MEAL Paragraphs

Please note: This post was adapted from a PowerPoint posted online from Ms. Kelly Flynn, a teacher at St. John’s College High School in Washington DC. The changes I have made have been to make this post shorter and more appropriate for history and social studies students.

M.E.A.L. paragraphs are method of writing strong paragraphs. They can stand alone or be found within a larger work like an essay. This structure will help you become a better writer for the remainder of your high school years and make you a college-ready writer.


The idea behind this mnemonic device is that every paragraph is like a meal. (I’m fat. I love food analogies.) A well-prepared meal is filling and a MEAL paragraph should be filling too. MEAL paragraphs are the body paragraphs in your essay. They use a different format than your introductory or closing paragraphs.

M is for… Main Idea, which is also known as a topic sentence. The topic sentence is what the entire paragraph will be about. This is the most important sentence in the paragraph because it tells your reader exactly what the subject of the paragraph will be. This is especially important in an essay, because these paragraphs will support the most important sentence of an essay: the thesis statement or main argument.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to the thesis sentence. I like it to have three legs. Thus, I often ask students to give me three reasons every time I ask a question in class. Give me three reasons why socialism is more fair than capitalism? Give me three reasons why capitalism is more efficient than socialism? Students can use a chicken foot to map out the three reasons.


The purpose of supporting sentences is to further explain and support the topic. Supporting sentences are also used to hold the reader’s interest, interpret evidence from an expert, and clarify examples from the text. In high school, you should have at least five to eight sentences in every paragraph. (Don’t just stop at five, explore of all your ideas).

E is for… EVIDENCE! What evidence or proof did you find in your reading or research? This is an opportunity to use quotes or point out examples from the text that support your claim. So you claim socialism is a better economic system than capitalism? How can you prove it?

A is for… ANALYSIS!  Analyze or explain how the evidence you provided proves the Main Idea. Giving an example of socialism isn’t enough. You need to explain HOW socialism is better than capitalism.Analysis is the trickiest part of the MEAL paragraph because you need to carefully explain  how each piece of evidence you provided makes sense as a support in this context.

L is for… LINK!  Now link the paragraph back to its original topic sentence. In the case of a MEAL paragraph, this refers to how the paragraph fits in with what the paper is trying to prove. Effective writers link the main idea of each paragraph back to the thesis/main argument.

M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence

E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research

A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea

L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.

The Writing Center at Kennesaw State University provides a nice two-page handout that explains MEAL paragraphs in greater detail with superheros. Do college students still like superheros? My next post will feature some examples of MEAL paragraphs from my students and describe how to improve their depth and clarity.

Soviet Textbooks Essay

Soviet Txbks

What should be remembered in Soviet textbooks? Describe three achievements that should be included in Soviet textbooks. Support your reasoning with evidence from the documents: (A) Geographic Expansion; (B) Socio-Economic Accomplishments; (C) Great Terror; (D) Political Repression; (E) Military Strength; (F) Space Achievements; (G) Olympic Victories; and (H) Ballet & Cultural Achievements.

Thesis Statement Planning

Soviet textbooks should include: ____________, _____________, and _______________.

In 69 years as a country, the Soviet Union accomplished many great things, _________, _________, and _________; should be included in their textbooks to remember this time in history.

_________, ___________, and _____________ show that communism was capable of producing greatness, this paper will argue that the Soviet Union’s Cold War accomplishments should be included in their textbooks.


  1. Intro
    1. Background on the Cold War (czar, Bolshevik, capitalism, socialism, communism, Cold War, Stalin, Krushchev, Gorbachev, Sputnik, republics, satellites, and Bolshoi)
    2. Definition of terms
    3. Thesis statement
  2. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 1
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  3. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 2
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  4. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 3
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  5. Conclusion
    1. Summarize rationale – Accomplishments 1, 2 & 3 show…
    2. Recap evidence
    3. Restate thesis

In-Text vs. Parenthetical Citations

Document A shows the incredible size of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. This suggests that …

Poland was an East European satellite country of the Soviet Union (Document A).

Evidence-based Sentence Starters

Based on this evidence, it appears that _____________________.

This quote suggests that ______________________.

When viewing the map, it is evident that _____________.

This source reveals how US policy makers thought about ___________________.

This timeline illustrates how ____________________________.

This passage provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.

