Since we learned about the different types of personal narrative introductions and practiced them yesterday, we will just do a quick review before we jump into the lesson today.
To review, I posted each type up on the board and had the students chat with their table about this type of introduction/attention grabber. For example, when I said, "Short Description," they talked about using their senses to describe the setting of the story.
After we had gone through all 5 types, I asked the students to discuss with their partner which one they were thinking about using for their own introduction. If they couldn't decide, I usually recommended a short description or a statement of learning if applicable to their particular story.
Even with the practice, many students had trouble deciding which to use. While we were practicing, it was easy to come up with ideas for them, but suddenly when it was time for them to work on their own writing, they were stuck! I had to help quite a few students get started by explicitly giving them suggestions of what to write. Once they got started, it was fine though. It seemed that some of the students needed sentence starters to get them going. I would say things like, "I learned to never....." or "When we arrived at Disneyland, ...." Most of them just needed a little boost to get started.
Once everyone has an idea of how they are going to start, it is time to begin!
Because this is the first time the students have written a formal introduction with me, I like to have them do it in a very systematic way. Some students absolutely do not need this much guidance, and I find that they kind of do their own thing anyway. This part is more for the students who really struggle to get started. I informally surveyed my class one day, and asked what the hardest part of writing was for them. Over half admitted that they don't know how to start. This is for them.
First they write their attention grabber. As they do this, I circulate answering questions and making sure that they are writing something that actually does grab my attention. (You know what I mean!) I have a model that I show them so they can see another example as we go.
Once most students have done this, I show them the next step which is to fill in the back story. To demonstrate, I use a student's attention grabber and flee map from the applying the slow motion technique lesson. I put them both up on the document camera and say, "What information do I need to get me from here (the grabber) to here (the first event). Usually they just need to give me the back story. Since we zoomed to the best part of their story and then slowed it down for the flee map, there are some important details that are missing. Usually these are details like: Where are you? Who are you with? What was going on at the time? and in some cases, How old were you? I show them how I filled in this back story on my example too. Students may need to be prompted with questions during this part, or they might need an individualized explanation. I can usually read their grabber and look at their first body paragraph and figure out what information is missing, but I try to ask questions to help them come to their own conclusions. Usually if you ask, "What happened to get you to this part...? They will come up with the back story on their own.
The last thing I have my students do for this introduction is write one or two sentences that lead them into the body of their narrative. An easy way to do this is to give a hint of what is yet to come in the story without giving too much away. I show them my example and then demonstrate how I would do this on several students' work. Then, I turn them lose to wrap up their introductions while I circulate offering help and suggestions.
As soon as students are finished, I collect their introductions. I try to give the quickest feedback possible, which usually means that it will be the next day seeing that I have 85 students. I read each paper and offer suggestions on attention grabbers, back story, and hints of what's to come. I also give advice on word choice, fluency, and because I cannot control myself, I often edit for grammar and punctuation!
I find that immediate feedback is most likely to lead to changes. While this assignment is still fresh in their minds, they are willing to read through my comments and consider them. It is still a live piece of work, so they are open to revision. If the feedback comes too late, this isn't the case.
The day after they write the intro, I spend time sharing excellent student examples and going over feedback. I answer a lot of questions and try to meet with students individually if needed. I cannot always offer this type of feedback, but since I was just reading a paragraph for each student it is much more realistic. It would be great to go over the entire essay this way, but it often not an option for teachers. I like to look in depth at different chunks each time. Keeping the feedback focused on a small area helps students to not feel overwhelmed and prevents me from burning out!
After reading the introductions today, I was very happy! It seemed like practice paid off, and my students were writing more compelling introductions than they have in the past. I think giving them examples and letting them practice the different types was very helpful. We can't just expect students to know how to start a piece of writing. We need to teach them.