Writing tips

Developing a paragraph in a commentary

Mithoo is an important character in the novel “Shabanu Daughter of the Wind” by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Mithoo is a camel, but he is a reflection of Shabanu’s character and life circumstances. Born as his mother was in death throes after she was bitten by a poisonous snake (15), Mithoo was birthed by Shabanu, signaling the beginning of their special relationship. The circumstances surrounding Mithoo’s birth reflect Shabanu’s life, the life of a desert nomad, where “death is more inevitable than life” (16). Nomadic life in the desert is harsh. Uncertainty about the weather makes it unpredictable (4). While traveling, there may be tribal bandits (68) that attack. Sometimes, rich landlords can abuse the powerlessness of desert girls without fear of being punished by law (153) and this can lead to family feuds and tragic deaths (166). Mithoo is not only a symbol of Shabanu’s difficult life, he is also a reflection of her character. Shabanu is a free spirit who loves to be outdoors and taking care of camels (28). Similarly, Mithoo is a camel who naturally likes to dance when he hears a rhythm, like clapping or singing (239). Both Mithoo and Shabanu have the gift of a free spirit. It is this shared gift for freedom that makes Mithoo a symbol for Shabanu. When they are running away so Shabanu would not have to marry Rahim Sahib, Mithoo breaks his legs. Shabanu realizes that “Mithoo, like me, has lost his greatest gift by following his heart” (239). Mithoo’s broken leg signifies Shabanu’s broken dream. She dreams of being like Sharma, independent and following her own path, but instead her willfulness has hurt her best friend—Mithoo. In the end, Shabanu gives up running away because she realizes that she cannot run away without hurting her entire family.

More tips available in this old post:


Writing a body paragraph for an essay about a novel

Here is a sample paragraph that I wrote for an essay on “The House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer (our summer reading).

Topic 1: Matt has a risk-taking, courageous personality.

Outline  examples to show:

  1. When he was a baby, his Mom told him never to interact if there were any people who came to see him at their shack in the middle of nowhere.
  2. When he was considered an animal, he interacted with Rosa the maid and Maria.
  3. When he had his birthday which El Patron celebrated in a party, he asked for a kiss  from Maria.
  4. Even though he had to alone, he went to the Eejit home area, even though he was warned not to go there.

Here is the FIRST DRAFT:

Matt has a risk-taking, courageous personality. A lot of his behavior in the book shows that he is able to take risks without feeling afraid, and that is a courageous behavior, especially in light of the fact that everyone in the El Patron household first treated him as an outcast in the beginning. WE first see Matt’s courage even before he began to speak, when he was a baby living with his surrogate mom in a shack in the middle of nowhere. His mom had told him not to answer the door or to interact with anyone if anyone knocked, while he was alone. But when Maria, her sister Emily, and her sister’s friend Steven stumbled upon the shack, and they knocked on the window, Matt did not really hesitate to show himself to them (10). This shows that he was risk taking even as a baby. Later when he finally came to the El Patron house, he was treated badly as a clone, kept in a pigpen like an animal. But this did not deter his courage. He interacted with the maid Rosa (47) and with Maria (48), who later became his close friend. After he was accepted by the community as the clone of El Patron and therefore special, he ventured to go to the eejit home area (168), even though he was warned not to go there. He was curious to see what the eejit life looked like, and this later encouraged him to change how the country dealt with their laborers. This later change that Matt tried to start became his goal in life and the beginning of his leadership. This shows that Matt is a courageous character who takes risks for the benefit of others.

Sample Close reading notes in paragraph format

When you’re answering an essay question about literature, there are a few things you have to make sure you actually do. These tips will be in bold letters.

1. Dicey begins to think about her conflicts in life, because of Mr. Chappelle’s English essay assignment. What are conflicts according to Dicey’s thoughts?

According to Dicey (81-83), conflicts can take many shapes and form. Sometimes, it can be a conflict of behavior, or of interests: or of feelings. For example, on page 82, she thought about Will Hawkins, and how his behavior conflicted against each other: ‘…Will was so honest with his friends, yet tricked the people who came to see his shows.’ This shows how Will’s actions conflicted against one another: being so deceitful, and yet so honest. Continuing on, Dicey’s Cousin Eunice was the perfect example of a conflict of interests: she wanted people to think good about her so she’d taken the children in, even though she didn’t want to (83). Last but not least, Dicey’s mind is a clear demonstration of a conflict of feelings: she has so many choices for the essay, but she decided against Momma, before deciding to write about her (83)). In Dicey’s mind, a conflict is when things are against one another, and she doesn’t know why and how.

