ESL Paragraph Structure Exercises

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

Many students can use a refresher on how to write paragraphs. In this lesson, teachers of English as a second language (ESL) students will learn some activities for reinforcing paragraph structure.

Teaching Paragraph Structure

In order to write a well-structured paragraph, students need to begin with a topic sentence followed by supporting details and a concluding sentence. From time to time, students may need a refresher on paragraph structure. Let's take a look at some activities for reinforcing paragraph structure with your ESL students.

Traffic Light Paragraphs

On a piece of poster board, create an image of a modified traffic light with the green light at the top and the red light at the bottom. Keep this visual aid displayed in your classroom all year to remind students how to structure a paragraph.

The green light represents the beginning of the paragraph, also known as the topic sentence. The yellow light is a reminder to slow down and add details to support the topic sentence. The red light reminds students to wrap things up with a concluding sentence.

Have students practice writing simple traffic light paragraphs using this formula.

Scrambled Paragraphs

Use sentence strips to write a complete paragraph, with one sentence per strip. Next, scramble the strips up and ask students to put them in the correct order. This activity is helpful for ESL students because manipulatives, such as sentence strips, help make lessons more concrete. Following is an example of a paragraph that you could use for this activity:

  • Sentence strip 1: My favorite season is summer.
  • Sentence strip 2: First of all, I enjoy going to the beach.
  • Sentence strip 3: I love swimming in the ocean and walking on the boardwalk.
  • Sentence strip 4: Secondly, I love being off from school.
  • Sentence strip 5: This means I can spend time with my friends and read lots of books.
  • Sentence strip 6: Finally, my birthday is in July.
  • Sentence strip 7: Who doesn't love presents and cake?
  • Sentence strip 8: For these reasons, summer will always be my favorite season.

After students get the hang of this activity, you can have them write their own paragraphs using sentence strips and exchange them with friends to unscramble.

Identifying Supporting Details

Provide several examples of paragraphs for students to read and analyze. Make sure the paragraphs have lots of extra, unnecessary details, and instruct students to highlight, underline, or circle them. Allow students to work in small groups to defend their choices and discuss which details weren't needed.

Transition Words

Transition words help maintain clarity and cohesion in a piece of writing. Show students examples of paragraphs written without the use of transitions, such as the following paragraph about how to check out a book from the library:

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