The Professor’s Perch: Hungry for a MEAL Plan?
The Professor’s Perch is a weekly column offering teaching tips for how to use the Excelsior OWL to help students improve their reading and writing skills.
Every semester, invariably I come across students who need help writing good body paragraphs for their essays. As opposed to introductions and conclusions, body paragraphs perform the heavy lifting of supporting an essay’s thesis or main argument by providing supporting points and evidence. Luckily, essay paragraphs follow a logical format that can be broken down and explained easily enough. The Excelsior OWL provides precisely this resource in the MEAL Plan.
The MEAL Plan is an interactive image that allows students to click through and learn about the different parts of a body paragraph. MEAL is an acronym for Main Idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Lead Out. These are the four essential parts of a body paragraph.
If you think of each part as a sentence, then a body paragraph has at least four sentences. The first sentence—also called the “topic sentence”—states the main idea of the paragraph. This idea should develop the thesis and not repeat previous main ideas.
After stating the main idea, the next sentence will proceed to provide evidence that supports the main idea. Evidence can be material that is quoted or paraphrased from other sources, or it can be personal narrative. When presenting evidence, be sure to follow the appropriate style guidelines for in-text citations.
You will want to follow up your evidence with a third sentence that analyzes it. Students often think that evidence explains itself. Not so! The point of analysis is to interpret the evidence for the reader so that they clearly understand how this evidence supports the main idea.
After analyzing the evidence, conclude the paragraph with a fourth sentence that leads out to the next paragraph. This sentence should wrap up the paragraph by summing up the main idea of the paragraph, connecting the main idea to the thesis, and providing transition to the next paragraph.
While grading papers, I often refer my students to the MEAL Plan section of the Excelsior OWL when problems arise with paragraphing or integration of evidence. I copy a link to the resource and paste it into my feedback. It also helps to link or embed this resource directly in your assignment instructions or course website. I find that students are quite hungry for a resource like the MEAL Plan.