Erin Rice
Lesson Design for Reading to Learn

Top it all off with a Topic Sentence

Rationale: In order to be successful readers, children must be able to comprehend text as they read.  Children can be taught strategies that will help them to comprehend information.  In this lesson, children will be taught how to find the topic sentence in a paragraph; thus giving them strategies to increase their understanding of text.

Materials: Book/passage of teacher’s choice to be used in silent reading demonstration, overhead projector, passage on transparency from All About the Jungle (page 107, paragraph 3) by Armstrong Sperry, Published by Random House Books.   Copies of All About the Jungle for each student (will use paragraphs on pages 32 and 34).


1. [Teacher introduces lesson] In order to become better readers, we must be able to comprehend, or understand, the material that we are reading.  There are many skills that are needed in order to understand what we read.  One of these skills is being able to figure out the topic sentence in a passage.  The topic sentence is the sentence that tells us what the rest of the paragraph is about.  This helps us to quickly see the main idea in the paragraph.

2. [Teacher reviews silent reading] Before we begin learning how to find topic sentences, let’s review how to read silently.  [Teacher demonstrates reading silently, using any book of choice, then telling the class about what was just read]  Notice that I did not read the words out loud, I read them in my mind.

3. [Have overhead projector and transparency ready] Let’s look at this sample passage about Pygmies in Africa. [Teacher will display this passage on the overhead projector and read it aloud to the class.]

“…Of all the jungle people, the Pygmies are the most expert hunters and
the finest trackers.  The Belgian government does not allow them to carry
modern firearms, so they must catch their meat and defend themselves with
their own handmade weapons.  But with these their marksmanship is truly
marvelous.  Often they shoot three or four arrows, one after another, so rapidly that
the last may leave the bow before the first has reached its mark.”
[From All About the Jungle.]

4. Now watch as I find the topic sentence in this paragraph. First, I read the paragraph.  Now I am going to look at some of these sentences and see if they summarize the whole paragraph.  [Teacher chooses several sentences and discusses them.]  The Belgian government does not allow them to carry modern firearms so they must catch their meat…No, I don’t think that is a good summary of the main idea in this paragraph.  How about, Often they shoot three or four arrows…No, I      don’t think this sentence works. But I do think that both of these sentences have to do with the fact that The Pygmies are the most expert hunters and the finest trackers.  All of the other sentences in this paragraph are details about the Pygmies and their  hunting activities.  Now I know that my topic sentence is actually the first sentence in the paragraph.

5.   [Teacher should explain that topic sentences can be found elsewhere in the paragraph, not only in the first sentence.]

6.   [Assessment: Teacher will direct students to passages from All About the Jungle.  The passages used are indicated below.  The students will underline the topic sentence for each passage.]

7.   [Students will read chapter one of All About the Jungle and write a topic sentence for each paragraph.

Finding the Topic Sentence
Teacher’s Key-Answers in Italics
(from step 6)

Underline the topic sentence.

Passage 1:
 “…The crocodiles of the Brazilian jungle are unpredictable creatures.  As one suns himself on a sandpit, he looks like a log of weathered driftwood.  But that log can come to life with amazing speed.  Sometimes this huge reptile is cowardly and takes to the water at the sight of man.  But a bull crocodile which is guarding a nestful of eggs left by his mate will savagely attack anything or anyone.

Passage 2:
      “…Another unusual dweller of river and lake is the electric eel.  In the whole animal kingdom, no more than half a dozen creatures can produce and electric charge, and these are all fish.  Of these the electric eel discharges by far the strongest current-several hundred volts.  Unlike other electric fish, the eel can control the discharge of electricity. It uses it’s current to kill or paralyze its prey.  It locates the victim by sending out weak electric charges.  These are reflected back to it much as radar picks up distant objects.  Its dull greenish-gray body is four or five feet long.

Source of idea: Pressley, M., Johnson, C.J., McGoldrick, J.A., and Kurity, J.A. (1989). Strategies that improve children’s memory and comprehension of text. The Elementary School Journal, 90, 5.

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