Archive for September, 2018

Writing effective introductions and conclusions

September 23, 2018

Remember, for Essay 1, your introduction should include a thesis statement that expresses the generalization about Luma’s character that your examples support.

But how do you begin your essay? Here are some common kinds of introductions that “hook” the reader. (These introductions are helpful strategies for all the essays you will write in this class, not just Essay 1.)

• Open with a quotation

A good, short quotation can hook your reader. It must, however, lead naturally into your main idea, and not be there just for effect.

If you start with a quotation, make sure you tell the reader who the speaker is and where the action takes place before you begin quoting.

• Give an example or tell a story

Opening an essay with a brief story or example often draws readers in. Is there a telling example from Luma’s background?

• Start with a surprising fact or idea

Surprises captures people’s attention. The more unexpected or surprising something is, the more likely your reader will be hooked.

• Offer a strong opinion or position

The stronger the opinion, the more likely is that your readers will pay attention. Make your point clear in your introduction.

• Ask a question

A question needs an answer, so if you start your introduction with a question, your readers will expect to read on to get the answer.

Conclusions: Remember: Don’t conclude with your final example.

After your main points have been made by your body paragraphs, use your concluding paragraph to drive your main idea home one final time.

Make sure you conclusion has the same energy as the rest of your essay.

Basics of a good conclusion:

Refers back to the thesis statement, and

sums up what has been covered in the essay and reminds readers of your thesis.

Review: Keep this word in mind as you draft your first draft to make sure you include all the elements of an illustration essay: TEST

Thesis statement unifies your essay

Evidence supports your essay’s thesis statement

Summary statement (conclusion) reinforces your essay’s main idea

Transitions that move your reader from one example to the next.

Tips for drafting Essay 1: Illustration

September 23, 2018

Illustration is writing that uses examples to support a point or a generalization.

Basics of a good illustration essay:

• It has a point.

• It gives specific examples that show, explain, or prove that point.

• It gives details to support the examples.

• It uses enough examples to get the point across to the reader.

The point: Luma’s personality/character.

Specific examples: taken from the book to show/explain her character.

In illustration, the main idea is the message you want your readers to receive and understand.

The topic sentence in your body paragraphs connect back to your main idea (thesis).

Topic + Main idea = topic sentence

Aspect/quality Luma’s personality/character

Think critically as you write your first draft. Ask yourself:

Does your introduction include a thesis statement that clearly states your essay’s main idea?

Do you have enough evidence – fully developed examples – to support your thesis?

Is each of your examples clearly related to your main idea (thesis)?

If your paragraph feels “thin,” can you find new examples to build it up?

Does your conclusion include a summary statement that reinforces your essay’s thesis?

Do you include transitions that move readers from one example to the next?

Below are some common issues I saw in student thesis statements and outlines:

• Thesis statement is too vague. Don’t be afraid of being specific in your thesis statement about Luma’s personality and character.

Name the qualities that are the most important in describing who Luma is as a person.

Many of you are using a “forecasting” thesis statement, which is great, because this is the type of essay that calls out for a forecasting thesis statement, where you name the qualities/aspects of Luma’s personality that you will be discussing in your essay.

What is a “forecasting thesis”?

A forecasting statement introduces the reader to the points in your thesis, reducing each point to one or two words.

Choose the major ones that will help your reader understand your topic (Luma’s personality and character).

I would suggest placing a forecasting statement at the end of the introduction. That placement allows you to make the transition naturally from the introduction to the first major point.

Make sure that your essay’s organization lines up with the qualities you name in your forecasting thesis statement.

And because a forecasting thesis statement is listing three our four qualities, you have to make sure that those items are parallel in grammatical structure.

If I have written “faulty parallelism” next to your thesis statement – this is what I mean:

Parallelism is a stylistic device of placing equal ideas in equivalent grammatical constructions. When these ideas are not grammatically parallel, then you have a faulty parallelism.

Use the same grammatical form for all items in a series or a list – all nouns, all gerunds, all prepositional phrases, and so on.

Faulty: Please leave your name, your number, and you should also leave a message.

Parallel: Please leave your name, your number, and your message.

Faulty: Making the team was one thing, but it was very difficult to stay on it.

Parallel: Making the team was one thing, but staying on it was another.

• Think about your essay’s organization.

I’d recommend using a least- to most-important example structure.

Is there a quality in Luma’s character that is dominant or the most important? Save that for the last part of your essay.

Some of your place that most important quality in the first or second body paragraph. I’d move it to your final example.

• Quoting dialogue from the book:

Remember to place spoken dialogue from the book that you are quoting in single quotation marks.

Student sentence:

For Luma, her financial situation changes quickly, as she explains in Chapter One: “‘I went from being able to walk into any restaurant and store in the United States and buy whatever I wanted, to having nothing’” (23).

