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How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science, including the categories of transitions and what each transition means. Teachers can also help students learn how and where to use them with appropriate punctuation.

However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. Teachers do well to point out the effective use of transitions in exemplary writing models and help students mimic these in their own writing. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing voices.

Before teachers launch into instructional strategies, they need to make the case for their students that transitions are necessary for effective writing.

Transitions are Necessary

Transitions provide connections between words and ideas. They also signal change. Without transitions, reading comprehension is minimized. Here are a few classroom-tested activities that will help students see how transitions are essential.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bring in the materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife, and plenty of napkins. Tell students to write detailed instructions about how to make this American classic. Then, collect the instructions and call on a few students to follow the directions exactly as you read them. If the transitions are not perfect, you will definitely need the napkins.

Learn and play a new game. Gather a bunch of different board games and/or decks of cards, each with a printed set of directions. Find different card game directions at this site.  Match students to games they have never played. Students learn and play the new game. The teacher directs the students to put away the game and directions and students are to compose their own directions for the game from memory, using effective transitions. Great for sequencing skills, too. Extension: Jigsaw students and have them follow student-created directions to try and learn how to play a new game. Further extension: Have students “tweak” the directions of an existing game and play it as revised. Even further extension: Have students create their own board or card games.

Learning Transitions

Students must understand the definition of the transition words and their categorical relationships.

Instructional Strategies: Teach the meanings of transition words in the context of transition categories. Have students read passages that use different transition categories and discuss. Have students complete a Cloze Procedure, using those same passages. Following are the transition categories (What You Need to Signal) and the common transitions:

What You Need to Signal                  Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

Using Transitions

Students must understand basic sentence syntax, to know where to place transition words.

Transitions can open paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be placed mid-sentence to connect ideas. Transitions can close paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be used to place emphasis on a certain sentence or paragraph component.

Instructional Strategies: Assign students a variety of writing tasks that will each require the use of different transition categories. Have students practice sentence revisions in which they place existing transition words at a different part of the sentence. Have students change transition words ending paragraphs to the beginning of the next paragraph and vice-versa. Have students compose compound and compound-complex sentences with transition words and then revise the placement of these transitions for different emphasis.

A Few Things to Avoid

Remind students that overusing transition words is almost as bad as not using transition words. Don’t teach structured transitions, such as these: Always place transitions at the end of an introduction. Always place transitions in a concluding statement ending a body paragraph. Always begin a conclusion with a transition. By the way, although most teachers insist upon a thesis restatement, most published essays do not have them. Two good rules of thumb apply: If the thesis restatement is expected, such as on the SAT 1® essay, write one. If the essay is long, use one; if it is short, don’t. Don’t use transitions solely as an editing skill.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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