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How to Teach Writing Transitions

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.

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies provides 11 Transition Worksheets, one for each purpose. Each worksheet requires students to identify, select, and apply the

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

transition words in the context of sentences and paragraphs. Great practice! Check out the free samples below.

Get the Transition Worksheets FREE Resource:

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

Teaching Essay Strategies includes 42 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, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science, including the categories of transitions and what each transition means. Teachers can also help students learn how and where to use them with appropriate punctuation.

However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. Teachers do well to point out the effective use of transitions in exemplary writing models and help students mimic these in their own writing. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing voices.

Before teachers launch into instructional strategies, they need to make the case for their students that transitions are necessary for effective writing.

Transitions are Necessary

Transitions provide connections between words and ideas. They also signal change. Without transitions, reading comprehension is minimized. Here are a few classroom-tested activities that will help students see how transitions are essential.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bring in the materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife, and plenty of napkins. Tell students to write detailed instructions about how to make this American classic. Then, collect the instructions and call on a few students to follow the directions exactly as you read them. If the transitions are not perfect, you will definitely need the napkins.

Learn and play a new game. Gather a bunch of different board games and/or decks of cards, each with a printed set of directions. Find different card game directions at this site.  Match students to games they have never played. Students learn and play the new game. The teacher directs the students to put away the game and directions and students are to compose their own directions for the game from memory, using effective transitions. Great for sequencing skills, too. Extension: Jigsaw students and have them follow student-created directions to try and learn how to play a new game. Further extension: Have students “tweak” the directions of an existing game and play it as revised. Even further extension: Have students create their own board or card games.

Learning Transitions

Students must understand the definition of the transition words and their categorical relationships.

Instructional Strategies: Teach the meanings of transition words in the context of transition categories. Have students read passages that use different transition categories and discuss. Have students complete a Cloze Procedure, using those same passages. Following are the transition categories (What You Need to Signal) and the common transitions:

What You Need to Signal                  Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

Using Transitions

Students must understand basic sentence syntax, to know where to place transition words.

Transitions can open paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be placed mid-sentence to connect ideas. Transitions can close paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be used to place emphasis on a certain sentence or paragraph component.

Instructional Strategies: Assign students a variety of writing tasks that will each require the use of different transition categories. Have students practice sentence revisions in which they place existing transition words at a different part of the sentence. Have students change transition words ending paragraphs to the beginning of the next paragraph and vice-versa. Have students compose compound and compound-complex sentences with transition words and then revise the placement of these transitions for different emphasis.

A Few Things to Avoid

Remind students that overusing transition words is almost as bad as not using transition words. Don’t teach structured transitions, such as these: Always place transitions at the end of an introduction. Always place transitions in a concluding statement ending a body paragraph. Always begin a conclusion with a transition. By the way, although most teachers insist upon a thesis restatement, most published essays do not have them. Two good rules of thumb apply: If the thesis restatement is expected, such as on the SAT 1® essay, write one. If the essay is long, use one; if it is short, don’t. Don’t use transitions solely as an editing skill.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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