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Transitional Word Activities to Improve Student Writing

By Susan Rickey

Transition words or phrases, placed correctly in your students writing can make the paragraphs fit together with greater readability and comprehension for the reader. Give your elementary class some practice.

Creating Flow in Writing

Transition words "glue" the text in a written piece together. By choosing the most effective transition words, your students can make their writing flow from one idea to the next, introduce new reasons, details and facts, and tie paragraphs together.

Transition words and phrases are used in expository writing and narrative writing. They fit together and are typically used in sets within the paragraph. For instance, first, second, third is a set that works well in a sequence paragraph. First of all, also and finally work better in a paragraph giving information, such as a paragraph describing the habitat of the kangaroo. Some of the most common transition words or sets are first, second, third; initially, next, finally; basically, similarly, as well.

Expository Writing Activity

Start by giving students a list of transition words to work with. Ask students to read a non-fiction passage at their prescribed reading level and then highlight the transition words in each paragraph. In their writing journal, they should then label a page "transition words." Direct the students to write down the transition word sets they have found on the page. This will be a reference for them to use during their writing.

Vary and Bury Transitions

Paragraphs can become monotonous if the same transition words are used throughout the essay. Teach students to vary their transition words. Display a piece of writing on the board that has the same transition words used throughout. Read the passage aloud to the class. Allow the students to revise the transition words as a group. Reread the passage. They will agree that the varied transition words are an asset.

Then, write each of these words on a card: "mom," "made," "the," "turkey" and "first." Give a card with each word to five students. Ask them to line up to make a sentence out of the cards. They will arrange themselves with the transition word at the beginning of the sentence, "First, Mom made the turkey." Direct them to bury the transition word in the sentence. If their line forms any of the sentences "Mom first made the turkey," "Mom made first the turkey" or "Mom made the turkey, first," they are successful.

Narrative Transitions

Transition phrases in narrative writing are time or place based — "later that day" and "when we arrived at school" both relate to time, "somewhere over the rainbow" and "in a land faraway" refer to place . Read a picture book aloud to the students. Make copies of each page of the story. Distribute the pages to your students. As you read, every time you say a transition phrase contained in the story the students clap once.1

Activity for Time and Place Transitions

Make a chart on the board and label it "time transitions" and "place transitions." Tell the students to open one of their independent reading books. If their book is an expository book, hand them a fiction book from the classroom library.

Ask all of the students to turn to the same page in each of their different books. After they have found the page, ask for volunteers to read out loud a paragraph from the designated page.

Guide the class in finding the transition words. Discuss whether they relate to time or place, time transitions or place transitions. Point out that many narrative transitions are phrases, not single words. List the phrases on the board in the proper category. For instance, the students might find time transition words: meanwhile, after lunch, later that day. Transition words the students might find are at the school, under the bridge and next to the house. The students add these words to their transition page (in their journals) for future reference when they are writing a narrative piece.1 With repeated practice, your elementary students will become empowered in their writing technique.