Great Terror Tweetathon

Steve Graham and Michael Herbert (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of the literature on reading and writing called Writing to Read. Part of this work, reports the results from nine studies that demonstrated how having students respond to a text in writing has a large effect (0.77) on their reading comprehension. This research suggests that writing personal reactions and/or analyzing/interpreting texts can increase reading comprehension. Therefore, I asked my students to use textual evidence to create rhyming couplets about the Great Terror. They were given a document about Stalin and the Great Terror from The DBQ Project’s excellent materials and allowed to use their cell phones to access an online rhyming dictionary.

2015-04-17 13.18.08

A few students turned in rhymes that did not reflect understanding of the material. In a future iteration of this project I will add some peer review and quantify the results. Many students, however, were creative and demonstrated strong understanding of The Great Terror. The following couplets represent their work:

As a Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin made his enemies pay
His secret police would kill 1,000 people every day

The Russians launched mass arrests and forced labor
At times it seemed by killing you, Stalin was doing you a favor

Between 1937 and 1938, the Great Terror only lasted for two years
During this time, the Soviet people lived with many fears

The Great Terror eliminated people considered an enemy of the state
A history book would conclude that this time period was not great.

Russian intellectuals were broken and corrupted
Their contributions to society were disrupted

Mercy and dignity got in the way of survival
If you valued freedom, you were Stalin’s rival

The Great Terror tried to instilled fear in a citizen’s mind and soul
Constant threats from authority added up and took their toll

Soviet History books were just another propaganda tool
Until Roy Medvedev wrote one critical of Stalin’s rule

Joseph Stalin had a huge amount of power
Which made all of his citizens tremble and cower

This quick activity aligns with what Lopez (2011) terms culturally relevant pedagogy, which emerged in response to the need for increased engagement and educational success for all learners. Many teenagers aspire to be rappers and songwriters. This exercise allowed students to work in pairs and collaborate on a task with high social capital and improve their academic vocabulary and reading comprehension. Please make a comment and let me know how you could adapt this activity to your classroom.


Lopez, A.E. (2011). Culturally relevant pedagogy and critical literacy in diverse English classrooms: A case study of a secondary English teacher’s activism and agency. English Teaching: Practice and Critique. pp. 75-93. December, 2011, Volume 10, Number 4. 

Six Word Definitions

Thanks to #TeachWriting, my rockin’ PLN on Twitter, I was apply to apply a new technique in my World History classroom this week. Several ELA teachers were discussing #6wordShakespeare and some of the other six-word story exercises that had been done in their classrooms. Hemingway wrote one of the most famous six word stories: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. These teachers described the technique as a fast brainstorming tool that gets students writing and playing with language immediately. I thought it could be used in the vocabulary-intensive unit I am currently teaching about the Cold War.

These two definitions from the book and subsequent student simplifications illustrate the concept.  Containment: The U.S. strategy of keeping communism within its existing boundaries and preventing its further expansion (p. 509). Truman Doctrine: United States policy, established in 1947, of trying to contain the spread of communism (p. 491).

6 word CW Vocab

Hyland & Tse (2007) report that many teachers regard helping students develop specialist [content] vocabulary as an important part of their role and many lists of key terms have been assembled. Marzano & Pickering (2005) offer a manual with 7,923 terms so school and district teams can choose the most important vocabulary words to teach their students. The terms were extracted from national standards documents, across eleven subject areas, and organized into grade-span intervals for: K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12 writers.

Here are examples of online definitions, along with student six-word definitions.  Iron Curtain:  The political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its depended eastern and central European allies from open contact with the West and other noncommunist areas (Encyclopedia Britannica). Capitalism: An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state (Google). Interestingly this term is not defined in the World History textbook, instead capital is defined as “money or wealth used to invest in business or enterprise” (p. 175).

6 word vocab

The majority of my students mastered this task and defined all seven terms in 15 minutes. I find that quantifying and charting how many terms a student completed within the allotted time helps me get a better picture of their engagement and alerts me to any comprehension problems that may be brewing.

Here some additional examples of student work:
Communism: Form of socialism advocated by Marx; Community has all power in society; All wealth and property owned collectively.
Capitalism: Private owners rather than the state; Prices are based on supply and demand; Individuals make decisions, not the government.
Cold War: Tension and hostility between two nations; Competition between U.S & Soviet states.
Iron Curtain: Prime Minister accuses Soviets of aggression. Soviets create a buffer in Europe.
Containment: Keeping communism within boundaries without spreading; America’s policy toward communist countries.
Truman Doctrine: Tried to prevent spreading of communism; 1947 USA policy stopping Soviet Socialism.

