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Building a Paragraph

by Lea Puljcan Juric | 11 Jan 2021
Resource Description:

This lesson plan is intended to help students in a first-year composition class build effective paragraphs in academic essays. The lesson's topic invites students to reflect on the ways in which people interact with objects and imbue them with meaning. Readings include (see References, below, for full citations):

1. “The Uncommon Life of Common Objects” by Akiko Busch

 2. “Unknown Keys” by Siri Hustvedt

 3. Paragraphs (Jane E. Aaron, The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 9th ed., pp. 40-54)

 4.  "Building Effective Paragraphs (Diana Hacker & Nancy Sommers, The Bedford Handbook, 10th ed., pp. 72-92)

Audience: University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced
Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Language Skill: Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing
Content Area: Literature, English for academic purposes, cultural and social studies
Materials and Technology:



Development of paragraph composition skills as well as reading comprehension, listening, and speaking skills through group work. 

Outcome(s): Students will be able to build a detailed paragraph envisioned as part of a larger narrative on a specific topic (meaningful objects). They will also practice relating others’ observations and hypotheses to their personal lives and combining narration based on personal experience with a reflection on broader theoretical and practical issues.

Introduction (whole class, ca. 30 min): Discussion of texts by Busch and Hustvedt, with a focus on what they suggest about how an object can “live” in people, how it can tell stories, and how/why it can shape identity. Activities and questions to consider: List each of Busch’s arguments about what gives ordinary objects their value. Which do you find the most convincing? Which resonates the most with your experiences? Which possible argument does she omit?

Next, the class examines Hustvedt’s one-paragraph reflection: How does Hustvedt use an ordinary object (“unknown keys”) to give us a snapshot/portrait of her father and her relationship with him? What patterns of organization and rhetorical devices does she use to accomplish this? For example, how does she transition from object to person, from person to person, and from the particular to the general? How does she condense the portrait in a single paragraph (successfully or not)? Does the text communicate effectively the symbolic meaning of the central object? What, if anything, is confusing, feels incomplete, or raises questions? What does she do or say that inspires you the most?

In answering these questions, students are asked to draw on the other two readings assigned for the day (3 & 4 above), thus reflecting on the recommended strategies for building a solid paragraph in relation to specific examples.


Group Work (groups of three, ca. 20 min total): Instructions: Spend 5 minutes silently thinking about a physical object that matters to you. How, when, and why did you get it? What does it look like? How does having it make you feel? As you’re thinking, take notes on anything you want to convey about the object’s significance. For example, does it trigger a specific memory and, if so, why is that memory important to you? Feel free to draw on Busch’s and Hustvedt’s texts for inspiration.

Next, take turns speaking about your choices. Each of you should spend about 5 minutes talking with the others in your group about your object. As a listener, remark on anything you deem curious, confusing, relatable, incomplete, or otherwise interesting in the speaker’s description. As a speaker, take note of the others’ questions and good ideas for elaborating on your description.


In-class Writing (individual work; ca. 25 min, including “modeling” below): Students start writing a one-paragraph reflection on their object, due next class.

Modeling (ca. 10 min): Instructor reflects on an object that prompts a powerful childhood memory and outlines a paragraph that can be built around the remembered event in the form of a snapshot. The focus is on capturing details, followed by a condensed reflection on the meaning of the event at the time it happened and its long-term impact on her identity and emotional development. This outline follows the recommendations set forth in “Paragraphs” and “Building Effective Paragraphs”: focus on a main point stated in a topic sentence; develop the point; choose a suitable pattern of organization (in this case, description, narration, and possibly analogy); manage length; maintain paragraph unity; and achieve coherence. 


Closure: Students are given the rest of the class to work on their paragraphs. At the end, they are asked to revise and complete their work at home after having read texts assigned for next class, which further exemplify descriptive paragraphs and narration.

Assessment: In the last 15 minutes of the class, students begin to write a one-paragraph Reflection on a meaningful object. The Reflection is due by the next class and graded according to instructor's preferred rubric. 
Differentiation: A subsequent class session can extend the lesson by teaching students to read for detail and imagery in narratives, to include such detail and rich verbal images in their paragraph, and to begin to construct their own narrative about the meaningful object in additional paragraphs.   

Busch, A. 2010. Introduction to The Uncommon Life of Common Objects. In Seeing & Writing 4. McQuade, D. and McQuade, C. eds. pp. 114-120. Boston and New York: Beford/St. Martin’s.  

Hustvedt, S. 2010. Unknown Keys. In Seeing & Writing 4. McQuade, D., and McQuade, C., eds. p. 113. Boston and New York: Beford/St. Martin’s.  

Aaron, J. 2016. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook. Pearson.

Hacker, D. and Sommers, N. 2017. The Bedford Handbook. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Useful Links: n/a
TESOL Interest Section: Higher Education, Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL