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How to Come Up With a Good Topic Sentence for a Response to Literature


Response to literature essays, whether they are multiple-page full-process pieces or one-page on-demand works, need topic sentences that closely align to a thesis. A response to literature generally involves analysis of both the piece of literature and the literary devices found in the piece. The thesis should therefore be a two-pronged statement that is broken down into several limited claims; the topic sentence of each paragraph should address one of these claims.

The Two-Pronged Thesis

Any good literary response thesis addresses two ideas, and these ideas, whether written for simple high school essays or complex AP essay prompts, are invariable. The first idea is "What is the literature about?"; the second is, "How does the author make you realize this?" In other words, one prong of the thesis -- and one section of the essay -- will analyze the piece's meaning, while the other prong will discuss the literary devices the author uses.

Topic Sentences From the First Prong: Meaning

In analyzing what the piece is about, the first topic sentence should suggest a very brief summary: "Shakespeare's sonnet compares his lover to a pleasant and mild season." This particular topic sentence should lead to the least elaborate paragraph in the essay, the recap of the piece. The next paragraph's topic sentence should suggest complexity and analysis to come: "Despite the poem's simplicity, there is more going on than meets the eye." Analysis of the piece follows in some detail.

Topic Sentences from the Second Prong: Literary Devices

The next part of the thesis deals with literary devices; to preserve the unity of the piece, each topic sentence should lead to a claim, the discussion of one device. If the essay is examining the Shakespearean sonnet's use of, say, metaphor, personification and imagery, the topic sentences should discuss one device only: "Shakespeare uses metaphor to intensify the emotional connection he feels with the loved one." The paragraph then goes on to discuss examples of metaphor in the piece.

Thesis Statements Lead to Topic Sentences

The two-pronged thesis for this response to literature essay would be: "Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 pays tribute to a lover through the use of metaphor, personification and imagery." At least five topic sentences, and probably many more, can be gleaned from that. While there is no one-size-fits-all paragraph opening, any good two-prong thesis will guide a writer to numerous usable topic sentences.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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