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Topic Sentence Toss Across

September 28, 2007

Students really struggle with the idea of beginning a paragraph with a topic sentence, so I play a silly game to get the idea across, literally! If I assign an essay that needs three body paragraphs (let's say BACKGROUND, EVENT, and IMPACT), then I label three old books with those words. I ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class to play the game Topic Sentence Toss Across with me. Instructions are easy. The student stands several feet away from me, back to me. The student needs to turn and catch the book when I toss it to him, but only if the student can name what body paragraph I am tossing. The student needs to call out the name (BACKGROUND or EVENT or IMPACT) as he turns. For the first few tosses I say nothing. Of course each book falls to the floor. Kids are confused! They say my game is dorky. I ask my volunteer how he feels and why he's not turning to catch the information. Typical responses are, 'I didn't know what was coming', or 'I feel kind of dumb'. That's when I get excited and say emphatically, 'I agree! That's what happens to me when students toss all kinds of dates, names, facts, and examples in paragraphs but don't give me a head's up with a topic sentence! A topic sentence tells me what I need to catch as I read.' Then I revise the game. We try again, and this time I say a topic sentence, such as 'The attack on Pearl Harbor had a huge impact on Americans' feelings toward Japan' before I toss the book labeled IMPACT. The student turns, says, 'IMPACT', and catches the book because he knows what information is coming. After this mini lesson, it's fun to have pairs of students try this game in front of the class to see if their topic sentences are clear, if they get each topic sentence 'across' to their partner.


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