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The Teacher Tip

Strategies for Eliminating Confusion

January 8, 2018

Adapted from Teaching Nonfiction Revision by Sneed B. Collard III & Vicki Spandel

The following are six strategies students can use to make sure their paragraphs are easy to understand. Read the list in its entirety, and then consider posting each suggestion’s main idea, which is highlighted in bold:

  1. Identify the main purpose or message of each paragraph. If you can’t do this, your reader can’t either. A clear message should be as easy to write as a sentence. Examples: “Technology is addictive.” “Great white sharks are less aggressive than most people think.” “Intelligent life could exist on other planets.”
  2. Check for missing details. What questions are your raising in readers’ minds as you write? Answer them.
  3. Replace general words like stuff, things, nice, good, or wonderful with language that adds factual information or places pictures in readers’ minds. 
  4. Check a dictionary or thesaurus to make sure you are saying what you mean. Using new words or specialized terms is an excellent way to stretch your reader’s vocabulary—as well as your own—but it can backfire if you use words incorrectly.
  5. Review your work sentence by sentence. Sentences in a paragraph form a web of meaning. If even one is weak, the web falls apart. As you read each sentence, ask yourself, “Is this clear? Does it support what I say in other sentences?” If the answer to either question is no, revise or cut that sentence. 
  6. Try expressing ideas in different ways. Revising triggers thinking. The simple act of writing a sentence several ways can often take you closer to your intended meaning. 

To learn more about Teaching Nonfiction Revision and to download a sample chapter, visit

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