What are supporting sentences?
Supporting sentences provide examples for the topic sentence. If a writers says, for instance, that "Early childhood education programs provide cognitive benefits well beyond preschool," the second, third, and fourth sentences will include information supporting the main idea in the topic sentence. Supporting sentences might look like the ones you see in green:
Early childhood education programs such as Head Start provide cognitive benefits well beyond preschool. Recent studies that compare student test scores show that children who are exposed to structured learning activities outside the home environment are better able to adapt to formalized instruction in grades kindergarten through third grade than children who remain at home. This is particularly true among children from low-income families and children whose parents have a limited proficiency in English. Children living in states that do not provide early childhood programs, on the other hand, lag behind their peers. State and local governments must continue to bridge the achievement gap so that students may reach their full potential at an early age.
Leading into the next topic sentence if this is an essay...
Standardized test scores prove that academic preparedness contributes to a child's success in elementary school.
Supporting sentences are much more specific than the topic sentence. If you make an outline before writing your paragraph, these are items A, B, and C and they almost always follow the topic sentence, which is the first sentence of the paragraph; however, it's possible to begin a paragraph with a supporting sentence. For students who do not have a lot of experience in writing paragraphs, I recommend that the supporting sentences come after the topic sentence.
In the next lesson, you'll see what a concluding sentence looks like in a paragraph.
Most IELTS task 2 essays follow the same basic four paragraph structure:
- Supporting Paragraph 1
- Supporting Paragraph 2
These paragraphs take up most of your essay and are therefore where most marks are won and lost. Write two good supporting paragraphs and you are most of the way to getting a good final mark.
This post will:
- look at what the examiners want
- look at good and bad examples
- show you how to write topic sentences
- show you how to develop your topic sentence with explanations and examples.
What do the examiners want?
If we look at the public band descriptors or my guide on the difference between band 5 and band 8 answers you can see that the examiner wants you to respond to the question with ‘relevant, extended and supported ideas.’ This means that your ideas must actually relate, or be linked, specifically to the question and then you have to explain what your ideas mean and then support them with examples.
Good and Band Examples
Look the following examples and think about what the examiner wants. Which one is a good essay and which one is not?
Question- Some parents think that childcare centres provide the best services for children of pre-school age. Other working parents think that family members such as grandparents will be better carers for their kids.
Discuss both views and give your opinion.
Sample 1– Many parents in full-time employment prefer to leave their children with grandparents when they are at work because they feel their child will be safer with someone from within the family circle. In other words they do not trust a stranger to look after their child and feel confident that no harm will come to the child whilst being look after by grandma or grandpa. For example, a 2013 study from Cambridge University showed that 62% of working mothers prefer a member of the immediate family to provide care when they are at work.
Sample 2– Grandparents are the best people to look after children for very obvious reasons. Grandparents really love their grandchildren and would never harm them. Also, the children really love their grandparents and feel comfortable with them. Finally, grandparents have lots of experience taking care of children because they are old and looked after children for many years themselves.
Can you tell which one is better?
Sample 1 has one main argument- parents prefer grandparents because they trust them. They have stated this very clearly in the first sentence and then explained why this is, in the second sentence. They have also used a very specific example to support their idea. This is exactly what the examiner wants.
Sample 2 has many different arguments and most of them are very general. They have not been extended with explanations and lack examples. This is exactly what the examiner does not want.
How to Write a Topic Sentence
The very first sentence in your supporting paragraph should be the topic sentence. Each paragraph should have one main idea only and the topic sentence tells the reader what this idea is. This makes your paragraph and the whole essay clearer and easier to read. You will gain marks for coherence in the IELTS writing test if you do this. Think of them as signposts that direct the reader to where you want to go.
We think of topic sentences in an argument (agree or disagree) essay by thinking of ideas why we support one side or the other.
Let’s look at another question:
Most high-level positions in companies are filled by men even though the workforce in many developed countries is more than 50 percent female. Companies should be required to allocate a certain percentage of these positions to women. Do you agree?
So we have to think of reasons for and against allocating a certain percentage of positions in the workforce to women.
