Teachers Write 7/28/14 – Mini-Lesson Monday

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.

Mini-lesson #1

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:

  1. Islands form in different ways. I will explain three.
  2. Do you like trees? I do. Let me tell you why.
  3. Ben Franklin did a lot of things. I’m going to tell you some of them.
  4. Microbes are tiny, yet they are important.
  5. All living creatures need water. Here is how we can conserve it.

 

Mini-lesson#2

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

 

Mini-lesson #3

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.

Have fun!

Lola

 

*** 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.

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61 Comments

  1. Brian Rozinsky
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    What great practical advice to work on an especially tricky writing challenge with my students. Thanks, Lola, and I look forward to reading about endings tomorrow. Here are three fruits of my labors today… which confirmed what I already knew: writing leads is hard!

    For as long as we can imagine, water will flow, wind will blow, and the sun will shine on our Earth. We’ve already started to tap these endless sources of energy to power our lives, but what more can we do? [My note: I like the near-poetic brevity of this one.]

    Imagine: the earth is a car. It has a humongous gas tank, which took hundreds of millions of years to fill with fossil fuel. People have been driving the earth-automobile for about 300 years, and some scientists say the tank may already be approaching empty. Since we can’t just park the car to refill its tank, what might the planet look like when the gas needle points to E? [My note: I like the metaphor here and want to refine it.]

    Light and heat radiating from the sun, wind whooshing across a mountain ridge, water tumbling down a canyon – it’s probably no surprise to hear these are all forms of energy, just like fossil fuels. But did you know it *takes* energy to capture the energy in nature? Energy to build solar panels, or windmills, or dams, or oil rigs, not to mention the network that moves all the energy around to reach our electrical outlets. [My note: I like the question, but this draft feels relatively clunky. I suspect I could end this lead at that question, and spin out the rest later.]

    • Beth Sanderson
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Brian,
      I love the imagery in number 2…that would be my choice.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Hello Brian,
      Going to try again to respond to you. These leads are amazing! All writing is a bit difficult, but teachers tell me they truly struggle with leads and endings. Could that be because we never had the fantastic mentor texts to study when we were practicing years ago? I think most of our nonfiction writing mimicked the textbook. But you’re doing a marvelous job. I particularly like the phrase, “tap these endless sources of energy.” I hope you continue to write 2 or 3 leads in front of your students. This kind of modeling is invaluable.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Brian,
      I enjoyed all three of your leads, (as well as your comments), but the visual in #2 engaged me the most. Thanks for sharing!

      • Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        I agree. Number three didn’t grab me as much as numbers one and two. I could see my students grasping the concept best in number two.

  2. Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Good morning, Brian. Thanks for taking the first plunge. I love these leads. Isn\\\\\\\’t it fun to write more than one and see what we like and what we\\\\\\\’d like to revise? Teachers everywhere tell me that writing leads and endings (conclusions) is the biggest challenge for them. I think that\\\\\\\’s because as students we didn\\\\\\\’t have the great mentor text that\\\\\\\’s available now. We wrote formulaic starts and finishes – textbook features. But it\\\\\\\’s fun to experiment side-by-side with our students. One of my favorite phrases in your first lead is \\\\\\\”tap those endless sources of energy.\\\\\\\” I admit it – a strong verb used just so always grabs my attention. With models like these, your students will do a bang-up job this year.

  3. Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Excuse all the slashes. Not sure what’s going on with punctuation and the posts. Hopefully, I will learn a way to edit or avoid. Darn.

  4. Kristina Paustian
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Great lesson, as Brian said, this is hard work!

    1. As they shuddered in fear, the rustling came nearer. Then it passed them by.
    Harriet breathed a silent sigh of relief. Her passengers were safe-for now.

    2. From the earliest time she could remember, Harriet Tubman had longed to be free.
    As a young woman she risked her life to defend an escaped slave and was seriously
    injured in the process.

    3. Whomp! The weighted iron thunked Harriet’s head. She fell to the ground senseless.
    But…her goal was reached. The escaped slave was on his way to freedom.

    I like the first and third leads because of the descriptive sounds.
    I think I’d choose the 3rd lead because it gets right into the action and what she is known for.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      You two are amazing! The quality of these leads is great. Brian and Kristina, you might say that this is hard work, but you both are pros. Please, model writing leads in front of the students this year. Remember to think out loud so the students can hear how you make the decisions you make when you write. Often, to save time, teachers just post the leads that they have written. But actually, if the students see and hear your process, they will do so much better in their writing. I love that you chose Harriet Tubman for your leads. So much material from which to choose. BRAVO!

