We did some work yesterday in class around how to begin their short research papers which they have been working on for the past week. More and more, I notice how many of my sixth graders start every reading response with “In this paragraph, I will …” and every longer essay with “In this essay, I will …” and I am trying to ween them off those boring starts. It’s not easy. They have been programmed by other teachers, I think, to begin their pieces this way so that, at least, they will have an opening. (and don’t get me started on the closing sentences, which end with “In this paragraph, I have shown you …”)
I know why this kind of teaching was put into place. Many students jump right into the heart of the text, and lack structure. But at some point, young writers need to be told “this is how you learn the skill and this how you move beyond that skill to make your writing your own.” I guess I do that a lot in my classroom.
So, yesterday, I wrote out a few samples as mentor texts (and will do some more today), and we compared/contrasted various openings of essays. I had them reflect on why you want to draw the reader in (so that they want to read what you wrote and learn from the research) instead of bore them to tears. (Me: “I know this is an essay you are writing. I assigned it, and am helping you with it. You don’t need to tell me that you are writing an essay in your opening sentence.”) I suspect this will be a continuing one-on-one consultations with some students, but I did notice improvements already. It’s as if some students realized for the first time that they can be creative in their essays, which is what I am hoping for, instead of jamming their words into a formula.
Peace (in variation),