Grade: 3-5
Subject: 4 Blocks

#1120. writing mini lessons BEGINNINGS

4 Blocks, level: Elementary
Posted Fri Jun 25 20:12:57 PDT 1999 by deb (
coloma elementary, south haven, MI USA
Materials Required: paper, pencil, patience
Activity Time: varies
Concepts Taught: improving writing

Rubric Area: Content and Ideas

1. Writing workshop mini lesson Promote listening for potential leads.
Have students pair up and talk about a story, plot, or incident they are working on in writing workshop. Ask the listener to note when his interest is piqued and to share those moments with the storyteller. Those points of intrigue are all potential leads.

2. Writing Workshop mini lesson Teach three kinds of leads that work well to the students.
I have found three kinds of leads that work well, because students must use their own writing as a basis for developing them. Teaching these leads alleviates some of the anguish of making cuts, and puts students on the road to well-crafted writing. It may help students in their revising if you share the following three kinds of great leads.

The circular lead/close: Once a first draft is completed, a circular lead/close is easy to create. I have students look at their endings and ask them if they can begin with those closing words as well. This type of lead is a favorite of many students, since it brings their pieces full circle. It's a tidy way to begin and end. Eric Carle's book, The Grouchy Ladybug, with its opening and closing image of two ladybugs arguing, is a good example of this type of lead.
The dialogue lead: Who can forget E.B. White's classic lead from Charlotte's Web? "'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." Indeed, dialogue can be the stuff of sweet beginnings. Teach students to scan their writing until they reach the first quote, and then consider moving it to the start of the piece. If the first quote doesn't lend itself to a strong lead, encourage students to look for others that might.
The climatic lead: Writer Becky Rule says it's a good idea to pick up your readers by the scruff of their necks and drop them into the heart of a conflict. Every piece of writing has a climax, which doesn't always come at the very end. I ask students to find the point of greatest tension in their writing, and then to move those words to the beginning. For example, Thanksgiving stories are typical at this time of year, and most of them start out as repetitive, sentimental slog. But who wouldn't want to read Mary Comstock's holiday story after this opener? "The remains of Thanksgiving dinner sat like an abandoned wreck on the dining room table: she had eaten it all and the guests hadn't even arrived yet. This would have to stop." Mary's words promise humor and pathos. But it's that "abandoned wreck," the climax of the story, that gives the lead immediate energy.

3. Writing workshop mini lesson Types of leads.
The lead (beginning or introduction) establishes the direction your writing will take. A good lead grabs your reader's attention and refuses to let go. In other words, it hooks the reader. Below are some ideas on how to write an interesting lead. Not every type of lead will work for every writer or for every piece of writing. You'll have to experiment with them. Be sure to have a least three sentences in your lead, whatever type it may be.