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Definitely number 3!

    • Beth Sanderson
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I agree! Number three is my favorite.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Hello Kristina. Sorry that my first post did not pop up. But I am back to try again. These, too, are amazing leads. Both of you said it is difficult work, and yet you managed to produce outstanding writing. BRAVO. Harriet provides a lot of material from which to choose, but I am a sucker for onomatopoeia, so that third one caught my writer’s ear. When you model writing leads in front of your students, please think out loud. That way your kids will learn how you make decisions as a writer. It’s so helpful to them. Many teachers just POST leads in front of the kids, which scaffolds them part of the way, but when you think out loud and they can hear your process, they receive additional tools as writers. Excellent Work!

      • Kristina Paustian
        Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your feedback! It was a fun exercise. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Kristina,
      I truly enjoyed all three leads, but was especially drawn to your first one. There is a palpable sense of danger mixed with bravery, and the hanging question of how long will they remain safe? Thanks for sharing these!

    • Brian Rozinsky
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      I remember that episode in the Harriet Tubman bio where she gets “thunked.” (Awesome verb!) Plus, what a great micro moment to start a look into her meaningful life. Thanks for sharing, Kristina.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      I am so impressed by you and Brian! I like number three best, but think you should still work on all three!

  5. Beth Sanderson
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Good morning Lola. Thank you for a wonderful exercise I will certainly use with my sixth graders! My students investigate ecosystems so I wrote three rainforest leads:

    1. Drip. Drip. Drip. Water drops from the large waxy leaves of a towering mahogany tree. Below, tiny frogs dart in and out of a small pool. Nearby a crocodile slides quietly into a river flowing nearby. Water, water, everywhere! The wet world of the rainforest is home to nearly two-thirds of all land-based animals and plants.

    2. Set a timer for one minute. One minute isn’t long but it is enough time for mankind to destroy 60 acres of rainforest. In fact, it can take less than 10 years to decimate an entire rainforest. If things do not change, the rain forests will all be gone in 45 years according to scientists!

    3. Breathe in. Fill your lungs with oxygen. No matter where you live in the world you can thank a rainforest for that nice deep breath.

    I think I like number 2 the best…it offers a sense of urgency.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Hello everyone! I’ve been posting this morning in response to your great leads, but none of them has shown up so I’m trying something different. If this works, then I will try and reconstruct every else that I have said today. Sorry for the delay and the confusion. (confusion is mostly on my part)

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        You can tell how rattled I was that my posts weren’t coming through. I meant to say . . .
        reconstruct everything else that I have said today.

        So glad that it seems to be up and working well now for me.

    • Andrea P.
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Good morning, Beth. I liked 2 and 3 the best. But I noticed I actually took a breath as I was reading number 3! Hope this helps 🙂

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Hello Beth.
      All three of these are strong leads, but I, too, like the timer. It gives your audience something tangible to think about as they read on. And it is always good to throw in any statistics. They are a great attention getter. Urgency will make your reader want to continue to find out what they can do to prevent this ongoing tragedy.
      Isn’t it fun to see the variety of leads we can produce. And I love watching the students. They get so excited that they can come up with entirely different leads. One fun mini-lesson is to have three kids read all three leads and then select two students to tell them which lead they like best. Then the reader tells the audience which one they preferred and why. This exchange makes for some great literary discussions.

      • Beth Sanderson
        Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Great idea! I will add the exchange mini-lesson to my list. This whole activity is wonderful….it is challenging but kids will be excited and even more creative if they know there is an immediate audience. Thanks again.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Hi Beth,
      One of the other reasons I really enjoy the second lead is that it calls me to action. I feel the need to respond, to help, to contribute in some way to offset the destruction. It takes me from passive reader, to active participant.

    • Terry
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Beth-
      I’m going to buck the trend and say I liked the first one best. I think the others were written well. I think it’s important that you can get a sense that different people will respond to different approaches. I felt like it was drawing me in to think about animals I’m interested in. The others made me feel guilty rather than intrigued. All three catch the reader quickly.

