Famous First Lines

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SWBAT introduce a topic of an informational paragraph.

Big Idea

Students think about their audience as they work to develop an opening sentence with the purpose of informing the reader.

Do Now

15 minutes

I noticed that students were not introducing the topic in their report about a famous landform, so I decided to do a lesson on opening sentences. I told them opening sentences of a piece of writing gives the reader a hint as to what the topic or story is going to be about. This is called a topic sentence. It lets the reader know whether the author is going to inform them about something or entertain them. I told them to listen as I read some opening sentences. I read from a passage in our social studies text about landforms. I told students I knew I was going to learn about landforms because the opening sentence was, “Various landforms cover the earth.” I read a few more opening from the social studies and science books and told students I knew I was going to learn information about a particular topic because of the opening sentence.

Next, I read first lines from various stories. I told students I could tell I was going to read a story that was entertaining based on the opening sentence. For example, the line If you are interested in reading stories with a happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book by Lemony Snicket let’s me know I’m about to read an entertaining story that isn’t very happy.  The opening sentence, Once upon a time in a land far, far away, let’s me know I am about to read a long ago story and it is probably going to be a fairy tale because most fairy tales begin that way. Fairy tales are entertaining.

After reading several more opening lines, I told students I was going to read some opening sentences and they were going to write the word entertain or inform on their whiteboard depending on whether it was for a piece of writing meant to entertain or inform the reader. As they held up their whiteboards, we would discuss how they knew it the purpose of the writing.

Before I released them to write an opening sentence for their report, we wrote opening sentences of non-fiction text together. I wrote them on chart paper and posted it in the room for student reference.

Independent Practice

20 minutes

I gave students their first drafts and told them to revise them for a good opening, or topic, sentence. The best way to improve student writing is to have them revise their own work. They had to critique their paragraphs and decide whether or not their opening sentence informed the reader about the upcoming topic. Self-assessment help students take ownership of their work and work towards independence.


10 minutes

For today’s assessment, I simply noted whether or not students had an opening sentence. The final assessment of their informational paragraphs marked the inclusion of an opening via a rubric. The final assessment came after they had completed the revising, editing, and publishing stages of the writing process.



5 minutes

To close the lesson, students read their topic sentence to their neighbor. The neighbor stated whether or not they could tell the topic of the paragraph. Good writers solicit feedback from others to improve their writing. I want my students to get in the habit of asking others to reading their writing in order to make it better.