Writing the first sentence Starting a writing assignment is the hardest part
Sometimes, the first sentence is the hardest part of writing for me. Most of my students feel the same way. To cope, they revert to the default starter sentence, “This is my story about _____.” Or, if I am lucky, I get the alternate topic sentence, “I am going to tell you about _____.” Both of these options pain me. I am working hard this year to banish bad topic sentences.
Students can write catchy topic sentences if they see lots of examples that grab their attention. Recently, my students researched one aspect of a Native American tribe and wrote an article about their topic. After they researched but before they began drafting their articles, I had the students flip through my magazine collection. To complete the Magazine Hook Sample Activity, the kids looked for 3 feature articles in different magazines and copied the first sentence only.
After collecting a big list of first sentences, we shared and discussed. When we compared the topic sentences, we looked at sentence structure and word choice. We made predictions about the content of the article based on the first sentence. We made a chart that listed conventions the writers used that we liked. We also generated a list of things published writers did NOT do. After the students reviewed lots of examples of good starter sentences, they were let loose to write their own topic sentences for their feature articles. The first sentences were not all publisher ready, but students did create sentences with a little sizzle to them.
Here are some of our favorite topic sentences we found in published articles:
- Suppose—just suppose—that beings from outer space have landed in your community.
- Golden lion tamarins grow up fast.
- Not everyone thinks that prosthetists like Carroll are doing the right things when they meddle in the lives of injured animals.
- A dark-green fringed leaf frog croaks softly as it sits on a tree branch in a wooded area of Brazil.
- A small, shy cat peers out from its hiding place of dense cover in thorny shrubs in south Texas.
- Tucked inside a nest made of moss, two young southern flying squirrels cling to each other.
- These Halloween treats may be sugar free, but they are still super sweet.
- Wildfires are unpredictable.
- On a small street in Philadelphia in the 1920s, there was a factory owned by the Fleer family.
Here are a few tips for writing a good hook courtesy of my fourth graders:
- Use an unusual sentence structure. Try having a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence. Use a really short sentence to gain attention. Mix up the word order, so it does not follow the subject then verb format.
- Use key vocabulary words related to the topic.
- Avoid words like very, nice, good…
- Use active verbs in the topic sentence. However, if you are trying the short-sentence-for-effect technique, you might use a linking verb like is, was, or are with an interesting adjective choice.
- Use poetic devices like alliteration or onomatopoeia.
The finished articles were part of a Native American magazine project. As with sooo many of my projects, the magazine assignment became much bigger than I originally intended. However, when I saw the finished products, I was impressed. The final magazines looked like they came from a real printer.