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Teaching Writing Transitions Between Paragraphs Essay

Well-intentioned teachers sometimes create more problems than they solve. Teachers often fail to teach developing writers how to use effective writing transitions within or between paragraphs in argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing (Common Core Writing Standards 1, 2, and 3). Three key instructional practices can lead to counter-productive learning.

How to Teach Writing Transitions

First, many teachers assume that their students understand the meanings of transitional words and phrases. These teachers simply post a Transitions Poster on the classroom wall and assume that their students will grab which ones they need for each writing exercise. Both are faulty assumptions. To use transitions effectively, developing writers must know both the denotative and connotative meanings of commonly used transitions. Using the wrong or imprecise transition create confusion for readers. Developing writers also need to learn which transitions work in each writing context. One helpful solution to this problem is to teach transitions in categories of meaning. Download this helpful Writing Transitions page for instruction and reference.

Another reason some teachers fail to get their students to use effective writing transitions is because teachers tend to focus on teaching writing structure over content. Requiring students to “write a five-paragraph essay with transitions between each sentence and paragraph” will force most students into incoherent writing. Requiring students to use an arbitrary number or placement of transitions within and between paragraphs will result in padded and chunky writing. Some teachers even award points for each transition–not the best motivator for concise and coherent writing. Instead of pitting structure versus content, my advice is to teach flexible writing. Begin students with a structure to paragraphing and multi-paragraph writing, but model, permit, and encourage deviation from the basic structure to fit the needs of the content. Content should always dictate structure.

Finally, teachers sometimes fail to teach their students the two secrets of effective transitions. The first writing rule for argumentative, informational/explanatory, or narrative writing is to “Always continue a new paragraph where the previous one ended.” This continuity helps the readers understand the progression of the writing and is oftentimes a better writing technique than “add-on” transition words and phrases. The second writing rule is to “use repetition, paraphrase, and reference.” Repeating key words or phrases found in preceding sentences or paragraphs unifies the writing and is considerate to the readers. Paraphrasing previous ideas helps the readers see the idea from another point of view and avoids the over-use of irritating repetitions. Reference to previous writing with relative pronouns and adverbs, demonstrative pronouns and adjectives, and well-connected pronouns and antecedents improves writing coherence. However, make sure to teach students not to use references to the writing itself. For example, “In the last paragraph…; This essay was about… That sentence proves that…”

Using effective writing transitions can significantly improve writing coherence and help the reader understand the writing as a unified whole. However, teachers need to emphasize the precise meanings of “add-on” transition words and phrases, avoid over-emphasis of structure over writing content, and teach the value of repetitions, paraphrases, and references.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity, coherence, andparallelism.

The author’sTeaching Essay Strategies, includes42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8on-demandwriting fluencies, 8writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64 sentence revisionand 64 rhetorical stance“openers,”remedial writing lessons, writing posters, andediting resourcesto differentiate essay writing instruction inthis comprehensive writing curriculum.

Teaching Essay Strategies

WritingCommon Core writing, essay writing, signal words, structured writing, Teaching Essay Strategies, transitions, Writing Transitions


Transitions

Transitions help readers understand the connection from one idea to the next as they read. This page has information about two types of transitions: transitions between the sentences within a single paragraph and transitions between one paragraph and another. Click on the links below to learn about each type of transition.

Sentence Transitions

Transitions between sentences help readers see the connection between one sentence and the next one. Not every sentence should have a transition; rather, transitions tend to appear in every few sentences, such as when the paragraph is changing directions or bringing up a new idea. One of the most common ways to make transitions is by using transition words, also known as conjunctive adverbs. The chart below lists some common transition words you might use to connect the sentences within a paragraph.

Transition Words

  • therefore
  • however
  • then
  • first
  • consequently
  • on the other hand
  • next
  • second
  • thus
  • conversely
  • afterwards
  • third
  • additionally
  • rather
  • later
  • finally
  • similarly
  • for example
  • meanwhile
  • in other words

Transition words are usually followed by a comma. When you use a transition word to connect the ideas in two sentences, you can punctuate your sentences with either a period or a semicolon.

Punctuation with Transition Words

Without a transition word

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College. He enrolled in English 1A.

With a transition word, a period and a comma

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College. Therefore, he enrolled in English 1A.

With a transition word, a semicolon and a comma

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College; therefore, he enrolled in English 1A.

Example

Notice the differences in the following paragraph with and without the transitions:

Without Transitions

One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I led bicycle trips. It was a really hard job. I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible. The job was too much work and not enough play. While it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

With Transitions

One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. Therefore, I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I led bicycle trips. It was a really hard job. I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. In addition, I went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible; however, the job was too much work and not enough play. Thus, while it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

Transitions make the paragraph much clearer, helping readers see the connections between the sentences. Notice that transitions do not appear in every sentence, just when the connection betwee ideas would not be clear without them.

