Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Stand Alone Paragraph

One of the most common short writing assignments you may see in school is one that begins with “Answer the following question in a good paragraph….”

Learning to write an effective stand alone paragraph to answer such questions is a valuable tool. Once you learn the basic framework, you can expand your paragraph to include more information or to become more “sophisticated” as circumstances require.

For now, we’ll stick to the basics.

You may have heard that a good paragraph needs at least five sentences. While that is a minimum, five sentences do not really do much explaining. So, let’s expand that to eight sentences instead.

Here is a list:

An opening sentence

  • This sentence either restates the question or offers an answer to the question. The reader should be able to figure out what question is being answered from this sentence without seeing the question itself. (This is sentence #1)

Body sentences

  • These sentences list at least three supporting ideas to back up the opening sentence.
  • Each of these three sentences needs another sentence offering proof such as an example, a quote, or an explanation. (These are sentences #2-7)


  • This sentence summarizes the idea of the paragraph and ties it all together like a finishing bow on your sneakers. (This is sentence #8)

The Practice Exercises below will help you develop some good paragraphs to answer some simple essay questions.

Exercise #1
Practice on Opening, Topic Sentences
Remember: Your reader should be able to figure out the question you are answering by reading the opening sentence of your paragraph.

Write a good opening/topic sentence for each of these four questions:

1. What kind or style of music is the best?
2. Should the voting age be lowered to 15?
3. Are insurance premiums too high for teenage drivers?
4. Is it a good idea for a student hold a job while still in high school?

Exercise #2
The Body Sentences
Every idea should have at least three reasons to support it.


  1. For each of the opening sentences in Exercise #1, write at least three reasons the answer you gave is true.
  2. First, copy and paste each of your opening sentences, and then list three supporting reasons below each of those sentences.

Exercise #3
The Evidence or Supporting Details
Each of the three reasons you listed in Exercise #2 now needs at least one piece of evidence—an example, a fact or figure, further description, a quotation from research, or more explanation—to back it up and give it proof.


  1. Copy and paste each of your body sentences and follow each one with a supporting detail

Exercise #4
The Conclusion
The easiest way to write a concluding sentence is to simply restate the opening sentence using new words or phrases.

  • You might also write an interesting sentence that makes some kind of comment that summarizes all the ideas you have presented in the rest of the paragraph.
  • Make sure your conclusion does not bring in any new ideas but rather brings your paragraph all together as a finished piece.


  1. Copy and paste each of the opening sentences you wrote.
  2. Below each one, write a good concluding sentence to finish a paragraph about that topic.

Exercise #5
The Whole Paragraph


  • Using Copy and Paste, select the sentences you have written for each of the four topics in Exercise #1 and create four good paragraphs to be handed in for grading.