for those reluctant writers.  After attending my first IEW writing workshop with Andrew Pudewa, I was hooked!  Finally, there was a step-by-step process to teach the structure of writing, with new stylistic techniques added bit by bit, so as not to feel overwhelming.

I had the pleasure of attending several of Andrew’s writing workshops in person, and then I purchased his DVD set, which teaches teachers how to use the IEW method.  It felt a little overwhelming at first, but I started using it with my daughters, as well as a few of my tutoring students.  I had students who “hated” writing and had no confidence in where to start or how to continue, and with the help of the program, they suddenly felt more confident.  Suddenly writing “wasn’t that hard,” and eventually they no longer hated it.  As a tutor, that was real success!

My Homeschool Writing Program

After using the IEW writing program for children with my one-on-one students for awhile, I decided to begin offering a homeschool writing program with small group writing classes for elementary and middle school students. The small-group classes allowed students to interact with each other, be inspired by each other’s ideas, and learn from each other’s mistakes.  At the beginning of the first class, I always asked, “How many students like to write?  How many hate to write?”  There were always at least a couple who admitted they hated it.  By the end of the first day of class, almost every student would admit that writing class wasn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be, and, some even admitted it was fun.  I recently had the mom of a new student tell me that her son came home after the first day of class and said, “Finally I think I found a teacher who can teach me how to write!”

I have had such wonderful success with hundreds of students who have taken my writing workshops for kids, and there is no better feeling as a teacher.

Online Writing Classes Now Available

I still teach my in-person IEW writing courses for children in my home classroom in Temecula and at the Murrieta Home School Campus.  In order to reach more students who may not be local, I also began offering my writing classes for kids online.  I still provide editing and feedback, which are crucial elements for success in IEW or any other writing program, but I do it all by email, and kids take the online writing classes in the comfort of home, at their own pace, on their own schedule.  The kids love it, the parents love it, and, best of all, more kids are becoming excellent writers!

Online Writing Coach Now Available

Does your student make these common writing mistakes?

subject-verb agreement:  “One of my friends are going to come over today.”

I see this in student writing all the time.  The correct way to write this is “One of my friends IS going to come over today.”  One is the subject of the sentence, and it’s singular, so the verb must also be singular.

run-on sentence:  “My dog likes to eat, my cat likes to nap.”

This is a mistake I continue to see in high school students as well as younger students.  In order to correct a run-on, students must join those two complete sentences with a semi colon:

“My dog likes to eat; my cat likes to nap.”

Alternatively, they can use a comma and a conjunction such as and or but:

“My dog likes to eat, but my cat likes to nap.”

These kinds of mistakes not only hurt your student’s grades, but they also reflect poorly on college entrance essays, cover letters for jobs, and business correspondence later in life.  The earlier students can learn to recognize and correct these errors, the more natural it becomes, so they can be good life-long writers.

As a writing coach, I work with students of all ages to correct common mistakes and improve overall writing skills and performance.  I don’t just edit student work; I work one-on-one with the student to discuss problem areas and how to fix them.  I find that discussion and working together creates much more effective learning than simply doing the editing for the student.

I now offer on-on-one writing coaching online.  I work with students via Facetime, Skype, or over the phone, going over their papers and discussing/correcting errors.

For more information about one-on-one writing coaching for your student, contact Holly at holly.dodson@verizon.net (usually the best way to reach me without playing phone tag) or 951-302-0540.

Vary Sentence Length

One of the best ways to improve on boring, choppy writing is to simply vary the length of sentences in a paragraph.   Many students fall into the habit of writing short, choppy sentences, or too many long, complex sentences in a row.  This example shows how varying the length of sentences can make a big difference in the way writing sounds.  Encourage students to practice writing a combination of short, medium, and long sentences in their paragraphs.

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Why a Writing Class?

When was the last time you used algebra?

The answer for most people is high school math class.

But when was the last time you had to write something?  An email?  A cover letter?  A report for your boss?  A letter to your child’s teacher?

Writing is a skill we use for our entire lives, and it’s one that often gives someone their first impression of us.  It’s something many people dread doing, for fear they can’t do it well.  It’s something many people weren’t taught well, didn’t practice enough, or didn’t receive enough feedback and direct instruction to improve.

Excellent writing requires excellent instruction, consistent practice, and feedback and guidance from a master teacher who can help students improve.  Large classes and extremely busy classroom schedules don’t always allow for this.

Maybe you already recognize this problem and have tried to find a good writing class for your elementary or middle school student.  Maybe you haven’t found one that is conveniently located, or maybe the classes don’t fit with your already busy schedule.

That’s where Write With Holly’s Online Writing Classes can help.  Students receive high-definition video instruction from the convenience of their home computer, tablet, or smart phone.  Classes are self-paced and can be viewed any time, according to YOUR schedule.  The accompanying PDF book contains all materials, reviews important points covered in the videos, and provides detailed instruction for homework assignments. Students watch the videos, review the PDF materials, then turn in homework assignments via email for editing, feedback, and instruction directly from Holly.  Questions about the assignments?  Holly is always just an email away.

Ready to enroll?  

For a limited time, the Online Expository Writing Class is on sale for $49.  Online payment is easy via PayPal or credit card.  Email Holly at holly.dodson@verizon.net to receive an online invoice.   Once payment is complete, you will receive a 25-page PDF booklet that contains all materials, links to videos, and instructions.  It’s super easy and it’s convenient!