TIPS: Use examples to prove your topic. When you cite examples, you can quote them, or say them in your own words (paraphrase). Then, make sure you cite the examples using MLA citation style–with page numbers inside parentheses.

2. Mina is trying to make friends with Dicey and so is Jeff. How does Dicey’s poverty affect her friendships?

Dicey’s poverty causes her to value money a lot, thus always attempting to reduce costs, or find more money. For example, when Mina attempted to talk to her about the essay, Dicey couldn’t go to her house because she had to work in Millie’s store starting at 3.15 pm (17), making Mina say, “You sure are a hard person to be friends with, Dicey Tillerman” (84). The same applies to Jeff, he has another song for her, but she can’t stay. Dicey’s poverty causes her to view friendship as something less valuable than money; she views money as a necessity, and friendship as something trivial, and could be ignored.

TIP: You can mix different examples from different parts of the text. Here the examples are from early in the book (page 17) and later (page 84).

3. Why is Dicey upset about the apron incident?

Dicey is like Gram in the fact that although they both may not really care about how others think, they still don’t like being humiliated, shown up or embarrassed by other people. That was why Dicey fought the other kids at her old school (123). She didn’t like other kids humiliating her, teasing her about Momma. When humiliated, she feels angry and upset. That was what happened during the apron incident; Dicey felt humiliated as the whole class laughed at her. Dicey might also be upset because she feels like she’s letting Gram down by failing home ec.

TIP: Connect different examples with your topic.

4. Why is Gram angry about getting the check from Welfare? Quote three passages that tell you why.

Gram is angry about the welfare check because she doesn’t like charity: “Gram didn’t like taking charity…Gram said so” (96). Her mouth was tightly closed (96). That observation was Dicey’s thought, but Gram’s use of the word ought tells us a very important detail about how Gram might be feeling about taking charity through the welfare check. When Gram says,  “…I’ve never gotten money back on taxes before. It ought to be good,” the “ought” tells us that in reality, it doesn’t feel good to take the welfare money (96) and further reinforces the point that she is not happy about getting the welfare money. Ought means something which isn’t certain; it just means ‘should’; and Dicey finishes her thought for her: it doesn’t.

TIP: Look at and discuss author’s choices. In the example above, the author’s choice that is being discussed is word choice of the word “ought.”

5. Explain what Dicey understood about Gram’s love for the children, on page 102. Is this true?

Dicey realized that by loving the children, Gram’s life had changed. She was used to living alone and was not close to her own children. Yet, she took in the children and accepted them, shown by her writing their names in the family Bible (28). Dicey learned that when you love people, you start worrying about them. Gram loves the children very much: she was very worried when Maybeth came home late; she hugged Maybeth for a long time when Maybeth finally came home. When Gram accepted the children, when she loved them and took them under her care, she had to accept both the good parts and the bad parts of love; she worried herself sick when Maybeth came home late.

TIP: Discuss all the parts of the question in the answer.

Criterion addressed is Criterion A Content.

2.1.6 Writing the introduction

Now that you’ve finished drafting the body paragraphs of your essay after brainstorming the ideas in them, you are ready to write the introduction paragraph.

The introduction paragraph is an upside down triangle, meaning that it begins with a broad, general idea and ends with a very specific idea.

The purpose of the introduction’s opening sentences is to capture the reader’s attention right away. There are several ways you can open or start your introduction. Here are some common ways:

1. Ask a question

Opening your essay with a question is called a “rhetorical device” and the question is called a “rhetorical question.” The rhetorical question is a question you ask that you do not expect the reader to answer right away. You will later answer it in your essay.

2. Share an anecdote

Anecdotes are quick stories that can make people laugh or immediately establish the main idea of your essay. Anecdotes are very short, usually a few sentences long. If you pick this as the opener of your introduction, make sure the anecdote is related to your topic!

3. Share a quote

A nice quote from someone who is a recognizable authority or famous person can also work to open your introduction. The quote should be related to your main idea of the essay. You can get thousands of quotes from this source.

4. Set the scene

Setting the scene produces an image in the reader’s mind. This is one of the most powerful things you can do as a writer because it engages the reader’s imagination. When the reader starts imagining what you wrote, you have captured the reader with your writing! Start with the words “Imagine…” or “Picture yourself…” and set the scene for the reader.

5. Use a metaphor or simile

Metaphors or similes are some of the most powerful devices available when it comes to telling a story in a single sentence. This is a great way to capture the reader’s attention.

6. Cite a shocking fact or statistic

If you can look up facts or statistics that move the reader’s imagination, this is also a good way to begin your introduction. You can search for facts and statistics using news reports. You can quote the report, and make sure you provide the source in MLA format (parenthesis after the citation).

When you are writing the introduction, use ONE of these ways.