Hi. My name is Amy, and I am writing about.....
I like to dance? Do you like to dance? I am going to tell you about a time when I danced.
I hope you like my story about the time we went to Disneyland.
These lines are cringe worthy for sure! Unfortunately, I find that a large portion of my students still begin their writing with some of these classic introductions. I don't blame them. Getting started is tough, and if they can't figure it out, they resort to the old way. I call this baby writing. It is fine for 1st grade, but sixth graders need to be transitioning into a more mature voice. It is time to teach them exactly how to do it.
I start by telling them that the above 3 introductory sentences are now off limits. I show them 5 more compelling ways to begin a narrative and have the students record these types in their writing notebooks leaving about 8 lines between each. They will later glue a sample in or write one of their own.
The ways to begin a personal narrative that I teach them include:
1. A short description
2. A statement of learning
3. A personal experience
4. A quote that relates to the story
5. A reference from the middle of the story (trickiest one)
After they record these in their notebooks, we are ready to see examples of each.
I give each student a copy of the handout Model Introductions and I also display each up on the Smart Board.
I ask them to read through the first one, and circle parts that they like. We will talk about different components of it and how they could use it in their own writing. We discuss what they like about each type and what they dislike.
We will repeat this process until we've seen all 5 examples. After that they will cut the examples out and glue them into their notebooks in the proper place. This will serve as a good reference tool for when they are writing and stuck.
You may begin to wonder why I spend so much time on writing just the first sentence of an essay. I have found over the years that next to deciding on a topic, writing the first few sentences is the most difficult part of writing for my students.
I like to spend a few days really breaking it down for each new genre of writing so that it doesn't seem so daunting anymore.
For this activity, the students will work in their assigned table group of 3 or 4. These groups are of mixed ability, and each group does contain a student that will lead the group if needed. Each group will need a large white board or sheet of paper divided into work spaces, and each student will need his or her writing notebook.
I will present my generic writing topic: My camping trip.
I tell students that this is a fake topic about a fake trip, but they can feel free to base it on real experiences. We start trying the first intro type, a short description. I review the example and remind them to use their five senses to describe. Then, they write a 2 or 3 sentence introduction for their camping trip story. If students are struggling to begin, I tell them to begin describing the sky or the lake.
Warning: About half of my first class began with "It was...." Yikes! After that, I explained that they need to tell what "it" is. Please.
After they have written for a few minutes, I have them share out with their groups. I ask them to give feedback to the each other and pick some of the really good parts to share with the group.
We repeat this process with the other types of introductions. I make sure to give them each a few words of guidance before we start. For the quote and the statement of learning, I tell them that they also need to write a few more sentences so that I can see the context and how it relates to their story. My students did great with the "part from the middle"intro. I set it up by asking them to tell about the most exciting part of the story, and stop right when it got good. I really had some great samples for the kids to see.
I didn't have the students try the personal experience intro because I thought it might be too hard to connect a personal experience to a camping trip that really never happened....
Overall, I love the idea of practicing introductions, and I look forward to seeing if it all transfers to their own introductions tomorrow!