This week our fifth graders are working on leads in narrative narrative writing. While we’ve read samples, provided brainstorming graphic organizers and outlining handouts, the single most effective strategy has been our discussion on leads. This leads activity that we’ll outline below has made SUCH a difference in our students’ writing because it sets the tone for higher-level expectations and requires students to be deliberate with their word choice.
Here’s how to teach leads in narrative writing to your students.
1. We start with a mentor text.
In this case, it was Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The End of Something,” As part of our annotating process, we focused on the lead of the story and why or why not it was engaging. We also revisited it at the end of the story to see if it foreshadowed or symbolized anything in the plot.
2. Fast forward through our literary analysis activities to the writing component of the unit.
We provided our students with a brainstorming graphic organizer. For this assignment, they were creating short narratives about “The End of Something.” (We got topics that ranged from the end of an election to the end of a relationship to the end of a loved one’s life – the students went really deep with this.) Students completed the brainstorming activity and when ready, completed a brief outline of significant events they wanted to include in their narrative.
3. Now for the game changer.
We passed out a leads in narrative writing handout that compares both basic and strong leads, discussed what made them weak or exemplary (usually the use of descriptive language and strong vocabulary!). We focused on leads that use dialogue, a snapshot of imagery, a flashback, a question, a sound effect, and an action. As we read each example aloud, students circled strong images and vocabulary and shared them with the class.
4. Now it was our students’ turn.
Using a brainstorming handout, students wrote three different leads for their narrative (same topic but through the lens of dialogue, action, snapshot, etc…). When they were done, we put them in small groups to share their leads aloud and hear input on their strongest one.
We loved that this activity encouraged our students to slow down the writing process and focus on an integral part of their narrative – hooking their reader. The strong lead elevated the rest of their narrative as they searched for stronger and more precise vocabulary to include in their descriptions. It really made a world of a difference.
At the end of our writing unit, we’ll be doing something similar for writing conclusions to ensure that there is an effective wrap-up to their story. Seriously can’t wait to have our publishing party and share our stories aloud!