How to Help Elementary Students Write Topic Sentences


Learning how to write a topic sentence is an essential step in becoming an effective writer. Elementary students may struggle to pick out or summarize the main idea into a topic sentence. New writers need practice identifying and writing topic sentences to develop this skill.

Picture Main Idea Sentences

  • A picture gives elementary students a visual introduction to the main idea. Instead of trying to summarize a group of sentences, they analyze and summarize the main idea of the picture. Choose a picture showing a distinct event or action, such as kids putting on a play or a kite stuck in a tree. Ask the kids to look at the details of the picture to figure out what is happening. Students then write a sentence to summarize the most important action or event in the picture. Have students share their topic sentences to compare. The sentences will be worded slightly differently, but they should focus on a similar idea.

Missing Topic Sentence

  • To help elementary students develop topic sentences, provide a paragraph that is missing the topic sentence. Write a group of related sentences that would fit under a main idea. The students read the sentences to determine what they are about. They then synthesize the main idea into a topic sentence. For example, if the group of sentences described healthy eating habits for kids, the topic sentence might be, "Kids stay healthy by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, controlling portion sizes and limiting junk food."

Main Idea Questions

  • A question about the topic helps children develop a topic sentence. Create your own topic sentence for the subject matter and turn it into a question. If the sample topic sentence is, "Bears increase food and water intake to prepare for hibernation," you might change it to, "How do bears prepare for hibernation?" Present only the question to the elementary students. They brainstorm some details that answer the question. Students use the question and the details they generated to write a topic sentence.

Sandwich Paragraphs

  • The sandwich or hamburger method of writing a paragraph helps elementary students visualize the topic sentence and supporting details. Draw a picture of a sandwich to represent the parts of a paragraph. The top bun represents the topic sentence, the fillings represent the details that support the topic sentence and the bottom bun is the concluding sentence that wraps up the paragraph. Create a template for the students with sections large enough to write inside. Students choose a topic for the paragraph. They write the topic sentence in the top bun, details in the fillings and a final sentence in the bottom bun on the student template. Have them read through the paragraph again to ensure the sentences all focus on the main idea.


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