Quick Tip Tuesday: Writing nonfiction leads

October 20th, 2009

This week’s quick tip is from Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough’s new book, A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. Georgia and Jen are participating in a three-blog book tour this week. Yesterday they were interviewed at A Year of Reading and tomorrow and Friday you can read interviews with them at Miss Rumphius Effect and Carol’s Corner. They will also participate in a live webcast Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. EST. If you are interested in joining them live, send your e-mail address to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com

Nonfiction Writing: Leads/Beginnings
Jen and I discussed how, just as in picture books, authors of nonfiction books also want to capture the reader’s attention from the first line.

Jen began the mini-lesson:

“Writers, I want to talk to you about something that writers do when they start books. They try to grab the reader’s attention by making the very first sentence interesting so the reader will want to keep reading. I want to talk to you about three ways that writers do this.

“The first way you can begin your nonfiction writing is by asking a question. Questions grab the reader’s attention, especially if it’s an intersting question. Remember the book  Have You Seen Bugs? by Joanne Oppenheim? That book begins with a question, ‘Have you seen bugs?’

“Another way writers can capture the reader’s attention is by stating a really interesting fact in the first sentence. We could start our hermit crab book with ‘There are 800 different kinds of hermit crabs!’

“Now, wouldn’t that grab a reader’s attention?

“And the third way writers can begin a nonfiction piece is by writing interesting sounding words.” Jen read from a volcano book that began, “Rrrrruuuuuumble! SSSSSSrrra! Ker boom!”

One of the kids yelled out: “Onomatopoeia!”

“Yes,” Jen said. “You are right, it is onomatopoeia.

“Today, I want you to get your nonfiction pieces and reread your beginnings. Is it a beginning that will grab the reader? Will it make them want to read more? If not, get your pencil and try another beginning — a question, an interesting fact, or a sound word.”

As Jen and I walked around and conferred with students, we noticed that a lot of the kids began their pieces with questions. A few revised their beginnings, like Andrew who was writing about crabs. He changed his beginning from “I see crabs” to “Scratch, scratch, scratch, that’s the sound of crab claws on the sand.” And Tommy began one of his chapters, “Chomp, chomp. That’s the sound of the tiger eating its prey!”

Jen’s Reflection

Georgia and I noticed that most of the kids wanted to begin their pieces with a sound or a noise. We had to remind them that the sound had to make sense and feel true to the reader. Ryan was writing about crystals and wanted to begin his piece with a sound, but after a conference, he agreed that sound wouldn’t really make sense unless it were the sound of rocks being crushed. During conferences, we remind the writers that the start of each new chapter could have an interesting beginning as well.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

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