Paragraph Transitions

Paragraph transitions help the reader understand the connections between the paragraphs' ideas. They also help to clarify for the reader how ideas relate to the thesis.

Paragraph Transition Dos and Don'ts

Do put the transition at the beginning of the new paragraph that it introduces.

This will show readers how your new topic connects to what came before it.

Don't put the transition at the end of the previous paragraph.

This sounds like you're bringing up a new point and then dropping it, which can confuse your reader. Paragraphs should almost always end with the main point of that paragraph, not some new point. Learn more about body paragraph structure.

Do show how the new paragraph relates to what came before it.

example: "Maintaining their spirituality gave Africans the strength and focus to revolt against their slave masters."

This paragraph reminds us what came before it (that African slaves maintained their spirituality), and connects it to the new topic (that this spirituality helped the slaves revolt against their masters).

Don't rely on single transition words to make the connections between paragraphs.

example: "Additionally, Africans also revolted against their slave masters."

While this does have a transitional word, "additionally," it doesn't really tell readers how this information relates to what came before it.

Do use subordinators to create transitions between paragraphs.

example: "Although medical studies do not usually confirm the effectivenss of acupuncture, many patients claim it has helped them with pain management and recovery from injuries."

Subordinators such as although, since, when, while, because, and asare all useful in transitioning between paragraphs.

Essay Example

Notice the differences in the following example with and without the transitions:

Without Transitions

Traveling is my life. I work every day to fund my next trip. When I was 22, I went on my first trip by myself. I went to the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland. After that trip, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life traveling. I am so addicted to traveling that if I am not traveling, I am planning my next trip.

            I receive many emails a day from different traveling web sites. Sherman’s Travel and Travel Zoo are two of my favorites. When I open my email, the first thing I see is “Sale. $500 all inclusive 5 nights in Hawaii.” In my mind, I am already there. I am imagining myself lying on the beach, far away from my daily responsibilities.

            I recently paid to receive a monthly magazine called Budget Travel. I knew that this would help feed my addiction while I am saving for my next trip. This is one of the best traveling magazines I have ever found. It gives random tips about traveling like, “keep a $100 bill folded up inside my luggage tag for emergencies” (14).  The pictures entice me even further. My current issue showed the views of Sicily, and now I must travel there.

            I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I lead bicycle trips. It was a really hard job, but I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I also went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible, but the job was too much work and not enough play, so although it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

            I have still managed to travel on my limited budget; I am currently planning a trip to Vancouver, BC next month. I love to travel so much that I subscribe to both magazine and online sources to feed my addiction. Every time I take a trip, it makes me want to see more of the world and enjoy all it has to offer.

This short essay feels choppy. All of the sentences start with "I", and the 
reader is not often clear about how the paragraphs relate to each other nor 
how they relate to the thesis. These have been left to the reader's interpretation.

With Transitions

Traveling is my life. I work every day to fund my next trip. When I was 22, I went on my first trip by myself. I went to the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland. After that trip, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life traveling. I am so addicted to traveling that if I am not traveling, I am planning my next trip.

            Since I am addicted to traveling, I make sure to stay on top of the latest deals. I receive many emails a day from different traveling web sites. Sherman’s Travel and Travel Zoo are two of my favorites. When I open my email, the first thing I see is “Sale. $500 all inclusive 5 nights in Hawaii.” In my mind, I am already there. I am imagining myself lying on the beach, far away from my daily responsibilities.

            As if receiving constant emails about deals wasn’t enough, I recently paid to receive a monthly magazine called Budget Travel. I knew that this would help feed my addiction while I am saving for my next trip. This is one of the best traveling magazines I have ever found. It gives random tips about traveling like, “keep a $100 bill folded up inside my luggage tag for emergencies” (14).  This is something that I have never thought of, but I know that even if I don’t use it, I will definitely start checking luggage tags at the airport! Not only do I appreciate the traveling tips, but the pictures entice me even further. My current issue showed the views of Sicily, and now I must travel there.

            Although looking at magazines and web sites is exciting, it doesn’t compare to actually traveling, so I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I lead bicycle trips. It was a really hard job, but I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I also went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible, but the job was too much work and not enough play, so although it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

            Although I am no longer working for the traveling company, I have still managed to travel on my limited budget; I am currently planning a trip to Vancouver, BC next month. I love to travel so much that I subscribe to both magazine and online sources to feed my addiction. Every time I take a trip, it makes me want to see more of the world and enjoy all it has to offer.
     
Notice that without the transitions, the essay is understandable, but the author's ideas seem disconnected from one another. However, with the transitions, the author has taken more control over the reader's interpretation of the writer's work. The author's voice is much stronger and clearer in the second example. In addition to the transitions at the beginning of the sentences, the second example has a transition after a quote. Instead of just leaving the quote alone, the author has now told us why he/she used that particular quote, again taking control over the reader's interpretations.

This page was created by Meghan Swanson and Karin Spirn.