Entering with a bang (essays, part 5)
Whew! The main body of the essay is written! Are we done now? Nope. Not yet. So far, we have followed the process of writing an essay using these specific steps (see previous homeschool blogs for specific instructions):
Choosing a title
Making a “Dump Page”
Organizing your “Dump Page” into lists and titling each list
Turning the lists into an outline
Writing the main body of your essay
Now you are ready to write the introduction. One of the main purposes of an introductory paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention. You are trying to pull the reader into your writing and pique their interest so they will want to keep reading to the end. This can be done in a variety of ways:
You can start off by asking a question related to your topic. A question makes the reader curious to read on in order to find out the answer. So the question must be one that stirs curiosity or plants an intriguing desire to learn more.
Telling a very brief story or anecdote provides another way to introduce an essay. People are always drawn to stories. Particularly if your essay is about something you personally learned, sharing a small part of why or how you came to learn about this topic can draw the reader in and cause them to want to know what you learned. But keep in mind, this must be very brief: one or two sentences. It doesn’t have to be a story about yourself, but it must be relevant to your topic.
Use a quote or proverb. As long as it pertains fully to your subject, this can be very effective.
Perhaps you have uncovered an intriguing fact. Instead of just stating the fact, turn it into something more interesting. For example, instead of saying, “Some whales make sounds that can be heard one thousand miles away,” make it more story-like: “In the cold waters of the north Pacific, a migrating whale turned its head to the deep echoing call of a fellow migrant one thousand miles away.”
Humor or a playful joke, as long as it is fully on topic, also grabs a reader’s attention and gives them a desire to read on.
An element of surprise, something counterintuitive or paradoxical, provides another effective start to an introductory paragraph. Charles Dickens used this method famously when he wrote the opening line in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
Use of a good metaphor stirs the imagination and creates an element of intrigue and interest.
If you have a brilliant opening line, a concise, profound statement, then use that. This should be something that arrests the reader’s attention and makes them think deeply or see something in a new light.
Basically, in your opening line, you are vying for the reader’s attention. You are trying to hook them into reading what you have written. The world is full of other things to do. Why is this important for them to take time to read? Your introduction should appeal to the reader’s emotions, curiosity, senses, needs, and imagination.
Your introduction should also be relatively short. Three to four sentences is sufficient. The main purpose is to draw the reader into the main body of your essay. So don’t give away the whole essay in the introduction.
But the other, and equally important, purpose of an introductory paragraph is to tell the reader what the essay is going to be about. What should the readers expect to learn from your essay? What is your main topic or thesis? This should be stated at the end of your opening paragraph, not at the beginning. Your last sentence should give a concise statement of the topic you are presenting while leaving curiosity or a question in the reader’s mind about how you will support that statement. You can even frame your topic statement as an idea the readers might likely disagree with or question. This will help draw them into reading the essay in order to see if you can support your claim.
Between the opening catch line and the ending topic statement, give a brief overview of your topic that will provide context for the points of your essay. In these middle sentences, take some of your main-point list topics from your outline and write some hints about what is coming in your essay.
To summarize, here are the 3 elements of a good introductory paragraph:
A catchy, interesting opener
A couple sentences that give some hints about the main points of your essay—what the reader should expect
A clear (though also interesting) statement of your main topic or thesis.
Like all skills, writing a good introduction takes practice. The more your students do it, the better they will get at it. With each essay you assign, see if they can open the introductory paragraph in a new way, using one of the eight ideas above.