You never really do get a second chance to make a first impression. Students soon learn that the introduction to an essay is arguably the most important part. It can also be the most difficult to write. The reader will either want to continue reading the essay…or he won’t.
An essay introduction serves two purposes: it hooks the reader and it tells what the essay is going to be about. A thesis or topic statement is included-often as the last sentence of the paragraph.
Emphasize to students that the introduction doesn’t have to be written first. It often takes time to evolve. They should, however, write tentative introductory paragraphs as springboards.
As teachers, we’ve read more than our fair share of introductions, many having a familiar ring-“In this paper, I’m going to talk about…” Help students avoid monotonous opening sentences and discover interesting and catchy ways to begin essays.
Surprise your readers. Make sure you use a true fact that can be verified. A paper on school bullies might begin, “Every half hour, a child attempts suicide as a result of bullying.”
A quotation should help to set up the piece. Avoid overused quotes. A paper proposing that teachers give too much homework might begin with Lily Tomlin’s words, “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”
An anecdote is a short, personal story that is relevant to the topic. For a paper on teenage pregnancy, the author begins, “My cousin feeds her baby and changes her diaper. Even though she’s tired from being awake half the night, she bathes and dresses the baby and reads him a book. This all happens before she heads off to her first period algebra class at Bessemer High School.”
Challenge and speak directly to readers with a thought-provoking question that the essay will address. A persuasive paper on school uniforms might begin, “Are you willing to let the school board take away your rights by forcing you to wear a uniform?”
A student writing about how he ended up in trouble after making a poor decision begins, “A drowning man will clutch at a straw.” I needed to earn money for the Black-Eyed Peas concert, so I agreed to do my sister’s homework for her.”
When using humor, direct it toward yourself and be sure it’s brief and related to the topic. A student writing about reading and following directions begins, “I was very thirsty and spied a water dispenser. I put in my quarters and water came rushing out….all over the ground. How was I to know you needed your own container?”
Use description as your opener when a big part of the essay directly relates to a person or place. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He was a smart young man who skipped the ninth and twelfth grades. He wasn’t very good in gym class, but he never quit trying.”
Compare your topic to something else-make sure the audience can relate. “Dancing for the first time in public is about as comfortable as walking on hot coals in your bare feet.”
This type of introduction gives the big picture and then narrows it down to the thesis. “Molasky Middle School teachers have won prestigious awards throughout the past ten years, but no teacher has been more deserving than Mr. Valdez.”
Don’t use more than two or three exchanges. It’s not necessary to identify the speakers.
“Have you made up your mind yet?”
“No, I need to talk to your mother.”
Why do my parents always keep me on pins and needles when I ask to borrow the car?
Teaching Middle-Grade Language Arts: Essay Suggestions for Four Quarters
The Best Ways to Teach Students to Write Effective Essay Paragraphs
Teachers: Empower Your Students with These 4 Writing Traits