Remember to use in-text citations not only when you are quoting directly from the book, but when you summarize or paraphrase ideas or examples from the book.

• Remember to use present tense to discuss actions and thoughts presented in the book (In Chapter One, St. John describes Luma’s childhood …)

Use past tense when when writing about events that take place in the past (Luma fell out of favor with her father when …), but when you discuss the points raised in the book, use present tense.


Essay 1 – Illustration: Explaining with examples

September 13, 2018

Writers have a variety of options for developing ideas within a paragraph and within an essay (narration, comparison and contrast, process, etc.)

One of these patterns is illustration (also called exemplification).

What do we mean when we say that a movie is boring?

Or a particular law is unjust?

To clarify general statements like these, we use exemplification – that is, we give examples to illustrate a general idea.

2 mins. Hand out Essay 1 assignment


The introduction of an illustration essay should include a clear thesis statement that identifies the essay’s main idea – the idea the examples will support.

The body paragraphs should present evidence – fully developed examples that support the thesis.

Each body paragraph should be introduced by a topic sentence that identifies the example or group of related examples that the paragraph will discuss.

The conclusion of an illustration essay should include a summary statement that reinforces the essay’s thesis.

An illustration essay should use appropriate transitional words and phrases to connect examples within paragraphs and between paragraphs.


An illustration paragraph should have a topic sentence that states that paragraph’s main idea.

An illustration paragraph should present evidence – in the form of examples from the book – that supports and clarifies the general statement made in the topic sentence.

Examples should be arranged in logical order – for example, from least to most important or from general to specific.

You might be asking yourself: How many examples do I need to include?

The number of examples you will need depends on your topic sentence.

An illustration paragraph should end with a summary statement that reinforces the paragraph’s main idea.

An illustration paragraph should include transitions – that introduce the examples and connect them one to another and to the topic sentence.

These transitions help readers follow your discussion by indicating how your examples are related and how each example supports the topic sentence.

also in addition moreover
finally one example another example
The first … The second …
for example
for instance


Blue: Topic sentence
Orange: Evidence
Red: Transitions
Purple: Summary statement

When countries change their names, it is often for political reasons. Sometimes a new government decides to change the country’s name to separate itself from an earlier government. For example, Burma became Myanmar when a military government took over in 1989. Cambodia has had several name changes as well. After a coup in 1970, it was called the Khmer Republic. Then, in 1975, under communist rule, it became Kampuchea. Gaining independence from another nation is another reason for a country to change its name. For instance, in 1957, after gaining independence from Great Britain, the Gold Coast became Ghana. Another name change occurred when the French Sudan became Mali. After gaining independence from France in 1960, it decide to reject its colonial past. Finally, Zimbabwe gave up its former British name, Rhodesia, several years after winning independence. These name changes can be confusing, but they reveal the changing political climate of the countries in which they occur.

(Grammar note: When you write an illustration paragraph, make sure to use a comma after the introductory transitional word or phrase that introduces an example.)


At this stage, brainstorm a list of qualities of Luma’s personality and character.

What are the most important aspects of her personality?

What does she value the most? What is the strongest part of her character? Weakest?

Jot these down on notebook paper or on your computer. Once you have a bunch of qualities, circle the ones that are most important or most revealing about who she is as a person. Then you can draft a working thesis statement.

List of Revision Symbols

September 7, 2018

Below is a list of revision symbols that I use when I give feedback to your essay drafts. I use these symbols as shorthand. (If you have a question about one of my comments, ask me and I’ll explain.)

A check mark next to a sentence or a paragraph means “Good” or “Excellent”

add   Add word

agr   Agreement

awk  Awkward

cap  capitalize

cs  comma splice

dm  dangling modifier

ds   double space

-ed  -ed ending

frag  fragment

fs  fused sentence

ital   italics

lc   lower case

^    insert  (comma, period, semi-colon, etc.)

;    semi-colon

:    colon

” ”  quotation marks

?   Confusing or awkward

¶  New paragraph

pn agr  pronoun agreement

run-on (or ro)   run-on

ref  pronoun reference

sv agr  subject-verb agreement

tense  verb tense/tense shift

//   faulty parallelism

X   cut

#  insert space

[ ]  brackets

( )  parentheses







Understanding paragraph structure

September 6, 2018

I’ll hand out your first essay assignment next week.

As a preview for that assignment, let’s review strategies of writing paragraphs for the essays in this class.

I looked over your student info sheets, and many of you wrote that you want to strengthen your essay writing skills (including help in essay format, punctuation, and grammar).

You want help in organizing your ideas and structuring your essays

Because paragraphs are central to almost every kind of writing, learning how to write one is an important skill in becoming an effective writer of essays.

