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The Best Text for Teaching How to Write and Revise Leads

My fourth graders hate revision. They’re often offended by the mere suggestion that they hadn’t nailed the perfect lead to their stories in their first draft.

I’m used to this. I see it every year in writer’s workshop, especially at the beginning of the year when we’re writing in a genre for the first time.

And every time I see this, I become more determined to break them of this thinking.

Today, we were working on the Common Core State Standard W.4.3a – Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.

My favorite story to use for this is standard — especially with fourth graders — is The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck.

This book, set in a small Indiana town with a one-room schoolhouse, has the best opening line of a children’s book ever.

If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it. 

Richard Peck keeps it going from there, building an incredible introduction. You can read the entire first chapter here.

Today, I started our writing lesson by reading this chapter to them. I have the Kindle edition of the book, so when I read it, I can project it on our ActivBoard so the students can follow along as I read. They laughed throughout the intro and were immediately hooked, begging me to choose this as our next chapter book read-aloud. Score one for the objective of “hooking your readers!”

I then asked them how many of them thought that introduction was the one that was in the first draft of his book.

One or two hands went up.

Richard Peck shared in an article called “In the Beginning” (Horn Book Magazine, September 2006, pp. 505-508) that it normally takes him 24 drafts of his lead before he’s happy with it. TWENTY-FOUR!

And here I’m asking my students to take a second pass at their writing.

I shared that little nugget with my students before we reread the first chapter. As we read if for a second time, we focused on the characteristics of his writing that made it such a great lead.

Here’s what my students noticed, compiled into an anchor chart:

Once we finished the chart, I had them go back to a piece of writing they’ve been working on and try to write a different introduction. Some students tried changing the point of view, others jumped into the action or started with dialogue. Whatever the strategy, all of them managed to produce a new version of their introduction, and all were at least a little better than what they’d started with.

We’ll get this revising thing down eventually…

What are some of your favorite books to use to teach students how to hook their readers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!