Famous First Person Paragraphs

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SWBAT identify and compare key elements in the first paragraphs of famous first-person novels and memoirs.

Big Idea

A novel's first paragraph provides a road map for the reader...where will it take us?

Latin Roots Warm Up

10 minutes

Every day, I put up two Latin roots and have students do two things:  1.  They try to think of as many words as they can that include the root; then 2. They try to guess what the root means, using the words as a guide.

In my experience, teaching vocabulary through roots is the most effective way to lay a foundation for a strong high school vocabulary.  The resource that I use as a reference is Everyday Words for Classic Origins; I get the roots and follow their sequence, using that book.

In the classroom, I put the roots on the SmartBoard, so they are up there when the kids come in.  Then we brainstorm together and come up with words and meanings.  This is a great way to get kids to talk about words informally, while they build their vocabularies.


Lesson Opener

10 minutes

What is it about a story's first paragraph or page that makes you want to keep reading?  It takes more than a few sentences to fall in love with a character, but a few well chosen details can really pique a reader's interest.

In this lesson, students will examine six famous opening paragraphs to look for key elements, similarities and differences. The main question is "Why these words, why these details, why put them on the first page of a book?"

Start the lesson by having students scan the six paragraphs for familiar titles.  Gatsby and Life of Pi are recent movies.  The other titles are fairly well known, except for the Welty (One Writer's Beginnings.")  I chose that one because I just love it.

After the students browse the titles and generate comments, move right into the Annotating section.


Annotating/Questioning the Text

20 minutes

For this portion of the lesson, I have the students work in pairs.  I go around the room counting off A, B, C...through F (as many times as it takes) and the students are directed to annotate their assigned paragraph.  I don't tell them what to look for; instead, I tell them to look for important information, literary elements...basically anything that catches their fancy.

Essentially, they are doing a close reading (or at least the first step(s) of one...)  The texts that I selected for this activity are quite complex -- which is a key element of the CCSS -- so allowing them to work in pairs to help each other helps to scaffold the activity for everyone.

What am I looking for?  Well, since this is the first day of school, I am looking for the way in which they interact with text.  It is my experience that some kids write almost nothing and other kids write all over the text, but the notes are things like "Wow"  or "???" Some, if given a highlighter, will make the entire paragraph "glow" with neon colors.  [I once read that there should never be highlighting or underlining in a text without a note in the margin to remind the reader why it's important.  That's good advice.]

So, while the kids are working together, I am circulating, asking questions and listening.  I am observing who is talking and who is letting someone else take the lead.  Once they have finished, they can go talk to another pair who has worked on the same paragraph to share ideas.



What is Revealed?

25 minutes

After the groups have met and discussed their assigned passages, they are ready to share.

Then, each group writes their key observations on the board under the question, "What is Revealed?" 

Because this is early in the year, students tend to make pretty obvious observations (Photos of the Whiteboard) That is OK.  They will receive more direction in subsequent lessons, but it's also important to note that some of the obvious connections can help them make deeper ones.  For example, the kids might notice that the speakers in both Catcher and On the Road both seem to be getting over some kind of sickness or rough period.  (The speakers say that explicitly.)  While that is pretty basic, the feeling of discontent that is a result is fairly crucial to the establishment of conflict and development of the plot. 


Exit Ticket: Making Connections

5 minutes

To wrap up this, the first lesson in this unit, I ask students to tell me which two pieces are the most similar or to discuss two or more pieces.

This is done on a half-sheet of paper and turned in as the students exit.  A copy of the exit ticket can also be distributed.

The purpose of this exit ticket is for me to find out who can make connections on their own.  I am also looking for direct text references or good observations.  I give the students a choice of questions (similar though they may be) to avoid them getting "stuck" in their thinking.  Also, I have read a good amount of research involving student choice in the classroom (and it's role in increasing the students' sense of purpose and motivation), so I try to incorporate it whenever I can.