The Challenge of Teaching Effective Endings?
Let’s face it, as teachers of writing we have been much better at teaching students about effective leads and introductions than we have about constructing effective endings. It has certainly been a feature of the way we teach expository writing, where the conclusion is promoted as a careful restating of the writer’s viewpoint, but generally we have devoted more attention to introductions. Our students need to understand that the energy they devote to writing an effective lead needs to be evident in the endings they create.
Endings are the final contact the writer has with the reader. It is the last opportunity to make an impression.
For this reason young writers should be encouraged to take time with their endings and write them carefully. A great ending will not only make reading a satisfying experience, but prospective audiences will be more likely to want to read more of your work!
Endings matter! How many times have you as an adult reader been deeply involved in your reading only to find that story dissolves into a wholly unsatisfactory ending? When the story ends abruptly, we are left holding nothing but unresolved thoughts and wonderings. Our need for closure is not satisfied The ending may melt away into a treacly, or soppy ending that only serves to annoy. It may leave you feeling disappointed. You may indeed feel a little cheated or confused. So believe me, endings matter!
Our lives are full of beginnings and endings. A welcoming hug... a glance back as you wave good-bye...a car disappearing around the bend in the road, as our visitors leave. In the things we do every day, we experience starting and ending points. These experiences provide us with rich sensory images to which young writers need to be alerted. It is hardly surprising that proficient writers take such care to develop strong leads and endings.
The best of these don’t happen by chance- they are shaped and crafted with a keen sense of purpose. These writers know that it becomes a little easier with practice. When we teach children how to generate leads and endings using their own drafts, and expose them to good models, their writing improves dramatically.
With endings, it is best to teach students what not to do. There are countless wonderful ways to finish a poem, essay, or narrative, depending on your purpose and audience. But there are certain kinds of endings that occur repeatedly in the writing of students. If you teach young writers to recognize these ‘clangers’ in their writing, they are more likely to avoid them and craft more original endings.
People can’t always live happily ever after, and you’re left high and dry if all the characters are suddenly wiped out in dramatic circumstances such as a bomb landing in your breakfast cereal! You can’t wake up to find everything that has happened is just a dream. Readers feel cheated when writers end this way! Yet, this is what we often see in the writing of our students.
Let’s Alert Them to Endings that Irk!
The ‘Echo’ Ending: The type of ending indicates that the writer has a feeling that their writing does not convey what they want it to. When this happens, writers repeat their main point. In the process they labour the point way beyond what is necessary. It is akin to continually running over a dead cat. Students who have this tendency often just need to be reassured that they've done a good job in conveying their ideas earlier in the piece.
The ‘Escape Clause’ Ending: When the writing is beyond belief, or contains more loose ends than an octopus, it's common for students to conclude with those time honoured words, "And then I woke up and It was all a dream." It secures an easy way out for the writer, but leaves the reader feeling short changed.
The ‘That’s All Folks’ Ending: Students make the mistake of ending their writing with the characters dying or falling asleep. If you ask students never to end their pieces with phrases such as "...and they all went home," -You’ll find yourself spared these underwhelming endings.
Endings often address issues such as :
• Hopes and Wishes
Some Effective Ending Strategies to consider:
• Encourage reader reflection
• Leave the reader wanting more
• Reveal the story’s true meaning
• Return to the start. (Circular Endings)
• Restate the Main Idea
It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.“
Charlotte’s Web, E B White
Encourage reader reflection…
The strange soft eerie space music began to alter all the people of the
world. They stopped making weapons. The countries began to think how they could live pleasantly along side each other, rather than how to get rid of each other. All they wanted to do was to have peace to enjoy this strange, wild, blissful music from the giant singer in space.
The Iron Man, Ted Hughes
Leave the reader wanting more!
The old man will stand and wave to people who are coming down the beach to meet him. They’ll be singing and laughing and carrying boats and oars, fiddles, whistles and drums. The seals will sing and dive around the rocks. And if the old man should say to you, as he pushes his boat into the surf, “Would you care to join us?” Take my advice, say, “Yes!”
The Seal Mother, Mordicai Gerstein
Reveal the story’s meaning
“What I have been trying to tell you all along is simply that my father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.”
Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl
Revisiting the starting point… The Circular Ending
“And when they were finally home in Virginia, they crawled into their silent, soft beds and dreamed about the next summer.”
The Relatives Came, Cynthia Rylant
Restating the Main Idea
“Although some people may think extending the school week will benefit the education level of the country I think otherwise. Extending the school week could actually hurt the education level of our country. Eliminating time for family, work, and relaxation will affect the attitudes of the students and teachers. Their attitudes will be so poor that there won't be a reason to have a school on Saturdays.”
Saturday School, Pro or Con, Sara Eiben
Ralph Fletcher reminds us that the ending is more than the ribbon that adorns a piece of writing, but rather the ending is that which resonates in the ear of the reader when the writing piece is complete.
Let’s elevate the ending to a position of equal importance. Allow it to stand alongside the introduction as a critical element in writing effectiveness.
In the end, we will gain better outcomes from our student writers. ‘Every stop is a place to start’ as my musical muse Jimmy Buffett stated so succinctly in his song La Vie Dansante.
Six strategies to help Students Master Beginnings and Endings in their Writing, Brenda Power, Scholastic.
The Writer’s Idea Book, Jack Heffron, Writer’s Digest Books.
What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher, Heinemann
Teaching The Qualities of Writing, JoAnn Portalupi and Ralph Fletcher, First Hand, Heinemann
Live Writing-Breathing Life Into Your Words, Ralph Fletcher, Avon Camelot