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Honing Topic Sentences

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This variation of thesis-speed-dating asks students to peer edit topic sentences in a round-robin style, helping them better understand the structure and function of effective topic sentences.

Author: Lindsey Mantoan

Class: PWR 1/PWR 2

Activity brief description: The goal of this activity is to focus students’ attention on their use of topic sentences. Once they have a full draft of an assignment, they copy and paste all of their topic sentences into a single paragraph on a separate document. This paragraph allows them to zoom in and see how their topic sentences relate to their thesis and to each other.

Schedule: Week 8-9 (but could be used any time between the draft of an assignment and the due date for the final version of that assignment)

Activity length: Appox. 40 minutes

Activity goals: Sharpen use of topic sentences; focus on structure, trajectory, and argument

Activity details:

  • Preparation: Make sure students know to bring a laptop to class and to have the electronic file of their draft accessible.
  • Implementation: This activity takes place between when students have submitted a draft of an assignment and the final version of it.
    • Students first copy and paste all of their topic sentences from their draft into a blank document, putting them into a single paragraph
    • They read the paragraph to see if it creates a coherent essay in its own right, and if it reflects the arguments they want to make in the essay as a whole
    • I sometimes ask students to count how many words are in some of their topic sentences (which generates laughs) and ask them to cut at least five words from every sentence over 30 words
    • Students then rotate one chair to their right, and read through their neighbor’s topic sentences. They offer questions, comments, suggestions, etc. in the word document (they can use different fonts/colors for this). Students have, say, 4-5 minutes at each seat.
    • Students rotate another seat, commenting both on the new set of topic sentences and also on previous comments/suggestions
    • After rotating four or five chairs, students return to their own seat and read through the suggestions their peers gave them. They then take five minutes to revise some of their sentences based on what they’ve learned.
  • Reflection:
    • I ask students what trends they’ve noticed in their topic sentences: Are they argumentative or descriptive? Do they refer back to the thesis? Do they have a clear and logical trajectory? Does it seem like the topic sentences do the heavy lifting in the essay
    • I also ask what they learned from reading other people’s topic sentences.
    • I encourage students to repeat this exercise on their own after additional rounds of revisions.

Additional notes: Originally published as an Activity of the Week, winter 2015