Recognize patterns

Our brain helps us make sense of the world by sorting information into mental networks. These networks are organized in patterns, and we use those patterns to understand and remember what we see and experience.

Recognizing the pattern of organization is an important part of reading comprehension, since writers, too, use patterns to present their ideas in a way that makes sense. Once you recognize the pattern, you will understand and follow their ideas more efficiently. In this unit, you will learn to identify six common patterns that are often found in paragraphs in English:

  • listing

  • sequence

  • comparison/contrast

  • cause/effect

  • problem/solution

  • extended definition

In the listing pattern, the writer states the main idea in the form of a generalization and gives a list of details or examples to support that general statement.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea: many, several, a number of, a variety of, a few, kinds of.

  • signal words/phrases: for example, for instance, first, second, another, also, besides, in addition, final, last, most important.


In the sequence pattern, the writer explains the main idea with a series of events or steps in a process that follow one after the other in time order.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea: began, account, story, process, history, sequence.

  • signal words/phrases: first, second, then, next, after, while, since, then, soon, finally, at last, in 1965, last June, later, over time, the next step, the following step.


In the comparison/contrast pattern, the writer's main idea is a general statement about two things and how they are similar and/or different. A comparison can include both similarities and differences, or only the similarities. A contrast states only differences.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea: similarities, differences, both, in common, same, different, compare, comparison.

  • signal words/phrases for similarities: similarly, also, in the same way, as, like, both, in common.

  • signal words/phrases for differences: however, but, on the other hand, although, while, in contrast, than, conversely, yet, unlike.


In the cause/effect pattern, the writer's main idea is that one event or action caused another event or action.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea and the signal words for details are the same and often include: causes, leads to, is the cause of, results in, creates, brings about, makes, provokes, produces, gives rise to, contributes to, is due to, is the result of, comes from, results from, is produced by, is a consequence of, follows, is caused by.


In the problem/solution pattern, the main idea names a problem and indicates that one or more solutions. The paragraph usually includes two parts:

1) a statement and 2) a description and explanation of how it was solved. There are often no signal words for the details.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea: situation, trouble, crisis, dilemma or issue.

  • in the body of the paragraph, key words include: solve, solution, resolved.


In extended definitions, the writer names a concept or complicated process that the paragraph will define and explain. Usually, the main idea or first sentence of the paragraph states a dictionary definition of the concept or process, followed by a description and/or an explanation. There are usually no signal words for the details.

  • key words/phrases in the main idea: consists of, is, seems to be, are.

Complete the exercise to practise identifying the patterns based on the used key words and signal words
PO exercise
Download PDF • 66KB