Thursday, September 24, 2009

Step Into the Writing Process: Tools for Great Introductions

As teachers, whether we are in kindergarten or high school, we tell our class, "you need to make sure you have a strong introduction" when we encourage them to write. But such a broad statement isn't instructional and, if the students don't already have the tools to do that, they are lost.

Over my years of teaching children to write (ages 7 through 18) and 46 years of personal experience with the craft, I've discovered that there are lots of methods for creating effective introductions. Here's a few "tools" students can add to their toolbox to help their introductions (in essays, papers, narratives -- really any writing -- zing!

1. Always use the active voice and active verbs.
2. Avoid dull, predictable sentence structure.
3. Begin with one of these:

a surprising fact or statistic

a question"

a direct quotation (even a controversial one) to give a hint of perspective

a statement that leads into the piece, changing the routine perspective

purposeful repetition of a key phrase or term

an engaging anecdote or story, can include humor.

After your students have written their draft (including the introduction), ask them to switch with a partner. Have that partner answer this question:

When I read just the introduction, can I tell what the paper is about (the topic)?

Have the pair work together to either identify strong specific elements that make the introduction a good one or help one another revise to improve the introduction by incorporating some of these ideas. Make sure you follow through with multiple opportunities to practice writing strong introductions AND ask your students to seek out actual examples of writing and use these tools to evaluate the quality of others' introductions. Make sure you include great examples in a mini-lesson read aloud (great informal way to do a book talk). After reading the introduction, ask students "Is this a good introduction?" Follow-up, most importantly, after they voice their opinion, with the question, "Why?"

For more help with writing, visit the archive for's Reading Coach (not just for reading coaches but for every teacher).

How do you help your students write great introductions?

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