Just as an essay is a group of paragraphs unified by a single main idea (the thesis), a paragraph is a group of sentences that is unified by a single main idea (the topic sentence).

The thesis statement tells the reader what the rest of the essay is about.

The thesis for Essay 1 (an illustration essay) will be a generalization about Luma’s personality and character that you want to explain to your reader.

We’ll talk about brainstorming for that assignment. Your goal will be to figure out what you think Luma’s main characteristics are or what drives her in terms of your personality.

Once you have enough material to write about, then you can draft a thesis statement and the main ideas in your body paragraphs that develop that thesis.

Here’s a sample thesis statement for that assignment:

Luma Mufleh is a self-sufficient, self-motivated person, with a desire to have a life she can truly call her own.

This thesis tells the reader that the rest of the essay will illustrate this general claim.

The topic sentence is different from your thesis statement. The topic sentence shows only what the paragraph it is attached to is about.

Thesis: Luma Mufleh is a self-sufficient, self-motivated person, with a desire to have a life she can truly call her own.

These are the main ideas of the body paragraphs:

Paragraph 1: Self-sufficient

Paragraph 2: Self-motivated

Paragraph 3: A desire for a life of her own

All of these aspects of Luma need to be discussed further, and they all explain the thesis statement.

Each of these three ideas can become topic sentences. For each idea, there will be a paragraph that explains it.

Change each of these main ideas into a complete sentence, and you’ve drafted a good topic sentence.

Example: One of the strongest aspects of Luma’s character is her self-sufficiency in any situation.

The rest of the sentences in that paragraph will explain this topic sentence.

An effective topic sentence has three characteristics:

1. A topic sentence is a complete sentence.

There’s a difference between a topic and a topic sentence. The topic is what the paragraph is about; a topic sentence, however, is a complete sentence that includes a subject and a verb and express a complete thought.

Topic: Luma’s self-sufficiency

Topic sentence: One of the strongest aspects of Luma’s character is her self-sufficiency in any situation.

2. A topic sentence is more than just an announcement of what you plan to write about.

In this paragraph, I will explain my ideas about Luma’s self-sufficiency.

A topic sentence makes a point about the topic that the paragraph discusses.

3. A topic sentence presents an idea that can be discussed in a single paragraph.

If your topic sentence is too broad, you won’t be able to discuss in just one paragraph. If it’s too narrow, you won’t be able to say much about it.

Topic sentence too broad: Luma’s experience living in America reflects the issues encountered by immigrants after 9/11.

Remember: There is only one thesis statement.

But there is one topic sentence for each body paragraph you write.



The topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph, and the rest of the sentences in the paragraph provide evidence (examples and details) to support the main idea.

So when you write your body paragraphs, always check for these elements:


The sentences in a paragraph are linked by transitions, words and phrases (such as also and for example) that show how ideas are related.

At the end of the paragraph, a summary statement reinforces the main idea.

Note: Your topic sentence should focus on only one main idea. Two main ideas can split and weaken the focus of your writing.

Effective paragraphs are unified: in a unified paragraph, all of the sentences directly support the topic sentence.

Including details that are not relevant to the topic sentence makes your paragraph unclear and distracts your reader from the point you are making.

At this point, you might being asking:

How long should a paragraph be? A well-developed paragraph is usually about 8 to 10 sentences long.

Topic Sentence (1)
Evidence – Examples and Details (5-6)
Summary statement (1)

By the way: the first sentence of a paragraph is always indented, starting about half an inch from the left-hand margin. (And every sentence begins with a capital letter.)

Drafting Tip: Once you have brainstormed ideas and formulated a thesis statement, write complete, focused topic sentences in your outlining stage.

Use those topic sentences to develop support and examples and details. Those topic sentences will also keep your essay on track.

St. John uses topic sentences and unified paragraphs through his book.

In Chapter One (“Luma”), for example, he writes about Luma’s family background, describing how they were a “wealthy, Westernized family in Amman, Jordan” (15). And on page 17 is this passage:

The Al-Muflehs were intent on raising their children with their same cosmopolitan values. They sent Luma to the American Community School in Amman, a school for the children of American expatriates, mostly diplomats and businessmen, and elite Jordanians, including the children of King Hussein and Queen Noor. Luma learned to speak English without an accent – she now speaks like a midwesterner – and met kids from the United States and Europe, as well as the children of diplomats from all over the world.

The Al-Muflehs were intent on raising their children with their same cosmopolitan values. (TOPIC SENTENCE ).

They sent Luma to the American Community School in Amman, a school for the children of American expatriates, mostly diplomats and businessmen, and elite Jordanians, including the children of King Hussein and Queen Noor. (EVIDENCE – EXAMPLE AND DETAIL).

Luma learned to speak English without an accent – she now speaks like a midwesterner – and met kids from the United States and Europe, as well as the children of diplomats from all over the world.