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Breakdown of an essay's introductory paragraphI also (incorrectly?) posted about...

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donnach | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted November 6, 2008 at 1:58 PM via web

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Breakdown of an essay's introductory paragraph

I also (incorrectly?) posted about this in general questions.  (There sure are a lot more characters alloted for explicating in this area.)  

So, I'm observing some h.s. teachers and they are really particular about what goes in each sentence and when.

I think their list goes:

1. Hook

2. or 2. and 3. Thesis

4.  Three examples supporting thesis with each example, respectively, providing the material for the three body paragraphs' topic sentences.     

5. Foreshadowing.  Sequel to hook.

 

I don't think I've got this quite right.

 

Can anyone give me a breakdown that they use for their h.s. students?  I think I better commit one to memory at the beginning of my teaching career if I am supposed to teach it as structured as I've seen it taught.  (It's taught right alongside MLA format and with about as much flexibility, which I think may actually be a good thing, but I need to figure out a good, solid, appropriate breakdown.)

 

Thank you,

 

Donna

 

3 Answers | Add Yours

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tsjoseph | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 6, 2008 at 6:16 PM (Answer #2)

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I've had great success using the following basic formula (it's a lot clearer with a diagram):

An essay's introduction can be thought of as an upside down triangle.  The top of the inverted triangle, which is the widest section of the triangle, is the most general part of the introduction.  I tell my students this is sort of a funnel and is where the readers "fall in."  This is a broad way of thinking of a "hook" or "lead" but seems to be easier for students to grasp.  So, the essay might begin with some general statement that gathers the readers into the topic.  Say the essay is about Hemingway's female characters, for instance.  The opening sentence might read something like: "There has been a lot of critical debate about Ernest Hemingway's female characters."

As we move down the inverted triangle toward the point, the triangle gets narrower and so does the scope of the introduction.  So, students might further refine their topic.  OK, we know we are talking about Hemingway women.  As the topic is narrowed, we might have a sentence like this: "For instance, Catherine Barkely of "A Farewell to Arms" has been frequently dismissed as a weak, shallow character whose individuality is sacrificed to Frederic Henry." 

The point, or bottom of the inverted triangle is also the "point" of the essay.  In other words, here's the argument (and I generally insist my students have a debatable argument or claim).  And, if the inverted triangle functions as a sort of funnel, the reader is going to be shot out of this point into the remainder of the essay.  So, the thesis might read: "Although Catherine is commonly viewed as passive and two-dimensional, she is actually a much stronger character than most critics believe.  In fact, she, rather than Frederic Henry, best represents the components of Hemingway's code."  The narrow part of the triangle also includes the most specific aspect of the thesis--the preview of the argument in the paper (ie, the topics the student will be covering).

OK, so the writing examples are pretty boring, but you get the idea.  I like the inverted triangle because A) it is an easy visual cue for students to remember, B) it basically works for any kind of essay of any length or complexity and C) it's pretty flexible.  Students have also told me it helps them get going on essay exams and so forth.  I don't make them use this structure but I find that most students prefer having some sort of scaffold on which to hang their ideas.  I know a lot of teachers present the sort of sentence 1, sentence 2, sentence 3 you describe, but frankly, I get bored reading that and I want my students to think of the essay as a rich genre and this structure works for both long and short introductions.  It also allows for the students to feel a little more creative, if they choose, and also gives us an opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this format. 

Also, I present the end of the essay as a right-side-up triangle--the first part of the conclusion is specific and then becomes more general as the reader is led out of the essay.

 

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donnach | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted November 6, 2008 at 7:09 PM (Answer #3)

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I've had great success using the following basic formula (it's a lot clearer with a diagram):

An essay's introduction can be thought of as an upside down triangle.  The top of the inverted triangle, which is the widest section of the triangle, is the most general part of the introduction.  I tell my students this is sort of a funnel and is where the readers "fall in."  This is a broad way of thinking of a "hook" or "lead" but seems to be easier for students to grasp.  So, the essay might begin with some general statement that gathers the readers into the topic.  Say the essay is about Hemingway's female characters, for instance.  The opening sentence might read something like: "There has been a lot of critical debate about Ernest Hemingway's female characters."

As we move down the inverted triangle toward the point, the triangle gets narrower and so does the scope of the introduction.  So, students might further refine their topic.  OK, we know we are talking about Hemingway women.  As the topic is narrowed, we might have a sentence like this: "For instance, Catherine Barkely of "A Farewell to Arms" has been frequently dismissed as a weak, shallow character whose individuality is sacrificed to Frederic Henry." 

The point, or bottom of the inverted triangle is also the "point" of the essay.  In other words, here's the argument (and I generally insist my students have a debatable argument or claim).  And, if the inverted triangle functions as a sort of funnel, the reader is going to be shot out of this point into the remainder of the essay.  So, the thesis might read: "Although Catherine is commonly viewed as passive and two-dimensional, she is actually a much stronger character than most critics believe.  In fact, she, rather than Frederic Henry, best represents the components of Hemingway's code."  The narrow part of the triangle also includes the most specific aspect of the thesis--the preview of the argument in the paper (ie, the topics the student will be covering).

OK, so the writing examples are pretty boring, but you get the idea.  I like the inverted triangle because A) it is an easy visual cue for students to remember, B) it basically works for any kind of essay of any length or complexity and C) it's pretty flexible.  Students have also told me it helps them get going on essay exams and so forth.  I don't make them use this structure but I find that most students prefer having some sort of scaffold on which to hang their ideas.  I know a lot of teachers present the sort of sentence 1, sentence 2, sentence 3 you describe, but frankly, I get bored reading that and I want my students to think of the essay as a rich genre and this structure works for both long and short introductions.  It also allows for the students to feel a little more creative, if they choose, and also gives us an opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this format. 

Also, I present the end of the essay as a right-side-up triangle--the first part of the conclusion is specific and then becomes more general as the reader is led out of the essay.

 

I thank you for your generous reply and I'm going to copy and paste it into a document for future reference, but I'd also, if possible, like to get a sentence 1 senctence 2 sentence 3 option as well.  Although I do agree with everything you said, I really think I should have a stronger understanding of the exact ingredients of an introductory paragraph before I can move to a more flexible model like the triangle.  (Sorry, it just seems every class I'm observing in the district I want to work for is excrutiatingly adamant on this particular issue.) 

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 7, 2008 at 11:00 AM (Answer #4)

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The "hook " is something that the writer uses to engage the reader and encourages him/her to read further.  It could be a quote, a anecdote, a statistic, or a question.  This should lead into the focus of the paper--the main idea or the purpose for writing it.  This is also called the thesis.  It is usually to inform, to entertain, or to persuade.

If the thesis is argumentative, there should be 2-3 reasons why the author feels the statement is true.  Then support for each of those reasons should help prove the statement to be true, all the while making the purpose clear and strong.

Finish up with a strong conclusion which may or may not summarize the main points.  It should, however, bring the reader full circle and make them feel that it is finished.

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