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Moving Beyond ‘Transition Words’

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Author: Sarah Ives

Activity name: Moving Beyond “Transition Words”

Class: PWR 1/PWR 2

Activity brief description:  The goal of this activity is to teach students the importance of transitions between paragraphs. Students focus on the first and last sentence of each paragraph, as well as each paragraph’s central goal, to try to recreate the original order of an article. Students discover that “transition words” alone are not sufficient to demonstrate how each paragraph builds from the last to form one coherent argument.

Schedule: I use this activity in Week 2-3 when students are revising their Rhetorical Analysis papers.  It could also work at other points of the quarter or in PWR 2.

Activity length: 60-75 minutes (depending on whether you include the title exercise)

Activity goals:

  • To demonstrate the importance of transitions in building a coherent argument.
  • To discover that “transition words” alone are not sufficient to show how each paragraph builds from the last to form one coherent argument.
  • To connect ideas of cohesion to the first “transition” into a paper: the title.

Activity details:


  1. Before class, I print out copies of an article (I use “HEADED FOR THE BIGGEST D’OH! OF ALL: What ‘The Simpsons’ could teach us about global warming”).
  2. I cut the article into pieces after each paragraph break.


  1. We brainstorm as a class the role of transitions in papers and make a list of different “transition words.”
  2. I divide students into groups of three.
  3. I give students about ten minutes in their groups to reconstruct what they think was the original article’s order. I tell them the article’s broad topic (a Simpson’s episode that addressed climate change) and ask them to reflect on the following questions as they reconstruct:
    • What is the central goal of each paragraph?
    • What clues in each transition help you see how theparagraphs connect?
    • How would you improve the transition?
    • What is the central argument of the article?


  1. I read the original article aloud for students to compare with their reconstructions (with much laughter and cheers).
  2. We discuss the following questions:
    • What is the central argument of the article?
    • What language in each paragraph helped you see the connection to the previous paragraph?
    • How would you improve the transition?
    • How would you apply these lessons to your own work? Instead of envisioning each paragraph as a separate argument, think about how it builds on the previous paragraph to advance your central claim.
  3. Students take 15 minutes to work on structure, cohesion, and transitions in their draft RAs.

Next Steps:

  1. We then connect our reflections to the first transition into a paper: the title. We brainstorm the goal of a title, what makes for an effective title, and ideas about how to come up with titles (I generate a list on the board).
  2. Students get back into their groups and take a few minutes to write a title for the Simpson’s article. The class votes for the most effective title, and the winning group gets a candy reward.

Additional Notes:

This activity was originally published as an Activity of the Week in Winter 2015.