Good morning – I hope everyone had a great weekend! Ready to write? You can check out Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-Up to get your fingers stretched. And our mini-lesson is a double feature; we’ll be talking nonfiction today and tomorrow, specifically about beginnings and endings, with guest author Lola Schaefer.
Lola is the author of some of my favorite non-fiction picture books, including JUST ONE BITE and LIFETIME, both from Chronicle Books. (Fun fact: Lola and I both work with editor Melissa Manlove there, and we’ve both had the joy of having our books illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.)
Nonfiction Leads That Pop on the Page and Lure Readers
This giant mini-lesson is divided into three parts for use with your students later on. Let’s begin!
I’m going to tell you everything I know about trees. UGH! As teachers we have all seen our fair share of these kinds of leads. How do we steer students away from this lazy writing? Easy. Be proactive.
First make a list of horrid nonfiction leads and post these in the classroom one by one. Allow students to tell you why THEY think they are poor leads. Once they scorn them and know that these are ineffective ways to begin a piece of nonfiction, they will not use ANY of them for the rest of the year. Promise.
Examples of Ineffective (or lazy) Leads to Post:
- Islands form in different ways. I will explain three.
- Do you like trees? I do. Let me tell you why.
- Ben Franklin did a lot of things. I’m going to tell you some of them.
- Microbes are tiny, yet they are important.
- All living creatures need water. Here is how we can conserve it.
What are the jobs of a strong nonfiction lead?
The lead needs to introduce the topic.
It needs to lure the reader into the rest of the writing.
It needs Zip! By zip, I mean there must be a phrase or sentence that carries energy with onomatopoeia, or an interesting detail, a thoughtful question, or even a unique viewpoint or voice.
Dispel the myth with your students that leads MUST be a paragraph of 3-5 sentences. Sometimes they are. But strong leads could be one sentence, two, or three in length. It’s much more important how the lead is crafted rather than its length. Make sure it fulfills the three goals stated above?
Select three mentor leads from published nonfiction and study these with students. Ask them,
“What’s the topic? Which group of words makes you want to read more? Which group of words or sentence adds zip?”
Suggested mentor text:
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin – the first paragraph
Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone – first three sentences
Living Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm – first page
The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass – first page
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart – first page
How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge – first two sentences
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin – first page of the text
Practice writing leads with students on a topic they all know quite well. That might be simple machines or animals of the savanna. I always encourage students to write three different leads and decide which one they think is the strongest. They enjoy this mini-lesson and are surprised that sometimes their strongest lead is the first one they write, and other times it’s the last one. The more we model this process, the more confident they will be when crafting their own leads.
For instance, I might write these three leads for the topic of the food web of the wetlands.
From the tiniest mosquito to the largest alligator, wetland animals rely on plants and one another for their food. Who eats what and why?
What if we had to roam near our home for food? What would we eat? The animals of the wetlands are always searching, stalking, and eating their neighbors. How does this food web work and what can we learn from it?
Nibble. Slurp. Crunch. For thousands of years wetland animals have been eating food within a few feet of their homes. It’s an amazing story that shows how the balance of nature maintains itself despite continual change.
For your own practice, select a topic that you know your students study in school, or one of your own interest, and craft three leads. Decide which lead is your strongest and write why. Post your leads. If you want some suggestions for topics, here you go:
the sun cells Harriet Tubman landforms renewable energy whales
I’ll pop back later today to leave celebrations on your posted leads.
*** Leads and Endings typically have a lot in common. Like bookends they support the rest of the text. For more on this, visit tomorrow’s mini-lesson on Endings.