Friday, August 20, 2010

Great Beginnings

So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed by a cult of evil librarians…. (Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians)

If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it. (Richard Peck, A Teacher’s Funeral)

Mom and Dad had known about the wedding at my uncle Autry’s ranch for months. But with the date set for a mere ten days after my thirteenth birthday, my family’s RSVP had remained solidly unconfirmed until the last possible wait-and-see moment….In my family, thirteenth birthdays were like time bombs, with no burning fuse or beeping countdown to tell you when to plug your ears, duck, brace yourself, or turn tail and get the hay bales out of Dodge. (Ingrid Law, Scumble)

I love a good hook on the first page of a story. How can you read any of the above without reading on? They get you from the start. That’s one of the criteria I use when I am choosing books to recommend. If it doesn’t have a good hook, right at the start, how can we expect that a young reader, especially a struggling one, will persevere?

Teaching Tip
So the first sentence, the first page of a book is important. Try this out:

Great Hooks Graffiti:
Post a large piece of bulletin board paper in your library or classroom. Start it off by writing your own favorite first sentence. Write it in quotes and underneath write the author and title of the book.

Ask your students to add their book graffiti as they read books that have a great first sentence. Nonfiction, picture books and fiction… any kind of reading works. Collect good first sentences or anything on the first page that grabs and hooks you into the next page.

After you have collected a fair number of starters, categorize each quote. Did the author start with dialogue? Setting? Character? Problem? Is there a pattern? Does one technique seem used more than others? What feeling does the author create with that technique?

Then have kids use these ideas to do their own writing. Getting started is the hardest part. By having concrete examples and starting a story in a given method, students who struggle can worry about other important things. How to end it, for example? Ah, but that’s another problem.

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