Topic Sentence Treasure Hunt

Topic sentences can be strategy gems, especially for struggling readers.  They aid comprehension, invite predictions, and support self-monitoring.

Topic Sentences

Like hidden treasures, topic sentences are not always easy to find.  They’re often at the beginning of the paragraph, sometimes at the end, sometimes buried in the middle – and frequently not there at all.

That’s why teaching students that a paragraph has a topic sentence, some details and a concluding sentence is misleading and confusing.  The traditional “hamburger paragraph” might be appropriate for a self-contained body of text, but simply does not exist in multi-paragraph passages.  In fact, topic sentences are rarely found in narrative writing – and not even as frequent as we think in informational writing.

That said, it’s a useful strategy for readers to be able to search for topic sentences, especially in content area reading, and then use those topic sentences to support comprehension of the paragraph and the overall text.

Topic sentences encapsulate the gist of  the paragraph.  Have students practice reading a paragraph and determining what it’s all about, then digging for the sentence “gem” that reflects that main idea.


Think of a paragraph as shaped like a triangle, with the topic sentence as the point and the supporting details as the rest of the paragraph fanning out from the topic sentence:

A paragraph beginning with a topic sentence would be represented by a triangle with the point at the top.

A paragraph with the topic sentence buried in the middle would look like two triangles joined at the points.

A paragraph ending with a topic sentence would look like an inverted triangle with the point at the bottom.

Topic Sentence Triangles

 Click here for a practice passage on “A World of Chocolate” or use any other piece of informational text.  Have students use the triangle icons above to “code” each paragraph for the location of the topic sentence.  (They can draw the symbols beside each paragraph on the copied page or use a strip of sticky notes along the margin.)  Then discuss how the remaining sentences in the paragraph support the main idea.

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