Leads – Revising Our First Words

I have heard them called grabber leads and sizzling starts but the fact remains that leads are a critical craft strategy that all writers need in their armory. It’s where the reader and the writer meet for the first time. It’s about first impressions.   

I am more inclined to teach the use of leads as a revision strategy these days because once students have drafted a written piece one can readily teach into improving the ‘wow’ factor of those important opening words. The young writer has provided some ‘raw stuff’ to work with, to polish and improve. After all, revision is about improving the content of the text.

 

What is a LEAD?


First, we must agree on what a lead is exactly.  A lead is an introduction to a piece of writing. It can be a sentence, a paragraph or even longer. Some children mistakenly believe it is always the first sentence.

 It is the task of the ‘lead’ to capture the attention of the reader.

 -Arousing within the reader a desire to continue the reading experience. A great lead arouses interest and curiosity within the mind of the reader. It may also astound and amaze. The writer’s challenge is to turn the reader into an enthusiastic page turner.

 The writer may use the lead to do many things:

  • Set the scene
  • Introduce characters

  • Introduce situations/problems/dilemmas
  • Establish time and place
A single lead does not have to do all these things, but it must aim to establish at least one of these ideas in the mind of the reader.

By looking at other writers work, we can begin to think about different ways to start our own writing. This is the way in for developing writers. Encourage them to inquire into the work of writers they admire and then try to write in the style of that author.

Encourage student writers to copy into their notebooks, examples of leads that grab their attention. Don’t be afraid to ask them to fill a page with a variety of leads. Once this is accomplished you have rich data for students to share with a partner, a small group.  Having students undertake this task challenges them to read like writers, examining the writing of others to seek out what makes it work. Armed with this knowledge they are able to reflect on their own writing and decide what they want to accomplish as writers.

From here students might choose to revise an earlier lead. This allows the student writer to turn a good lead into a potentially great lead. At this point encourage the writer to try writing the lead in a variety of ways, so that they have some choice in the final version to be used in the piece they are writing.

 Examples of LEADS


DIALOGUE
 
Are you ever going to get out of bed? Said Mom. Little did she know how much I wanted to stay in bed forever.

QUESTION /FACT
 
Did you know that the water we drink is the same water that the dinosaurs drank?

 
SURPRISE

My little brother was eight years old, which was rather young to have a baby!


BEGIN WITH THE END

In the end I went to bed and read quietly before dropping off to sleep, but before that, oh boy what a day!


AROUSE CURIOSITY


In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.

 

USE REPETITION EFFECTIVELY

 ‘Seeing something on your plate you know youre not going to like –is
scary. Stepping on something squishy when youre in your bare feet
is scary.

NON FICTION

Giant Pandas are massive bears, just like black bears, polar bears and brown bears.’
 

 I often add examples from the work of students:


·         Sometimes I like to ride my bike to the shops, but today I will walk.


·         My brother reckons he’s so smart.


·         Cats annoy me!


·         Mum shook me. ‘Wake up sleepy head. It’s time for school.’


·         Yesterday was so hot. I was sitting under the oak tree in the backyard and I still felt like I was melting.


·         Dad tried to grow mushrooms under our house!

 
Think about situations where you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to make a good impression. It’s the same with leads. It’s where the reader meets the writer. The writer aims to make a good impression.        

Developing writers need opportunities to examine the many ways authors craft effective leads and then they need to encouragement to write in the style of a particular author. This is where we get real traction in writing development.

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