Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers

Writing Right- Reeling in Readers

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
"Exhausted from a day spent with students, the majority of who displayed their impacted wisdom teeth mode during class discussions and feeling as if her head was clogged with cold oatmeal, Delaney plucked the first frayed red folder from her worn classroom carry-all. 'Oh, why did I have to pick fourth period first,' she said. A groan rolled from her throat as she leaned back and ground her fists into her eyes, her attempt to sting them into life.
'They hate to write and it shows.' She shuffled through the papers, skimming the first paragraph of a half dozen narrative essays discussing, 'My life-changing moment'.  The only writing most of her fourth period juniors cared about was texting.  For them, writing a complete sentence with properly spelled words and no texting abbreviations was almost impossible.  She yawned as she picked up her purple pen, 'I just wish they cared enough to hook my interest instead of putting me to sleep.'"
Does this scenario ring any bells? Okay, I might have exaggerated a tad. Compared to the fantastical stories my Teaching of English professors fed my peers and I, though, where soon we would be begging, “More, please,” when faced with mountainous stacks of perfect essays because all of our students loved to create word pictures and to write right, these paragraphs exude realism.
In this age of testing and data collection, ELA teachers are challenged to empower their students to proficiently follow an: Introduction (with a thesis)- Body (supporting material)-Conclusion (wrap-up and final thought) format. Various titles for each of these sections exist, but they all boil down to: Introduction-Body-Conclusion. 

What you don’t see mentioned in the various essay outlines is the word Hook. That’s usually saved for creative writing. Why? Don’t those who read essays, for work or recreation, deserve to be lured into writing, too? If we want our students to write pieces that we want to read, our lesson plans must include activities where students can practice writing Hooks.

I discuss this basic aspect of writing in my book, The House of Comprehension. Here is an excerpt from the book:
“If students are to write right, they need to learn to reel in their readers. One of the most important elements of writing is to engage the reader. Good writers know that they must snag readers with the first few sentences. If they don’t, chances are the piece will sink into oblivion. Think of the lead sentences as a fishing hook, and every word that forms each sentence as the bait. The hook has one main purpose: luring readers to the writer’s world.

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
Readers are more apt to keep reading if the writer grabs their attention.

• Anecdote: relates an emotional or exciting part of a situation
The longer my fingertips wrapped themselves in the scarlet and gold cashmere scarf, the
more my desire for it mushroomed. I closed my eyes, visualizing my neck decorated like
October’s maple trees. My yearning blocked any common sense from my brain. “Just this
once,” I argued to myself as my hands edged the treasure toward my jacket pocket.
• Description of person, place or object: paints a word picture
At eleven o’clock every day, Maude hobbled to the wooden bench in the loneliest corner
of the park and slumped onto its splintery slats. After easing a wrinkled letter from its
envelope, she would study it again and again as tears dripped from her faded blue eyes
onto her tattered gray sweater.
• Example: Develops a specific instead of a general idea
Many factors can erode teenagers’ academic success. Among these are lack of sleep,
extra-curricular activities, and procrastination.
• Stance on an issue: clarifies the writer’s opinion on a controversial point
Any high school that chooses to delay the start of school by an hour or more might as
well have a funeral for interscholastic athletics.
• Startling fact or statement: to shock the readers
Four out of ten adolescent girls will be the victims of dating abuse.
• Question: this is an acceptable format, but is a very, very weak choice. The purpose of
writing is to answer the readers’ questions.
• Strong concrete nouns and adjectives: help create clear mental pictures. They destroy
haziness, erase questions, and incite emotional responses. The use of sensory imagery
(sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) lures readers. Every sentence should contain at
least one sensory imagery appeal.
• Vivid verbs: Verbs are the backbone of writing. Without vivid verbs, writers’ words will
collapse. Verbs MUST combine the subject’s action plus his/her emotion while performing
this action.
Weak noun:
Concrete noun:
Weak adjective:
Strong adjective:
Weak verb:
Vivid verb:
Weak sentence:
The nice car drove into my driveway. It changed my life.
Strong sentence:
The sleek, red Ferrari roared into my driveway that golden
fall afternoon, destroying my shy-girl image forever.”
Whether our lesson plans are for elementary, middle school or high school students, we must snag our charges' interest and entice them to write by baiting our lesson plan hooks with a multitude of opportunities for them to own their writing because they are involved emotionally.

During a mini-lesson, allow them to practice writing the various types of hooks shown above while incorporating strong nouns and adjectives and vivid verbs. In a matter of minutes, they will experience AHA moments when they see that their writing will tantalize even the most reluctant reader when it flexes one of the types of Hooks along with vocabulary muscles.
Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
When and how do we do that considering the pressures to concentrate on the Introduction-Body-Conclusion? Here are a few ideas where students can practice baiting their writing hooks following the mini-lesson(s):
A. Warm-ups:
1. Let students choose a topic in the Reel in Readers With Magnetizing Hooks handout and give them 10 - 15 minutes to write a two to three sentence hook.
2.  Have them turn clich├ęd expression into fresh similes or metaphors: examples: This sandwich is as dry as dust; The actor/actress was not the sharpest crayon in the box, or The ballerina was as pretty as a picture.
3. Write one sentence each for something heard, seen, smelled, tasted or touched, making sure that the reader mentally experiences  that sense.
B.  Write Now Moments:
1. Hand out the Reel in Readers With Magnetizing Hooks activity. Have the students choose a topic to develop: for a Warm-up, during the time after they finish an assessment but while their peers are still testing, or any time you have a few minutes to fill-like at the end of a period.
2. For each response, let students choose the type of writing: fiction, narrative nonfiction, personal essay, descriptive piece, expository essay, newspaper story, etc.
When students know how to reel in their readers, they will make their teachers exclaim, “More, please,” because they will be hooked by the introduction. They will capture the interest of the people who rate standardized test writing responses, and, most importantly, they will embrace writing because they are Writing Right.

For some terrific articles on teaching kids to love writing and loving what they write, check out the blog:

Happy Teaching,