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WE 045 Focusing and Organizing

Teacher Tips and Answers


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Focusing and Organizing

Selecting and Collecting
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Writing puts the whole world in your hands. You can write about blue whales or The Titanic or anything else in the oceans. You can write about mountains or rainforests, about big cities and wide-open plains. Best of all, you can write about yourself and the other amazing people on our spinning world!

Once you’ve chosen a topic to write about, you need to focus your thoughts. Then you need to decide which details to use and in which order. At that point, you will be ready to write. This chapter will help you with all your planning.

What’s Ahead

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Forming a Focus

A focus helps you know what to say about your topic. For example, if you were writing a paragraph about moving to a new city, you might write a focus statement about your hopes and fears.

When my family first moved to Rochester (topic), my heart was full of hopes and fears (focus).

      Topic    +    Focus    =    Focus Statement

Sample Focus Statements

Persuasive Writing

The playground (topic) needs a new set of monkey bars (focus).

Our class (topic) should vote on the next president (focus).

Explanatory Writing

Dinosaurs (topic) had either bird hips or lizard hips (focus).

Leaves change color in the fall (topic) because the chlorophyll breaks down (focus).

Narrative Writing

When my brother went off to boot camp (topic), I decided to write him a letter every week (focus).

I made a friend (topic) in the funniest way possible (focus).

TipYour focus statement becomes the topic sentence in a paragraph and the thesis statement in a formal essay.

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Choosing a Pattern of Organization

Another part of planning is deciding how you will organize the details in your writing. Sometimes, a pattern of organization is built into the assignment. For example, if you are writing a narrative paragraph, you will organize your details by time. See more patterns below.

Time Order (chronological)

when sharing a story or explaining a process

first, second, third, next

Order of Location (spatial)

when describing people, places, and things

above, below, to the left, under, on, behind

Order by Examples

when identifying examples or types

one, also, another example

Cause-Effect Order

when explaining causes and effects

the main cause is, since, the main effect is, then


when comparing or contrasting two topics

in comparison, both, in contrast, despite, but

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Arranging Your Details

The final part of planning is arranging the details in the proper order for writing. This should be fairly easy once you have selected a pattern of organization for your details. Listing and outlining are two common ways to arrange your details before you begin to actually write.


Listing works well for paragraphs and other shorter forms of writing. Simply write down the details in the order that you want them to appear in your writing.

Sitting Bull's Horse
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Focus Statement: Sitting Bull (topic) fought against U.S. forces in Lakota territories (focus).

  • dreamed of big military victory

  • defeated General Custer at Little Big Horn

  • escaped a huge force sent after him

  • worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

  • was captured and killed in 1890

  • buried now in Lakota lands

Your listing may also follow a more specific pattern of organization:

Focus Statement: The string section of an orchestra has instruments from small to large:

  1. Violin

  2. Viola

  3. Cello

  4. Bass

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An outline works well for longer forms of writing like essays and reports. In an outline, ideas are listed from general to specific, with two or more ideas per level. If you have a I, you must have a II. If you have an A, you must have a B, and so on.

  • A topic outline contains only words and phrases.
  • A sentence outline contains complete sentences.

Sample Sentence Outline

Focus Statement: Green energy (topic) includes solar, wind, and wave (focus).

    I. Solar energy converts sunlight into power.

      A. Photo-electric panels on your roof can supply power for your house.

      B. Big solar farms focus sunlight to boil water and run generators.

    II. Windmills spin to turn wind into electricity.

      A. Huge blades get pushed by the wind.

      B. The blades turn a generator.

      C. The generator rotates coils inside of strong magnets, creating electricity.

    III. Wave farms make electricity using floats.

      A. Buoys bob up and down to run generators.

      B. Buoys can work together to gather energy from a series of waves.

NoteA topic outline would look the same except that it would use phrases rather than sentences.

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Using Graphic Organizers

You can also use any of the following graphic organizers to arrange your details for writing.

Time Line
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Cycle Diagram
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Venn Diagram
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Line Diagram
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Vocabulary List:
  • focus statement: a sentence that tells what you are writing about (topic) and what you want to say about it (focus)

Vocabulary List:
  • chronological order: arranging details in time order—first, next, then, afterward

  • spatial order: arranging details according to location—front to back, left to right, top to bottom

Vocabulary List:
  • listing: gathering strategy that involves writing details in order

  • outline: list that uses numbers and letters to organize details at different levels

Vocabulary List:
  • topic outline: an outline using words or phrases to express main ideas and supporting details

  • sentence outline: an outline using complete sentences to express main ideas and supporting details

Vocabulary List:
  • graphic organizers: visual representations of ideas

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