Teaching Students How to Write an Expository Paragraph

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Teaching students how to write an expository paragraph hero

What Is an Expository Paragraph?

Cookbooks. The World Almanac. Scientific reports. These informative nonfiction texts are all examples of expository writing. Expository (or informative) writing explores, shares, explains, or defines a specific subject or idea. This type of writing does not include the writer’s opinion or tell a story; its goal is not to persuade, and the writer’s voice should be neutral.

For students in Grades 3 and up, expository writing is one of the most straightforward yet challenging writing types since it requires writers to present ideas and relevant evidence in an organized, concise, and precise manner. Teaching kids how to write an expository paragraph will allow them to develop their organizational, analytical, and research skills. Plenty of careers require expository writing—so by practicing and mastering this genre of writing, kids will gain skills they can use in real life.

A great way to introduce your students to this type of writing is to have them read picture books or easy readers. Never underestimate your students’ abilities to grasp new or complex information by reading these types of texts:

  1. Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy, and Black Holes by Ellen Jackson and Nic Bishop
  2. The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey
  3. Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World by Nancy Castaldo
  4. The Great White Shark Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Keith Ellenbogen

Expository Paragraph Example

Read below an example of an expository passage (where the student writer classifies the types of planets in our solar system):

People often think all planets are alike, but there are actually three types of planets in the solar system. The terrestrial planets are made of rock and metal and are closest to the sun. These include the midsize planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. They rotate slowly and don’t have many moons. Farther from the sun are the planets called gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They are called gas giants because they are formed from gases such as hydrogen and helium. Gas giants rotate fast and have many moons. Finally, planetoids are objects made up of rock and ice and are too small to be true “planets.” Planetoids sometimes even get pulled into a planet’s gravitational field and become moons themselves. Whether they are terrestrials, gas giants, or planetoids, the planets in the solar system are fascinating.

Activity: Write an Expository Paragraph

There are various types of expository writing. However, a classification paragraph is a powerful tool to get students to grasp the structure of the genre. In this activity, have your students practice expository writing by writing a classification paragraph. This type paragraph has three parts:

  1. Topic sentence tells what the paragraph will be about.
  2. Body sentences present categories and specific details about each one.
  3. Closing sentence wraps up the paragraph.

Have your students follow these steps:

1. Select a Topic

Have your students choose a topic they love. Ensure they can easily break down their subject matter of choice into categories, such as the above example on planets. Here are some ideas:

  • Types of fruits
  • Types of sports shoes
  • Types of rock music
  • Types of dogs
  • Types of dance styles

2. Write a Topic Sentence

The topic sentence should name the topic and mention its categories. You can use the following formula as a guide.

The Formula for Writing a Topic Sentence:

Topic (rock music)

+ Categories (three different types)

= A good topic sentence (Rock music, one of the most popular genres of music in the world, can be categorized into three different types.)

3. Develop the First Draft

Consider freewriting before creating the first draft, consisting of 5–10 minutes of students writing as much as possible about their topic of choice. Freewriting gives students a chance to brain dump or include all their ideas about their topic and later take from those thoughts to form their initial draft. For more information on freewriting, check out our entire lesson devoted to it.

The first draft of your students’ paragraph should start with the topic sentence. Next comes the body sentences, which explain the topic’s categories and arrange them in the best possible order, such as order of importance, chronological order, or order of location. Students should write at least two or three supporting sentences per category based on their topic, which gives each group equal importance. For example, if the subject is “rock music” and one category is “alternative rock,” there should be at least two or three sentences that provide specific details about alternative rock.

Finally, the closing sentence thoughtfully wraps up the paragraph. The concluding statement could even indicate a valuable purpose for the classification discussed in the paragraph.

4. Revise Work

Your students must check their draft for ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. Have them think about the following questions when revising:

  • Is the topic sentence clear?
  • Are there any details that should be added or removed?
  • Are the categories and details organized in the best way?
  • Are the words clear and precise?
  • Does the paragraph flow well?
  • What’s the closing sentence, and does it thoughtfully close up the paragraph?

5. Edit for Clarity

Finally, have your students edit their drafts by looking for errors in conventions. They must check to ensure they used correct punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar. After editing once, make sure they proofread the paragraph once more. Consider allowing students to exchange their paragraphs with one another—it’s much easier for someone else to catch minor errors.

Next Step: How to Start an Expository Essay

A classification paragraph is a straightforward way to introduce kids to expository writing. Once they master organizing their ideas into a brief paragraph, they should be ready to move on to writing a more complex essay.

At first, stick with a classification essay, which breaks categories into three paragraphs as opposed to three sentences. Or consider exploring other types of expository writing, such as compare and contrast, explanatory paragraphs, cause and effect, how-to, and problem/solution. This downloadable PDF handout for students provides tips on how to write a classification paragraph and essay.

Teaching students how to write a persuasive paragraph also elevates their organization and communication skills. The handout below for students offers essential tips on how to write a persuasive paragraph and, afterward, an essay.


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