- Prevent discrimination
- Women outperform men in many jobs
- Women outperform men in many schools and university subjects
- Should be based on merit not gender
- A few jobs, like construction, are better suited to males
I support the ‘for’ category so I am going to pick two of those reasons and write topic sentences for them. You should always pick the ideas you know most about, or in other words, can explain and support with examples.
Topic Sentence 1: Women should be allocated a certain percentage of roles because to not do so, discriminates against them because of their gender.
Topic Sentence 2: Females should be given a bigger share of jobs because women currently outperform males in most university subjects.
As you can see, all I have done is simply introduce my ideas in a very clear way. There is no need to use very advanced to do this, stating your position in simple language is all you need to do.
Task: Try taking some of the other ideas above and writing a topic sentence.
Explaining Our Ideas
Explaining ideas is a problem for most students, not because they can’t do it, but because they don’t see the point in doing it. They think that the examiner must be an educated person and explaining simple ideas to them is wasting their time.
You should never assume this and instead I tell my students to assume that the reader has no knowledge of this subject at all and you need to explain what you mean in order for them to understand.
There are certain phrases we can use to explain our ideas such as:
- That is to say…. (linking)
- In other words… (linking)
- This is because… (giving reasons)
- The reason is…. (giving reasons)
- As a result…. (describing result)
- As a consequence…. (describing result)
- Therefore…. (describing result)
Use one of these phrases to explain what your topic sentence means, the reason why, or the result of your topic sentence. You don’t need to do all three, just one. Make sure that anyone with no knowledge of the subject can understand what your main point is.
Example 1– Women should be allocated a certain percentage of roles, because to not do so discriminates against them because of their gender. As a result, women will be denied jobs, not because of their intellect or skill, but simply because of their sex.
Example 2– Females should be given a bigger share of jobs, because women currently outperform males in most university subjects. That is to say those young women are just as qualified as men, if not more, and should therefore be given at least an equal share in the job market.
The last point I will make about explanations is they should relate specifically to the question. They should not generally explain what the idea is; they should explain how the idea answers the question.
Make sure you read the question again before you write a topic sentence or explanation.
The last part of a good supporting paragraph is a relevant example. Examples give your points more authority and make your argument stronger.
The two main problems here are not being able to think of examples and examples not being specific enough.
In the IELTS test, if you can’t think of a good example, make one up. In school or university you should research and use real examples, but in the test it is fine to make them up. It is not a test of your knowledge; it is a test of your written English. The examiners will never check the examples and they are only worried about how the examples support your ideas.
Two good ways to make up examples are using newspaper articles or university research. I often do this when I am writing sample answers and they also help you be more specific (see below).
The examiner wants your examples to be as specific as possible. To illustrate this we will look at three examples.
Women should be allocated a certain percentage of roles, because to not do so discriminates against them because of their gender. As a result, women will be denied jobs, not because of their intellect or skill, but simply because of their sex.
Example 1- For example, lots of women fail to get jobs solely on the basis of their gender.
Example 2– For example, many business women in Asia find it difficult to get jobs as CEOs, despite having the same qualifications as men.
Example 3– For example, in 2014 it was reported in The Straits Times that only 9 of Singapore’s top 100 companies have female CEOs, despite making up 50% of the total workforce.
The first example is very general and is not a satisfactory example.
Example 2 is much better but again ‘business women in Asia’ is very general and does not really support our argument because of this.
Example 3 is a very good example because it used an actual newspaper to report specific statistics (9%), from a specific place (Singapore) at a specific time (2014).
Putting It All Together
Below I will put everything we have learned to write two supporting paragraphs for this question:
Increasing the price of petrol is the best way to solve growing traffic and pollution problems.
To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Raising fuel prices is the best option because it would lower demand. This is because the laws of economics dictate that the higher the price of a commodity, the lower the consumption of that product and this will lead to less people using vehicles. For instance, when the price of fuel skyrocketed during the oil crisis in the 1970s, there was a huge reduction in the amount of cars on the road.
Raising the price of fuel would also have a knock on effect on the price of goods because they cost more to transport. This would result in people having less money to spend at the pump, thus reducing the number of cars on the road even further. For example, the New York Times reported that the higher the price of food in a city, the more likely people were to use public transport, principally because they couldn’t afford a car.
I hope you found the post useful and let me know if you have any comments or questions below.
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