  6. Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Hello Beth,
    All three of these are great! The timer is a strong device and something rather tangible for your audience. I am glad that you would use that one. Again, all of you are making this look so easy. I love reading the variety. The students will, too. I think that sometimes they assume there is one right way only to write a lead. And through this experimentation, they can explore the craft of leads and build confidence. If you offer mini-lessons on leads by the middle of September, they will have that tool for the rest of the year. It might need to be tweaked a bit for narrative and persuasive, but they will know how to play with leads and look for key elements. Again, thanks for the thoughtful effort. You guys rock!

  7. Posted July 28, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this wonderful direction about crafting non-fiction leads! Here are three leads for a book about the beginnings of the Jamestown Colony.

    Boarding the ship for the New World was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. There was excitement at the promise of having a large field to build your own home and farm, but the long journey across the sea was rumored to be most unpleasant. There were 144 who set out from England. Six months later, landing on the shores of the New World, their numbers had dwindled to 105. By the end of the first winter, 38 were hanging on for dear life. Starting life in The New World was proving to be deadly.

    Enormous iron links scraped against the wooden decks as they dropped their anchors near the shoreline. That scraping sound screamed confirmation of their arrival to all those aboard the three vessels. They had finally made land in The New World. Soon, there would be more screaming, as many of the fledgling group of settlers would be dropped by arrows, disease, and starvation, their short lives anchored to this deadly peninsula.

    They promised a New World. They promised rivers of gold. They promised an endless supply of silver. They promised land in abundance. There was no fine print detailing the dysentery. There were no warnings about the savages. There was no plan for survival. This New World was starting on shaky ground.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Hello Greg,
      I think contrasts in a lead really pull in a reader. For that reason, numbers 1 and 3 are my favorites. In fact, you might have a mini-lesson or two with your students where they can practice writing leads with contrast. Make sure you provide these examples and time to discuss them before they try that on their own. I just love to put up a lead and say, “Now tell me the words you love in this lead. Why? Tell me if there are any words that could have been left out.”
      I try not to guide them in their initial responses. I want them to own their opinions, but they do need to substantiate by providing direct reference to words in the lead. Again, once they declare something strong, you will see their imitations for the next few weeks.
      And as I said earlier, if they scorn poor leads, they will NOT use those in their future writing either. Great work!

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Lola! This is a great set of mini-lessons, and your feedback is precious!

    • Kristina Paustian
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      So many ideas here that we can use. I love teaching
      about Jamestown and this would make it come alive for them so much more.
      All three are amazing, but number 3 draws me right in.

    • Beth Sanderson
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Greg,
      It is hard to choose a favorite. Number 1 offers hope and then a startling contrast. But I think I like number 3 the best…it reads like a the text of a movie trailer…I can hear the shift in music from soaring to dark and dire. Great job.

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Beth! I love the music connection. When we practice writing leads, I have kids bring in some of their favorite songs and we listen to the first 10 seconds, discussing what elements grab our attention. Many of U2’s songs have great musical “leads”. Maybe we will match some of our written leads to music!

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Beth. I can hear the music also. Great job!

  8. Andrea P.
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Lola,
    Thanks for sharing the mini-lessons. I’ve used something similar in my classroom before, but I really like how your tasks get right to the point. I feel they will be very useful with my 6th graders this year.

    Although I teach ELA now, I used to love to teach math and science, so I find ways to incorporate those subjects. For the last 3 years, my classes have observed the alcoa eaglecam. I have them write about their observations as we watch the eggs hatch and the baby eaglet(s) grow up. They write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. I provide writing prompts and at times, they can free write. I am in the process of writing about the experience, too. (all about Bald Eagles) So, here is my practice for today…

    Topic: Bald Eagles

    1- A nest the size of a small car looms high up under the super canopy. Who lives there?

    2- Ample branches hold a cylindrical cone-shaped nest, snuggly and securely, in the crook of the tree for the nesting pair of Bald Eagles.

    3- The male eagle spreads his seven-foot wings wide as he descends, gliding into the nest. Lunch for his mate dangles from his talons.

    I’d appreciate any input- thanks!

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Hello Andrea,
      This is a subject so close to my heart. When I was still in the classroom teaching grades 4 & 5, a local raptor rehabilitator/biologist would come to our classroom each year and bring a different raptor with her so my students could have some up-close personal time with these majestic creatures. When she brought her educational eagle, it would flap on her arm and send the hair of the closest girl straight back off her face. That made such an impression!