6 word stories

Kinsella (2013) argues that word knowledge is a strong predictor of academic achievement and educators cannot afford to leave vocabulary instruction to chance. She further advises that devoting attention to words that matter most is the first step in responsible lesson planning. I thought these six word definitions demonstrated understanding of Cold War terms and will continue to use it to help students master content vocabulary. It appears that finding activities like creating six-word definitions and re-tweeting favorites enable students to have fun while building their academic vocabulary. What tricks and techniques have been successful in your classroom?


Hyland, K., & Tse, P. (2007). Is there an “academic vocabulary”?. TESOL quarterly41(2), 235-253.

Kinsella, K. (2013). Cutting to the Common Core: Making Vocabulary Number One. Language Magazine12(12), 18-23.

Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1703 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311-1714.

Containment Essay

containmentContainment Essay Prompt:

Define the US policy of containment. Discuss three instances of containment from the documents and argue which serves as the best example of containment and which serves the worst example of containment. Evaluate whether containment was an effective or ineffective policy. Be sure that you use in-text or parenthetical citations when you use evidence from the documents.

Thesis Statement Planning

Three examples of Containment are: ____________, _____________, and _______________.

The Cold War lessons in containment have been demonstrated by _________, _________, and _________; when evaluating these lessons, it is clear that…

_________, ___________, and _____________ provide historians with instances of the US Policy of containment, this paper will argue that ____________ is a strong example of containment, while ____________ is a weaker illustration of containment.


  1. Intro
    1. Background on the Cold War
    2. Definition of Containment
    3. Thesis statement
  2. Strongest example of containment
    1. Evidence from document
    2. Claim
    3. Counter-claim
    4. Explanation of how this supports thesis
  3. Weakest example of containment
    1. Evidence from document
    2. Claim
    3. Counter-claim
    4. Explanation of how this supports thesis
  4. Evaluation was containment a good or bad US policy
    1. Historical factors
    2. Link to thesis
  5. Conclusion
    1. Summarize argument
    2. Recap evidence
    3. Restate thesis

Evidence-based Sentence Starters

Based on this document, it appears that _____________________.

This document suggests that ______________________.

When viewing the map, it is evident that _____________.

This source reveals how US policy makers thought about ________________.

This timeline illustrates how ____________________________.

This quote provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.

Lastly, here are some videos that help you understand the documents better.

Background Essay

Document A – Long Telegram

Long Telegram Quiz Answers

Document B – Berlin Airlift

Document C – The Korean War

Document D – The Cuban Missile Crisis

Video Game Review

Extra-Credit History-based Video Game Review

Valiant Hearts, Mission-US, Call of Duty, Civilization, Age of Empires, Medal of Honor, Soldiers: Heroes of WWII, Axis and Allies, and The Calm and The Storm: these games have sold millions of copies, yet most History teachers have never played even one of them. Are video games a waste of time and energy? Can video games teach us History? Niall Ferguson, a prominent historian thinks so, read his argument, however, please understand that other researchers urge caution about the appropriateness of video games for certain ages and purposes.

Next, identify the state standard involved in the game you have selected. Then review a history-based video game in at least 500 words. Argue that the experience has taught you something meaningful about history. Your review should describe the story at the heart of the game, link the historical content in the game to your textbook, and describe how it confirms or contradicts what we have studied in class.


Other ideas to put in your review

  1. Comment on the historical accuracy, or inaccuracies in the game as well as the level of difficulty in playing it.
  2. How many hours did you spend playing it? How many hours will it take to become a good player?
  3. Who would benefit from playing this game? Age? Demographics?
  4. How could the author target that audience?
  5. Report on who published the game. What other games have they made? How many copies have been sold?
  6. How much does the game retail for?  Where can you get the best deal on it?

Make sure this review follows the traditional essay format. Your teacher will submit the best reviews for publication in the school newspaper.

Outline of traditional essay format to use in your review

  1. Catchy title
    1. Grabber
    2. Background
    3. Definition of key terms
    4. Grand Thesis & roadmap
  2. Mini-thesis #1 (The best part about this game is…)
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  3. Mini-thesis #2 (The worst part about this game is…)
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  4. Mini-thesis # 3
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  5. Conclusion
    1. Restate main idea
    2. Summarize key points.

You have between April 8 – May 1, 2015 to submit your review to and you can improve it as many times as you want.

I will review your final draft along with the PaperRater report. You may submit them electronically to or print them out and hand them in during class.