Single Expository Paragraph
Clarity - The ideas in the paragraph should be understandable. They should not be confusing. Students should avoid ambiguity.
Example of ambiguity: "Ashley told her teammate that she had played fairly well, but not as well as she could have." (Who played well, but not as well as "she" could have - Ashley or her teammate?)
Topic Sentence - The topic sentence not only states or implies the topic of the paragraph but also includes a key idea word or word combination about that topic.
Example of topic sentence: "Earning a spot on the varsity tennis team as a freshman, which Ashley did, was a tremendous accomplishment." (The topic words are "spot...varsity tennis," and the key idea words are "tremendous accomplishment.") The rest of the paragraph should develop the key idea about the topic.
Clincher Sentence - The clincher sentence concludes the paragraph either by restating the main idea presented in the topic sentence (though using different words), or it provides a final comment about that main idea ("one step beyond"). Like the topic sentence, the clincher sentence must have its own key idea word or word combination.
Example of clincher sentence that restates main idea: "Ashley realized that making the varsity tennis team her first year was a wonderful achievement." ("wonderful achievement" restates idea that it was a "tremendous accomplishment.")
Example of clincher sentence that goes "one step beyond." "Ashley was extremely proud that she was the only freshman to make the varsity." ("extremely proud" goes beyond "tremendous accomplishment" by letting the reader know the girl's reaction to this accomplishment.)
Unity - Everything else the student writes in the paragraph should relate to the key idea word(s) in the topic sentence, creating a sense of "oneness." Anything that does not relate to the key idea word(s) (the main idea of the paragraph) does not belong in the paragraph. If the student decides that he or she must include the statement, then he or she must revise the key idea word(s) in the topic sentence.
Example of lack of unity: For the topic sentence discussed earlier, a sentence later in the paragraph that says, "Ashley's teammates had been disappointed with the team's performance the previous year," does not relate to the main point. It should not be included in this paragraph.
Example of unity: Including a sentence that stated that Ashley had been victorious in five of six challenge matches used to select the team, including wins over three members of the previous year's varsity relates to the idea that this was a "tremendous accomplishment."
Logic - Not only should the ideas in the paragraph be clearly expressed, they should also be logical within the context of the rest of the paragraph. (Later the criterion of "logic" will be expanded to the concept of "coherence.")
Example of questionable logic: After saying that Ashley was one of only two freshmen to earn a spot on the varsity tennis team, it would not make much sense to say that she was so depressed and angry that she wanted to quit the team.
Example of solid logic: Mentioning in the clincher sentence that Ashley felt proud of her accomplishment would be logical as that would be a realistic response in that situation.
Development - The writer should go into depth to explain or support the main idea of the paragraph as stated or implied in the topic sentence. The writer can accomplish this goal by providing examples, reasons, facts, and/or pertinent details where appropriate. In general, the writer might want to ask a number of questions when thinking about the paragraph, including "what?" "when?" "where?" "how?" and "why?" The student should probably answer at least a couple of these questions as long as they relate to the main idea.
Example of lack of development: After stating that Ashley's earning a spot on the varsity tennis team as a freshman was a "tremendous accomplishment" (topic sentence), to simply add the following would not sufficiently develop the main idea. "Only one other freshman was picked to fill the 10 spots. Ashley realized that making the varsity was a wonderful accomplishment." The rest of the paragraph provides little information or insight relative to the main point. The writer needs to provide more information as to why this was a tremendous accomplishment as well as perhaps how Ashley did accomplish this goal.
Example of adequate development: After stating that Ashley's earning a spot on the varsity tennis team was a "tremendous accomplishment," the writer adds the following support: "Six members from the previous year's varsity, which won the conference championship, were returning as were eight players from the undefeated junior varsity team, so competition for the 10 available slots was intense. During the week prior to her selection, Ashley played eight challenge matches, including five against members of last year's varsity, and won six of the eight contests, including three against previous varsity players. Even in her two losses, she was extremely competitive, losing both matches in three sets." Now the writer can add a clincher sentence to complete the paragraph. The writer has now shown why earning a varsity position was a "tremendous accomplishment."
Tone - The tone of the paragraph reflects the writer's attitude or approach. In the beginning of the year we will keep the options relatively simple. The paragraph's tone should either be serious or light and humorous. The tone of the paragraph should be appropriate for the subject matter.
Example of inappropriate tone: A paragraph about cocaine in which the topic sentence states that cocaine "is extremely dangerous" should not be light or humorous.
Example of appropriate tone: A paragraph about the dangers of cocaine should have a serious tone.
Example of appropriate tone: A paragraph explaining why dandelions should become the state "flower" would likely be light or humorous.
Example when tone might be either serious or humorous: A paragraph about school lunches could certainly be either, depending on the content of the rest of the paragraph.
The tone should not only be appropriate, but it should also be consistent. The writer should not try to be serious in one sentence, then humorous in the next two, then serious, and, finally, end up on a humorous note. (Later in the year "Tone" will be replaced by "Voice" as one of the criteria.)
Word Choice - This criterion obvious relates to the specific words selected by the writer. There are three considerations here: appropriate word choice in terms of correct usage; appropriate word choice in terms of level of maturity; and, effective word choice in terms of adding "flavor" or "color" to the writing.
Students should make sure that they use words correctly. A common error some students make is trying to impress the instructor by finding so-called synonyms for a common word in a thesaurus. They look up the word they were originally considering, see a list of "synonyms," then select one that seems impressive. Unfortunately, sometimes the word they choose means the same as the original word only within a very specific or limited context, which is not the context that they are using. consequently the idea the writer wants to convey becomes unclear and illogical.
Example of correct usage: "Ashley felt a sense of satisfaction after making the varsity team."
Example of incorrect usage after looking up "satisfaction" in a thesaurus: "Ashley felt a sense of complacency after making the varsity team." ("Complacency" can mean "satisfaction" in certain contexts, but it is not a logical substitution in this situation.)
Example of inappropriate level of maturity: "Ashley did a lot of real good things during the challenge rounds." Words like "a lot of," "real," "good," and "things" are inappropriate for eighth grade.
Example of appropriate level of maturity: "During the challenge rounds Ashley won numerous matches because of her powerful ground strokes, well-placed serves, and aggressive play at the net."
Images and mood words add spice/flavor/texture/color to an individual's writing. However, use of imagery and mood words should not be forced or overdone. Students should employ them to enhance their ideas, not overwhelm them.
Example of flavorless, colorless writing: "Ashley looked at the list of names of players who had made the varsity. Seeing her name, she smiled and left the locker room."
Example of images and mood words adding flavor/color:: "Ashley nervously scanned the list of players who had made varsity. Noticing her name, she grinned, turned quickly, and practically skipped out of the locker room."
Creativity - Students should attempt to come up with unusual insights or perspectives or even a different approach when tackling an assignment. I'm looking for something different, something that most other students either did not consider or did not include.
Example of creative idea or approach: One former student, when writing an "I" essay, approached the subject by taking the reader through a "typical day" in the writer's life. By the end of the essay, the reader felt like he had a fairly good idea of who this individual was.
Mechanics - This criterion refers to correct grammar and spelling. Specifically, students should avoid sentence fragments and run on sentences, as well as punctuation and capitalization errors. Students should use as a framework formal, standard, written English.