      I’m always intrigued when leads contain some sort of comparison, so I do like the reference to the size of the nest. I think readers would appreciate that, as well. Kids like extremes, and if we’re honest, most of us like to read about the extremes in the natural world, too. So, I feel that #1 might be the most appealing for that reason. If you wanted to add a tiny bit more, you could compare the size of the nest and the number and size of eggs that are nestled in it. But that’s only if you wanted to elaborate and use a bit of contrast. As it stands right now, it is wonderful.

      • Andrea P.
        Posted July 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        great ideas- thanks for the feedback.

        After I read some of the other posts, I realized I need a few more details to point the reader in a direction. Mine are a little too vague, and the focus is not clear enough for the reader.

        I like what you said about contrasts. Let me think about that some more 🙂

  9. Posted July 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a thought. Since everyone is posting such dynamic leads today, you might have a conversation among yourselves and decide if you would like to share your leads with one another.
    Just think! You could have a lovely assortment of leads to put up on your interactive whiteboard for mini-lessons. Even though your students would not be able to hear the think out loud part, you could still post 2-3 different leads a day and have discussions about the strengths and the different ways to write a lead.
    It could be quite powerful!

    • Andrea P.
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Love it!

      Where/ how can we share ideas to use in the classroom that we can all access from time to time? I know this comment section will be closed after awhile…

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have an answer to that question, Andrea, but anyone who is open to sharing could simply post today that others are welcome to copy and use the leads posted.
        However . . . if someone does not give permission, we all need to respect that.

  10. Posted July 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    hahahahaha Now my four posts from early morning have just popped up. Strange. When everything works perfectly on computers, we adore them. When it doesn’t, it’s hooey-phooey.

  11. Posted July 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Hello everyone! Great leads! In my school we call them hooks, however, it’s all the same thing. I will choose a celebrity I admire, which is Oprah. I surprisingly know a lot about her. I surprise myself with that.

    1. Businesswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, actress, and the Queen of Talkshows, Oprah Winfrey has not always had it easy. She has surged from a past filled with agony, poverty, and promiscuity into becoming the most influential woman in show business.

    2. “Be the change…” uttered Mahatma Ghandi, Oprah Winfrey has become the change that she wanted to see in the world. Today, she hosts life changing lectures and talks from the inspiring people, such as, Anthony Robbins, who seek to change people’s own perceptions of themselves. Not only does she strive to change people’s lives through O, her own cable tv channel, but she also donates to the disadvantaged and has a school in Africa for girls who want an education.

    3. Imagine having a party and as a party gift to your guests you decide to give them diamonds to remember you by. Or maybe last year you gave them diamonds and this year you want to change it up, so everyone gets a full paid trip to Jamaica! Being the guest is magical enough, now imagine being the person that is able to bring that joy to the ones that they love. Oprah Winfrey operates at this level of benevolence because she believes that you must give in order to receive. Her altruism has become one of her trademarks and she continues to increase her goals with every step she takes. Giving to those she loves and even those she doesn’t know along the way.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      BTW This was hard!

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Carmen, these are fantastic. I don’t know how I missed you yesterday, but I apologize for my oversight. Believe it or not, I like #1 – a lot. Again it has that element of contrast and it makes me want to read more to see just how influential she is and how she uses that influence.
      Having said that, all three are dynamite leads.
      In a way, I’m glad you thought it was a bit difficult. The only reason being that we ask students to sit down and instantly write, but if we don’t write, too, we forget what a challenge it can be.
      On the days when we are getting a cold or the flu, it can be even more difficult to get that synapsing going. We need to be aware of all of that when we nonchalantly say, “Take out your notebooks and get going.”
      Thank you for posting your writing. Make sure you share these great leads with your students and ask them what phrases they appreciate the most.

  12. Terry
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    1. You are in a foreign country. People speak slowly and carefully to you, but even when you understand what is said, you cannot assemble the necessary words to respond. People frequently disregard the right way to do things, leaving items out of order and out of place. Overwhelmed, you soothe yourself with comforting patterns and behaviors, but are often blocked by the natives. When you become frustrated, you may throw a tantrum, and they will offer you many things, but rarely what you actually want. You have washed ashore in Typical, and it defies the logic and order of your native world of autism.

