Make it Interesting for the Reader: A Simple Writing Strategy {Week 4}

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Welcome back to Simple Writing Lessons for the Primary Grades, a 12-week collaborative writing series, hosted by The Measured Mom and This Reading Mama (that’s me)! If you have missed any of the lessons we’ve covered so far, click here to see the introduction and links to the lessons (scroll down).

Simple Writing Lesson #4: Make it Interesting for the Reader {a writing strategy}

One of the things I strive to help kids understand as they write is that they have an audience. A reader. Someone who will be reading their writing. That’s the main purpose of writing. To convey a message. So, if there is going to be a reader, our writing needs to “hook” that reader and make that reader want to keep on reading. Today’s simple lesson focuses on a writing strategy that will help do just that! And it all starts with the first sentence. So, your young writer might wonder:

“What do I write in my first sentence?”

(Note: I used this lesson with my 7 year old when he was at the end of 1st grade.  This same lesson can easily be adapted for students in any grade, if they are developmentally ready for it.)

How to teach it: 

1) Prepare your materials.

For this lesson, you’ll need a collection of books (fiction and nonfiction) that have a lead sentence that’s pretty catching for the reader. I used about 5-6 books total from our bookshelf at home and I found them ahead of time. Some examples I used: Duck on a Bike by David Shannon, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, Falling For Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, and Germs Make Me Sick by Melvin Berger. Your child should have a pencil and a piece of paper or a notebook to write in.  (Oh, and a fish hook would be a good thing to have on stand-by as well!)

2) Talk about the strategies authors use to make their first sentence(s) interesting.

Showing my son a fish hook, I said, “A fish hook is used for one simple purpose. To catch a fish! But, the fisherman knows that if he wants to catch a yummy fish, he needs to put a big, fat juicy worm on the end of it. Fish typically won’t bite for a dead leaf or a sea shell.

“Authors do the same thing. They load their ‘hook’ up with a yummy worm. They make their writing interesting for the reader. They use MANY different strategies to do this, but one way is in how they write the first sentence of their text.”

3) Read the first sentence {or two} from various texts.

Each time I read the first sentence from a text {strategically chosen beforehand}, I jotted down the strategy the writer used on our dry erase board. You can download the free copy of our list HERE or click on the image below. Note that while this is our list, you may have more characteristics of a good “hook” that you and your child would like to add.  Please feel free to do so!

Free Download ~ Characteristics of a Good Hook | This Reading Mama

Here are two examples:

I read aloud the first sentence from How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

“Jane Yolen, the author of this book, did something interesting with her first sentence. It’s not a statement with a period at the end…it’s a question! And questions make us want to find out answers. It makes us want to keep reading to find out the answer!  Smart!”

I jot down, “IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION” on our list

__________

I read aloud the first sentence from Duck on a Bike.

“Hmmm. I really like what David Shannon did in this sentence. He doesn’t just come out and say, ‘One day, Duck got on a bike on the farm.’ That would be a little boring. He doesn’t give us all the information at once. He actually does something smarter. He uses two words that make me want to keep reading: ‘wild idea’. If I was reading this book for the first time, I’d really want to know, ‘What is the wild idea?’. By using those words, David Shannon is begging me to keep on reading to find out more. That’s a great strategy!

I wrote down, “MAKES ME WANT TO KEEP READING.”

 

3)  Model your thought process as you write a good “hook”

Here’s what it sounded like as I modeled:

“Okay, so you have this LEGO creation you just built.” {see this recent post}

“Can I fix it? The wheel fell off.”

“As long as you’re listening while you do….

“If you were to come to me after you built it, you’d be pretty excited about. You’d want me to see it and you’d want to tell me all about it. You wouldn’t come to me and say, ‘Here are four facts about my Lego creation.’ I think you’d want to pique my interest more than that! You’d probably say something like, ‘Mom! Look at this awesome Lego creation!’ or ‘Mom, do you want to see something cool?’

“We want to do the same thing in how you start your descriptive writing about your Lego creation. So, I’m going to take a look over the list we just jotted down again and see if I can come up with a couple of starting sentences that would make it interesting for my reader.

Modeling how to write an interesting first sentence | This Reading Mama

“Hmmm…if I want my reader to keep reading, I need to make it sound exciting. How about, ‘My LEGO creation is so cool!’ I would hope my reader would want to keep on reading to find out what is so cool about it.

And I don’t just have to write it that one way. I could change it up and make a connection with my reader by saying it like this: ‘You have got to check this out!’  That one actually makes a connection with the reader (because we’re talking TO the reader) and leaves questions in the readers head because he might think, ‘What am I going to check out?’”

 

4) Guide your student as he drafts a couple of first sentences.

Here’s what it sounded like at our house:

“Now it’s your turn to try it out.”

“What?”

“I want you to look at our list and think of a first sentence for your Lego writing that would “hook” the reader.

“I’m not sure I can.”

“Well, look at our list again. (He looks for a minute and shakes his head.) Could you form it into a question somehow?”

Student writes drafts for first sentence | This Reading MamaHe jots down: DO YOU LIKE MY LEGO CREATION?

I challenge him to try one more.

He gets really creative {inserting sarcasm here} and writes, “LOOK AT THIS!”

“Could you expand your sentence a bit more?” He seems very distracted, so I don’t push for more.  He’s showing me that he’s done.

 

5) Wrap up the lesson.

We save more writing for another day and I wrap up by asking him to summarize what we talked about in his own words {a strategy that works with any subject area}.

“When you write a story, you want to put a fat, yummy worm on the ‘hook’ for the person who’s reading your work. So, you can do that by making your first sentence sound exciting.”

Works for me!

This is the fourth of a 12-part series for Primary Grades.  Click HERE or the image below to view more simple writing lessons.

Simple Writing Lessons for Primary Grades | This Reading Mama

Stay connected to This Reading Mama so you don’t miss a thing:

~Becky

 

 

Comments

  1. I love this, Becky – extremely well done! Very well designed for the younger set, but easily adaptable for older kids! Off to put the link on my blog now :)

  2. Very interesting idea! I never thought to attract Smarty’s attention to the first sentence, and I don’t think they do it in school. The only concern I have is that it might make it harder for the perfectionists to actually get started if they keep thinking about that first sentence :)

    • I understand your point about the perfectionist {I am one and I have one}. Rough drafts are difficult for perfectionists in general. I encourage young writers during their drafts to just get thoughts down if this is a stumbling block. As they continue to work on the piece in a later stage, they can go back and revise the first sentence. The great thing about Simple Lessons is that you are modeling a variety of writing strategies {or tools} for the young writer. Ultimately, he chooses whether or not he uses them in his writing.

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