Great Ways to Begin a Narrative

Slice of Life2One of my favorite things to do in writing workshop is to teach student writers more about writing a great story!  I have always believed that this is something we are born to do – sharing our stories is part of the human experience. A good story starts with a great lead that hooks the reader and draws him right in.

Although some of our young writers find their way with beginnings almost naturally, many do not.  We’ve all read leads that begin with “It was Saturday morning” or “I went to the zoo” or “My name is Sammy and I am going to tell you a story about….”  Our youngest writers can start with a question, a description of weather, or an exclamation.  I like to give them several choices because it’s important to understand that every kind of lead does not fit every story. If you have a toolkit of craft moves for leads, then you can choose which lead is a good fit for the particular story you are currently drafting.

The following leads were built around a topic I can write about – dogs!  When I work in classrooms, I like to make posters with these leads and add photos of my Welsh Corgis to dress it up.

  1. Start by asking the reader a question. Have you ever seen a dog that likes to eat asparagus and broccoli?
  2. Start out with someone talking. “Hey, Mom, Merri is cleaning up the kitchen floor for you.”
  3. Start with a metaphor. Whenever we have a party, my Welsh Corgi Rhonda is Mom’s best vacuum cleaner.
  4. Start out with an exclamation. “Grab Memphis before he runs after that rabbit!”
  5. Start with a controversial opinion. I think dogs are a big help around the house. My mom does not agree.
  6. Start with a description of weather. It was a snowy December day, cold and dreary, when Merri arrived to warm my heart.
  7. Start with an action. When Dad placed the puppy in my arms, my heart melted.
  8. Start out by making your reader wonder about your topic. My dog Rhonda is a big help to Mom.

Be sure to collect leads from mentor texts and from your students. It’s a great way to honor someone’s writing. Students can nominate a peer’s lead sentence or paragraph for “Lead of the Day” or “Lead of the Week” and copy on sentence strips to post on a display board with the author’s name. This practice is a great way to celebrate your student writers, especially those who are slow to finish and do not always get work posted first.