The intro paragraph for an analytical essay can be challenging for students because it requires a structure that many early high school students are not yet familiar with. In fact, many students complain that it is the hardest part of the essay.
In this blog post we’ll explain how to teach the structure of an intro paragraph so that it is no longer overwhelming for your students.
The Purpose of The Intro Paragraph
The main purpose of the intro paragraph is to give the reader a clear direction of where this paper is going while maintaining a formal tone.
At the end of reading that intro paragraph the reader should know exactly what that paper will cover. This is made the most clear in the thesis statement, which is usually the last sentence of that intro paragraph.
Leading up to the thesis statement is a general introduction to the concept–but we’ll get into all of that in a minute.
Warm Up Activity
If you are teaching the intro paragraph in the context of an analytical essay–let’s say an essay on character analysis–you can start your lesson by showing students a clip of a movie that they’ll find entertaining.
In the lesson we include in The English Teacher Vault, we show a clip from “Elf” which shows Buddy the Elf’s eccentric personality. Students then jot down a list of observations about his character and behavior. They’ll use this as the craft a practice intro paragraph.
The Inverted Pyramid
The organization of an intro paragraph is like an upside down pyramid. The paragraph starts with a hook which introduces a big, broad idea. Then, there is a transition sentence or two where the writer starts connecting that big idea with the text that the essay will focus on. Finally, the intro paragraph ends with the thesis statement which is the most specific sentence in the paragraph because it narrows in on the text and the aspects of that particular text that the writer will be analyzing in the rest of the paper. So to recap:
1.) Start broad with a hook that touches on a big, broad concept.
2.) Transition with a sentence or two into the specific text.
3.) End the intro paragraph with a thesis statement.
Hooks and Connections
With hook statements, you can list out several options for how to make a hook statement. Strategies for a hook include:
- A powerful, direct statement
- A surprising statistic
- A quote from a well-known author
Hooks to avoid at this level are rhetorical questions (they often fall flat). Instead, challenge students to draw their reader into the subject of the paper with a clear statement that will pique the reader’s interest.
For instance, an essay about the character Romeo from Romeo and Juliet might have to do with teens’ making rash decision or could be a statistic on the percentage of the brain that is undeveloped in the teen years.
If students are writing a practice paragraph on Buddy the Elf, they may start with the big concept of Christmas or the holidays or even how Christmas can be challenging for many people. Then, they might transition into the character of Buddy the Elf who ultimately tries to bring others joy at Christmas time (this whole lesson is available for you at The English Teacher Vault).
For the transition the writer should transition from that big idea into the text he or she will be discussing. This requires a transition word or phrase and a mention of the specific text and author.
As mentioned with the Buddy the Elf example, it’s important that the writer takes a big concept and starts focusing in on this particular text that they’ll be analyzing and, if it’s a character analysis, the specific character they’ll be analyzing.
This leads us to the thesis. It should be the strongest sentence of the introductory paragraph and should be the guide for the reader. Using their Buddy the Elf info, students work in partners to develop a thesis statement in a few different formats. They will also trade their examples to peer edit for clarity.
You can provide students sentence frames or sentence starters for the thesis. This is a great way to scaffold the lesson and support your learners.
As time allows, I have students continue working in pairs with 2-3 examples that they can observe and discuss.
Differentiation and Extension
Emerging learners or ESL students may need different support. You might need to prepare more examples and definitely include sentence frames for practice when writing their own. Reteaching might be necessary as well, especially if you notice students are focusing on plot summaries. You might need to revisit concepts in this lesson or have additional practice prepared.
If you are working with honors or pre-AP students, encourage them to not use the 3-prong thesis. Instead, challenge them to work on developing a thesis that is fluent and complex and fully addresses the prompt without relying on the 3-prong method.
Once students can see the structure of an intro paragraph it becomes less daunting. Practice each part of the inverted pyramid with a fun example or a film that most of your students are familiar with (we used Buddy the Elf for these examples and Spiderman).
Need more help teaching writing to your early high school students? When you join the English Teacher Vault, you’ll have access to everything in this lesson, plus the whole unit that goes with it. It takes your students through the entire process of writing a strong analytical essay.
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