    2. I was 16 when I met my first child with autism. I was told that most children with autism would never learn to express concern for others. I was told that they had no ability to connect to other people, forever disconnected from their families. I was told that autism was the worst diagnosis your child could ever receive. I was told wrong.

    3. Jaxon and Declan were playing in the basement. Jaxon had been forced to share his toys with the younger boy, but he kept covering his ears to block out Declan’s whispers to the dump truck. The heater turned on, nearly inaudible. “Make it stop,” he begged his mother.

    I think my favorite of these three is the last. I can relate to it. It’s specific. It shows one child’s experience, without an opinion.

    • Terry
      Posted July 28, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Also – Lola, I was excited to see you list ‘Bomb’ on your mentor text list. My son picked that out at the last book fair and you’re right. One single sentence, and I’m absolutely intrigued by the topic.

      • Posted July 28, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Love everything about that book. (Bomb) It’s written so well, plus I learned some things along the way. Always good.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Hello Terry,
      You have approached this topic from three completely different ways. So impressive. As much as I like all of these, I guess I’m a little partial to #2. As I said earlier today, I do like leads with some sort of contrast. Not that I think all leads should use that literary device, but it does make me want to read on and learn what it is you have learned through personal experience.

      I appreciate what you responded to Beth. Different leads intrigue or entice different readers. Thank heavens we are not all one cookie-cutter reader.
      As I’ve mentioned to others today, I hope you model your thinking in front of the students. It’s really the choices we make as writers that are the best teachers of all. Thanks so much for jumping in and sharing. Amazing!

  13. Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I will be using this exercise with my students this year. I am always trying to find new ways to get them to find a way to draw their audience in. I think this will work well.

    Thanks for this idea!

    Here are my three leads about Harriet Tubman. I like number two.

    1. So, I heard about this woman who was able to escape from a horrendous boss who kept her at work against her will. She not only escaped from this crazy workplace, but she helped several other people get out of there too. She used things that you might not think of including beautiful quilts and cute log houses as well as mansions. Sound like something from a national newspaper. Guess what, it’s from history, during the 1800’s, and that woman was Harriet Tubman.

    2. She could feel a presence lurking in the shadows. She was almost at her destination. Should she dare go in. Perhaps she should double back, come around the property a different way. Because of the quilt hanging in the window, she was sure this was the house. She was not sure her traveling partners could handle an extra trip around the woods. Harriet sighed. she took a chance and headed in.

    3. Dedication, courage, bravery are all words to describe this woman with superhero strength. One can only wonder why she has taken on this battle. She leads others to the north, freedom and hope.

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      Hello Lucretia,
      Ah, you selected a lead with suspense. I would imagine that your students would choose that one, as well. It’s very immediate and emotionally engages the reader right away.

      So glad that you find the mini-lesson helpful and will use it with your students. As I’ve been telling everyone today, make sure you show them your leads before you ask them to write two or three different ones. If we don’t show them good examples, they sometimes think that if they change one or two words, it’s a totally different lead.
      Since your three are quite different, they will be wonderful examples.

      Another way to get variety from the students is to have them make a list of five important terms that come to mind when thinking of their chosen topics. From that list select two words that you want to weave into one lead. Select another two for a different lead, etc. This pushes them a bit to come at their topics from a completely different stance. And it also gives them something tangible with which to work.

      Thanks for sharing, Lucretia. I enjoyed all three. And good luck with your students.

  14. Posted July 28, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    “They stared at him with admiration and respect as he brushed the length of his black pants, waiting to be introduced. It was a monumental day, one to surely be marked down in history books and yet, his purpose was not fame nor glory. He simply wanted all men and women to be considered equal, regardless of the color of his skin.”

    “She squinted her eyes as the needle created a tapestry of love for her country. Slowly. Meticulously. In and out. Stitch after stitch she sewed, red upon white, white upon blue. She never imagined the very design she crafted would become a national symbol of freedom for all.”

    “W-A-T-E-R. The liquid touching her skin was cold in the way the air felt on her cheek when she woke up in the morning. But this was different. She had felt this liquid before, falling on her head when outside, but now there was pressure with the liquid in the palm of her hand. W-A-T-E-R. She tried to pull away, the combination of chill and touch almost too much to understand, but then it came again. W-A-T-E-R. And then, like a sunrise that peeks over the horizon, she started to understand the connection of liquid and letters pressed into her hand. Meaning. Knowledge. Hope.”

