Schaffer paragraph

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The Jane Schaffer paragraph is a five-sentence paragraph developed by Jane Schaffer, used to write essays.[1] The paragraph only makes up one of many paragraphs in an essay, and are more mechanical in nature including the introduction and conclusion. The structure is utilized because it is thought to help students who struggle with paragraph structure and is taught in some U.S. middle schools and in early high school classes.[2]


Jane Schaffer paragraphs have some requirements that are as follows:[3]

  • Must not be written in first person
  • Every paragraph must be at least five sentences long; however, there can be more as long as the same ratio of two CMs to every CD is kept
  • Each section (TS, CD, CM, CS) is only one sentence in length
  • Each section should also avoid past tense and only be written in present tense

Paragraph Structure[edit]

  • Topic Sentence (TS)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Closing/Concluding sentence (CS)

A basic Schaffer paragraph begins with the topic sentence—stating with a topic and an opinion, what the paragraph is about, then followed by a concrete detail, two commentary sentences, and a closing sentence. This is called a one-chunk body paragraph and is the most basic Schaffer model.

One of the key elements in the Schaffer program is what is called the "ratio." Ratio is the amount of Concrete Detail in a paragraph compared to the amount of commentary connected to the CD. In the above paragraph the ratio is 1:2. The actual ratio for response to literature is 1:2+, which means there must be at least two sentences of Commentary for each sentence of Concrete Detail like so:

  • Topic sentence (TS)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Closing/Concluding sentence (CS)

Note that the ratio is still 1:2+ (At least twice as much Commentary as there is Concrete Detail)

Topic sentence/statement (TS)[edit]

This sentence should state the main point of the paragraph and be focused on stating a topic and a connected opinion about the topic

Example 1: Cinderella lives a miserable life.
Example 2: Global warming is a world problem and needs to be stopped.

Concrete detail (CD)[edit]

This sentence is the "what" is happening. It should be either facts, examples, illustrations, evidence, support, plot references, paraphrases, citations, quotations, plot summary, etc. It should be a concrete detail and should start with 'for example' or a different transition.

Example 1: For example, she does all the cooking, cleaning, and sewing.
Example 2: If it is not stopped, statistics show that the world will be drastically hurt.

Commentary (CM)[edit]

There are one or two commentary sentences in each chunk. They contain no facts, rather, comments from the paragraph written about the fact presented in the CD. This sentence contains analysis, interpretation, character feelings, opinions, inference, insight, reasons, or color commentary. It is important that the commentary explains how the concrete detail helps prove the writer's point (the TS).

Example 1:
CM1: This shows that she feels taken advantage of by her selfish stepmother and stepsisters.
CM2: This is important because her horrible life gives her a present, her fairy godmother.
Example 2:
CM1: Global warming should be man's greatest worry.
CM2: This is because the Earth can become negatively and drastically affected worldwide.
CM3 Commentary sentence is an opinion and a reaction.' '

General practice is that commentary sentences often start with a transition such as the following:

  • This (also) shows that
  • This is (important) because
  • In addition
  • Furthermore,
  • Therefore,
  • Also
  • For example,

Concluding sentence / closing sentence (CS)[edit]

The Concluding Sentence (CS) is the closing sentence that wraps up the TS and sums up the paragraph. It closes up the thoughts and gives insight to the next paragraph. Emotional or connotative words are preferred here usually beginning with "As a result" or another concluding sentence.

Example 1: As a result, she becomes a princess.
Example 2: Therefore, global warming is top priority and cannot be ignored.

Critical analysis[edit]

In 2000, Wiley examined the Schaffer method as an example of teaching students to write using a prescribed structure. He argued that there is no strategy to extend beyond the formulaic scaffold once the method is mastered.[4]

Roybal taught the method to a group of 60 students, and reviewed their success in formulating a main thesis and topic sentences in an essay.[5] He found that 62% of the students successfully created at least two topic sentences that related to the main thesis. However, he did not report any findings about their use of CD, CM, and CS sentences in the structure of the body paragraphs.


  1. ^ "Official Jane Schaffer Writing Program".
  2. ^ Young, Lindsay. "Jane Schaffer Paragraph Writing". Ms. Young's Teaching Strategies.
  3. ^ "Jane Schafer Essay Format" (PDF). Quest Garden.
  4. ^ Wiley, Mark (2000). "The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist)". The English Journal. 90 (1): 61–67. doi:10.2307/821733. JSTOR 821733.
  5. ^ Roybal, Richard A. (April 2012). "Creating Critical Thinking Writers in Middle School: A Look at the Jane Schaffer Model" (PDF). (Master's thesis.)

External links[edit]