Fancy Some French Fries?

article by Mina , illustrated by Michel Streich

Learning Intention:

I am learning how the starting point of a sentence reveals the message or topic of a text so that I can experiment with cohesion in my own writing.

Success Criteria:

  • I can locate the topic sentence in a paragraph.
  • I can identify the topic of a paragraph and use the topic to work out the main idea.
  • I can experiment with using topic sentences to ensure cohesion in my own writing.

Essential knowledge:

More information about how the theme of a text differs from the topic can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Theme.

Before reading the article explain the textual features of a paragraph: a series of sentences that are all related to a single topic. It is a unit/section of a larger body of work and begins either with an indented line or a break between lines. Sometimes informational texts are broken into sections using subheadings. In each section there are extremely short paragraphs, using indented lines.

Count and number the paragraphs of the article, including the introductory paragraph, in blue. There are 22 in total. Highlight the number of sections by identifying the subheadings. There are four in total.

Once students have a solid overall understanding of the content of the text, complete a close analysis of a section (the paragraphs contained within a subheading). In this text, many of the paragraphs are one sentence long and therefore it is more appropriate to analyse a whole section to explain how a topic sentence works.

Explicitly teach students the meaning of the term topic sentence: a sentence that summarises the main idea of each paragraph. You may further explain to students that a topic sentence usually explains the who and the what.

Ask students to highlight the topic sentence underneath the subheading “France vs. Belgium”. Read the topic sentence as a class and locate the word that reveals the topic: origin. Then guide students in broadening their comprehension by identifying the main idea in this sentence by underlining who the paragraph is about (the French Fries) and what is something significant about them (the mystery around their origin).

Historians have been discussing [what] French fries’ [who] origin [what] for centuries.

Next, explain that the sentences that follow the topic sentence (the body of the paragraph) provide additional facts and details that link to the main idea. Ask students to look at the sentences that follow the topic sentence and instruct them to underline the facts and details about the different historical accounts of the origins of French Fries:

Even though they are often called French fries, many believe the first fried potatoes were actually made in Belgium.

One theory is that hot chips were first made in 1680 in Namur, the French-speaking part of Belgium. In Namur, fried fish was a popular dish. So, one winter, when the local river froze and fish could not be caught, they fried potatoes instead.

The name French fries was said to be first used during World War One when American soldiers were stationed in Belgium. As the official language of the Belgian army was French, the soldiers nicknamed the delicious fried potatoes French fries.

Another theory is that French fries were indeed created in France. In the 1780s, street vendors were said to have sold thin potato fritters, which resembled the fried potatoes we know today.

But because there is no specific record of who invented them in the first place, it remains a mystery lost to history!

Complete a close analysis of the remaining sections, using the steps above, to consolidate students’ understanding. Gradually release responsibility so that students are able to independently identify the main idea in the topic sentence, and facts and details in the body of the paragraph.

Finally provide students with a bullet point list of facts and details about a similar topic. A possible topic is the history of the hamburger. (Suggested reading: Kid’s News article McDonald’s History or Owlcation’s article The Story of the World’s Greatest Sandwich) Instruct students to turn the bullet point list into a paragraph, with a topic sentence introducing the main idea, and three to four subsequent sentences providing facts and details about the topic.