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Elementary student concentrating on his writing in class

Transition Words

Teaching students to use transition words helps them improve their writing. Transition words help stories flow more smoothly, by providing logical organization and improving the connections between thoughts.

Key Information



Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

What are transition words?

Transition words are words or phrases that help connect ideas, sentences, and paragraphs, making the writing more coherent and organized. 

Why teach transition words?

  • They provide coherence to a story.
  • They can help writers bridge the gap between ideas.
  • They provide a signal to the reader or listener about what is coming next in the writing.

How to teach about transition words

Introduce categories of transition words and phrases

You may find it useful to teach transition words by their purpose: 

  • words or phrases used to help sequence ideas or transition between sentences or paragraphs (at first, soon, in the meantime)
  • words or phrases that can be used to show time or sequence (first, next, then, finally)
  • words or phrases that indicate cause and effect (because, therefore, consequently)
  • words or phrases that can be used to show contrast (but, however, on the other hand)
  • words or phrases to indicate more information (also, furthermore, in addition)
  • words or phrases to show location (above, in front of, outside, under)
  • words or phrases that help writers wrap up or summarize a story (in conclusion, finally, to sum up)

Include our handy transition word guide in your students’ writing folders so they have a reference right there as they write their drafts.

Teaching tips

  1. Call attention to ways transition words are used within your classroom read aloud or the book being used for reading groups.
  2. Find a particular paragraph that sequences something, an opening that catches everyone’s attention, or words that mark the ending of a chapter or idea.
  3. Use these models as a way to discuss students’ own writing.
  4. Encourage students to review something they’ve written and look for evidence of transition words.
  5. Ask students to find places within their own writing where transition words will clarify what they’re trying to say or help the piece by moving the action along.
  6. Using editing marks, have students revise their writing using just the right transition words.
  7. Have students practice combining simple sentences into more complex ones using transition words. This activity reinforces the idea that transitions help connect ideas and improve overall sentence fluency. Learn more about sentence combining
  8. Incorporate peer review sessions where your students exchange papers and provide feedback on the use of transitions in their classmates’ writing. This helps reinforce the importance of transitions for effective communication.
  9. Reinforce the use of transition words consistently throughout the school year. Encourage your students to use transitions in various types of writing assignments.

Watch lesson on using transition words in a “step-by-step” writing exercise (whole class)

In this clip, students describe the steps needed to get ready for a snowy day, and use the transition words first, next, then, and finally. (Balanced Literacy Diet: Putting Research into Practice in the Classroom)

Watch teacher tips on adding transition words

In this video, learn three tips for teaching K-2 students to add transitions to their writing and connect reading and writing. (Susan Jones Teaching)

Differentiate instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Use a storyboard template (opens in a new window) to help students get started with their writing. Encourage them to write a meaningful transition word in each box. As they transition from the storyboard to a written draft, the transition words can be included.
  • Discuss story events with students orally. As you summarize the book, use and emphasize specific transition words, “First the kids went in the snow. Then they built a snowman. Finally they came inside for hot chocolate.”
  • Challenge students by giving them a short list of transition words. See if they can use all the words in one story that makes sense. Discuss whether there is such a thing as “too many” transition words in one piece!

See the research that supports this strategy

De la Paz, S. (2001). Teaching Writing to Students with Attention Deficit Disorders and Specific Language Impairment. Journal of Educational Research, 95, 37-47.

MacArthur, C. A. (2010). Instruction in a Strategy for Compare-Contrast Writing. Exceptional Children.

MacArrhur, C. A. (2007). Best practices in teaching evaluation and revision. In S. Graham, C. A. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Best practices in writing instruction (141-162). New York, NY: Guilford.

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for