    Can you figure out who my three famous Americans are from the lead-ins above? I can’t wait to show my teachers and students how to make their nonfiction writing more engaging for the reader!

    • Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Oh, what fun, Tamara! This adds another whole level of engagement, doesn’t it. I assume you’re writing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Betsy Ross (although I know they say she did not sew the first flag, I don’t know who did), and Helen Keller?

      I actually had to act out this scene from Helen Keller’s life in front of my seventh graders years ago during tryouts for a play.

      I love how brave you are to use sentence fragments for meaning and emphasis. A lot of teachers are afraid to do that, but I love it. The students who are healthy readers will already understand the correct use of these and the ones who are still hesitant readers will pass. As it should be.
      It would be difficult for me to select a favorite. Do you have one?
      Thanks for posting. I bet you lit a fire in the minds of others teachers with your examples. BRAVO!

  15. Posted July 29, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Lola, Thank you so much for this! We so often focus on a strong lead, but a strong conclusion is just as important, if not more so. You want your reader to finish feeling satisfied. I laughed at the, “This is all I know…” ending. I’ve seen that one before! I’m definitely pinning this lesson and saving it for next year! Thanks!

    Your lesson is very timely. I’ve been neglecting TW to work on a guest blog post. Here’s an intro & conclusion ffor one of them that your prompt made me work on for over an hour. Yay! Movitvation! I believe blog posts are non-fiction too!

    One of the pillars of Whole Novels is that students’ voices and opinions are central to developing their thinking. We have to allow the students to connect with their reading, come up with interpretations and develop their own ideas. We shouldn’t just provide the ideas for the students and expect them to bask in our knowledge. We need to give them the chance to create their own aha moments. Whole Novels provides a number of frameworks to guide and support the thinking coming out of discussions and when I tried them within my Literature Circle program I saw how effective they really are.
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    The projects and the partnerships allowed the students to explore ideas I wanted them to explore, to discover patterns on their own, and to be successful. It also allowed me to walk around, listen, prompt, provide support to those groups who needed it, and give other groups the independence they are capable of. I remember my mother, absolutely exasperated, saying to my teenage self once, “Why can’t you just take what I tell you and believe it.” I told her that I had to check it out on my own and see if she was actually right or not. I had to discover life on my own. She wasn’t impressed with my answer. Mini Projects allowed my students to explore the patterns of stories and literature they needed to discover on their own.

    Thanks so much to everyone for your support.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for posting these, Stefanie. Your writing is filled with passion for what you do. Your voice rings through loud and clear.
      I mentioned more in detail on Tuesday’s mini-lesson blog.

  16. Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Carried along by ocean currents and brought in by the tides, each of these rocks tell a story, a story of the planet earth.

    Have you ever wondered how so many different kinds of rocks end up on the same beach?

    How did this rock from the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, Canada end up hundreds of miles south along this ridge in the Wonalancet Range in Tamworth, New Hampshire? For the answer we’ll have to go back 25,000 to the last ice age.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Jennifer, I LOVE lead #3. The specificity of the places and time make that one POP right off the page. I want to know more, more, more. And that’s one good sign of a strong lead.
      Thanks for sharing!
      I hope you have time to write conclusions or endings for these, too. BRAVO!

      • Posted July 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I will keep working on it and post a conclusion.

      • Posted July 29, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        William Avery didn’t know what to do. He’d just been offered a significant amount of money for the tree growing in his front yard.

        He had a decision to make, should he accept the money or not? This was not an easy decision. It was not a question of whether the family valued the tree; it was the reason that Captain Samuel Nicholson wanted the tree. He wanted it for a boat he was building.

  17. Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I forgot to say how much I enjoyed this prompt and how excited I am to model this with my students. I love all the additional information in each comment. Thanks to all for sharing your passion and knowledge .

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      This whole experience has been so rewarding on many levels. I thank each and every one of you!

  18. Posted July 30, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Lola’s post, the book list (SECRET WORLD… I already read in school – will check out the others) & the beginnngs are marvelous to read. Thank you Kate for summer school here & for Lola’s feedback. Although not a teacher, I read in elementary school, the youngest grades, through BookPALS & it’s my delight to find NF books that emphasize storytelling as much as factual authenticity & completness. Thank you!

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