Question Open with an interesting question that relates to the main idea. Example: Have you ever wondered how you would survive if you found yourself alone in the wilderness? How would you defend yourself against predators? What would you eat? Where would you find water?
Riddle Open with a riddle that the reader can solve by reading further. You may want to give the answer right away or save it for the conclusion. Example: What textbook has no pages, is miles wide, and smells like a creek? It's been around for millions of years. That's right--Outdoor School.
Announcement Open with an announcement about what is to come. However, do not insult the reader by saying something like, "I am going to tell you about..." The reader should be able to figure out what you are writing about. If not, there is something wrong with what you have written, not with the reader. Example: The trait of voice is very important in writing. However, it is difficult to teach and even more difficult to learn. It is similar to athletic ability because it is more like a talent than a skill.
Bold and Challenging Statement A bold and challenging statement is similar to an announcement, but is meant to cause some people to disagree with what you say. It's like one side of an argument. It can be an opinion, but don't immediately state that it is your opinion. Example: Using horses and cattle in the sport of rodeo is animal abuse. What makes it more aggravating is that it is legal. According to the law, there is nothing wrong with chasing an animal down, tightening a rope around its neck, knocking it to the ground, and tying its legs together so it cannot move.
Definition Open with a definition of the term you are discussing. It can be your own or come from a dictionary or textbook. If you take it from a dictionary or textbook, be sure to use quotation marks and give credit to the source. Example: According to Webster's Dictionary, a government is the authority that serves the people and acts on their behalf. How can the government know what the people want if the people do not vote? If we do not vote, the government may act on its own behalf instead of on the behalf of the people.
Opinion Open with your opinion about the topic. This is similar to a bold and challenging statement, but you let the reader know that it is your opinion right away. Example: In my opinion, the driving age should be lowered to fourteen. Most teenagers are more responsible than adults give us credit for being. Just because we are teenagers does not mean we are irresponsible and dangerous.
Well Known Quotation or Quotation from a Famous Person Open with a quotation that is well known or from a famous person. Be sure to put quotations around the quotation and give credit to the person who said it. Of course, the quotation must be directly related to your topic. A good source is a book of quotations. Look in the library or ask your teacher. Example: President John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I think today's Americans have forgotten Kennedy's message. We expect our country to take care of us, but we are not taking care of our country.
Quotation Not from a Famous Person Open with a quotation from a person that is not famous. It could be a character from the story or someone you know personally. You still must put it in quotation marks and give credit to the person who said it. Example: When I was a child, I was given the "mother's curse" by my mom. Oh, it is not anything mean or evil. She just said, "When you have children, they will act just like you." I laughed. Well, now that I have children of my own, I am not laughing anymore. The "mother's curse" really works!
Personal Experience Open with something that has happened to you, or a personal experience. It could be a part of the story, or it could be something that is not a part of what you are writing about but still relates to the topic. Example: Although I did later in my room, I never cried at my grandfather's funeral. I guess that is why I felt so sad for the little girl standing next to her grandma's coffin. She looked so lost and afraid.
Figurative Language Begin with a simile (comparison using like or as), metaphor (comparison saying one thing is another thing), personification (giving something nonhuman human qualities), or hyperbole (exaggeration.) The figurative language must relate directly to your topic. Example: The pencil sharpener was always hungry. It ate my pencil every time I went to sharpen it. It never seemed to do this to anyone's pencil but mine. What was so special about my pencils?
Enumerated General Statement Begin with a general statement containing three or so ideas about your topic. The information given in the lead is general, not specific. The specific details that support the general statement will appear later in the paper. Example: There are many characteristics that a good teacher possesses. However, the three most important characteristics include being a good listener, being knowledgeable about the subject, and having a kind heart. All of the teachers who positively influenced me had all three of those characteristics in common.

4. Writing Workshop mini lesson beginnings and endings definition.
A kiss hello...a wave airplane fading in the sky. Our lives are marked by beginnings and endings. In the things we do every day, we look for starting and ending points. We hold those images their sight, smell, taste, and feel-close. It's no wonder, then, that writers take such care to develop strong introductions and conclusions: introductions that grab readers and conclusions that leave them feeling satisfied. The best leads and endings don't just happen; they are crafted. This can be a painstaking process that, as any experienced writer knows, becomes somewhat easier with practice. When we teach children how to generate leads and endings using their own drafts, and expose them to good models, they become better craftspeople. If you take some time to make leads and endings the focus of your lessons, you may be surprised at how quickly students' overall writing skills improve.

5. Writing workshop mini lesson beginnings.
Write a story. Or find a story in process from your writing folder... Write three different beginnings to your piece. Each beginning has only three concise sentences. Make them interesting but different. Choose one. How am I gonna get people interested in my writing? Make sure students understand that the time to write stellar beginnings is after they've completed their first drafts. At that stage they can return to their original beginning and be merciless, hacking off as much as necessary to find a good lead. Tell them that even the most accomplished writers have to dig through a few bad sentences and paragraphs before they get to the good stuff. After your students have done this a few times, and learned the power of a strong introduction, they are more likely to make cuts willingly.