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.