Let’s Stop Teaching the “Hamburger Paragraph”

 In Support for Struggling Readers

Screen Shot 2016-11-15 at 9.22.35 AMI was once asked by a group of teachers, “How many sentences should there be in a paragraph?”  

I was a little taken aback by the question but replied, “It depends on the paragraph. If it’s a paragraph of dialogue, it might have only one sentence, or even one word. But if it’s descriptive, it might have many sentences.”

“Well,” they replied, “We were told to teach our students that each paragraph needs a topic sentence, three details and a wrap-up sentence.”

The traditional “hamburger paragraph” – a topic sentence, supporting details and a wrap-up sentence simply doesn’t exist in multi-paragraph passages. In truth, most paragraphs  don’t even have topic sentences. And if there is a topic sentence, it’s most likely to be at the beginning, occasionally at the end and sometimes even in the middle – but NEVER repeated at the beginning and end of the paragraph.

That said, topic sentences are valuable supports for struggling (and all) reader and writers.  They reveal the main idea of the paragraph and support prediction and self-monitoring.  But many of our students need explicit instruction and guided practice in finding and making use of topic sentences. Check out hip-books.com/topic-sentences for teaching ideas and a practice passage.


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