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“Is Your Opening Line ‘In a world...'”?

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This activity engages students in quick discussion and revision of opening lines.

Activity Name: Is your opening line “In a world...”?

Author: Kiersten Jakobsen

Course: PWR 1

Schedule: This activity will likely work best at the end of the quarter when students have a draft of the RBA.

Activity Length: 50 minutes

Activity Goals: To help students narrow the scope of their opening line and, in turn, revise a single (and very important) sentence. Easy, right?

Supplies needed: Two hats.

Activity Details

Jump right in. Ask your students, “Is your opening line ‘In a world...’?” Consider following your question with this amusing trailer.

Consider talking about a trend you have (likely) seen in recently-submitted RBA drafts. I like to call this trend “in a world.” Students tend to write opening lines which say things such as “Since the dawn of human existence,” or “Since the beginning of the cinematic age.” Yes, students are thinking and writing big here, but only because they feel as though they’ve been around the world and back with their research. Address this, sympathize with it (we’ve all done this), then remind them that opening lines are key. Ask them how many times, while researching, they read the opening line of an essay and thought, “This doesn’t sound terribly exciting” or “My keyword search was ‘zebras.’ Why is this paper talking about the invention of the steam engine?”

Then move to 10 minutes of small group discussion in which the students talk about what makes a great opening line.  I sometimes use the prompt: "Think about your favorite books/essays/etc. How do these works begin? Write 3-5 ideas for great opening lines on whiteboard."

Afterwards, return to a large group debrief in which the students report their ideas to class and talk about what types of lines work and why.

Then have each student write their own opening line from their draft on a sheet of paper and put it one of the hats (have half the class put their slips in one hat, and half in the other).

They then should choose a slip of paper from the hat (not the hat that they put their slip in!), guess the topic of the essay based on the opening line, and write their guess on the back of the piece of paper.

Now have half the class find the author of their slips of paper.  Work together to revise the opening line so that it might be more connected to the topic of the essay and so that it uses some of the strategies for powerful opening lines that you've identified together as a class.

After this is done, have students open their drafts and edit them, inserting their revised opening line and then working to adjust the introductory paragraph in relation to this new opening.  Share the revised introduction with a partner. Talk about: how did the new opening line encourage you to revise your introduction?

Come back together as a large group and ask for volunteers to share their "before" and "after" opening lines with the class and talk briefly about their revision process.

Originally published Winter 2015

Hat icon created by Ctrlastudio - Flaticon