As I wrote last week in Day 45: The Writing Process, I am teaching students to write a personal narrative and their assigned topic is a time in their lives when they had a personal conflict and the conflict led them to learn a lesson or an important life-changing lesson. As adults, it is easy to look back and see some of these moments, but it is not easy for a seventh grader to look so introspectively at their lives. Topic selection begins a few moans and groans and a few blurts – ‘I have never done anything interesting.’ I have conferences with kids who want ‘I want to write about the roller coaster at Great America,’ or ‘the football game they won 45-0,’ and I try to steer them to a summer evening with cousins playing laser tag that never seems to end, catching fireflies, a family campfire with grandpa, learning to ride a bike, or other such topics that lead to growth and interest. Though some surprise me and are quick to find a topic and begin the pre-writing process and thinking about what made the event important and the lesson they learned. This blog began with the idea that you can write just about anything, and I think I have. But the lessons learned on MakingtheDaysCount.com have been about making the days count and in some way and making a difference in my day or the world and people around me. Most of the time, my writing has been true to the mission though, some days have been a stretch.
In class the students have been reading one of four literary non-fiction stories: Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Andrea Warren, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe, The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party by Marian Calabro, and Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah. Each of the stories has a child or children as main characters and centers around conflict and has a high interest factor once students begin reading. The students are arranged in groups and can discuss the book they are reading to facilitate discussion, perhaps personal exploration, and hopefully introspection.
We are shifting to the personal narrative and Monday’s lesson was about starting our writing with a lead or starter. Yesterday’s lesson was about the opening paragraph. I have included my leads for the narrative I will write. My topic is the summer vacation with my brothers to visit my dad in Saudi Arabia in 1975. It is after seventh grade, but close enough in chronology to make it work for the project. I will be writing and posting daily to keep pace with my writers in class.
Class – Monday 11/1
Leads – the first line of your narrative to lead your reader to want to read the rest of the story. You need to make it interesting.
- Snapshot lead: provide a snapshot to create a visual in the reader’s mind
I had seen car crashes before, but I had never seen a car tossed to the side of the road and left behind and crushed by a camel.
- Big Potato Lead: jump right into the action of the story (personally, I think this is the hardest type of lead)
The drive from Dhahran to Riyadh started in the dark and ended in the dark, we pulled into the compound where my dad lived, unloaded the car, before climbing into bed for a good sleep.
- Talking Lead: Start with dialogue to ‘hook’ the reader
“How far is it?” I asked.
“250 miles, about the distance between Houston and Dallas, but it will take us longer because the roads aren’t as good and we need to watch for camels.” Replied my dad
- Thinking Lead: begin with a thought to begin your story
It was a tight fit in the car, my brothers, my dad, my step-mom, and the driver. It was a good thing half of us were kids, we would have never fit. It didn’t hurt that it was a big American car.
I chose to use my snapshot lead; I think it is my best; though the others could be used. When I remember the trip and close my eyes, or even when I don’t close my eyes, I can recall the sight of cars crashed on the sides of the road, a dead camel every so often, and the flares in the distant oil fields along the Dhahran to Riyadh highway that July night.
Below is my opening paragraph….
I had seen car crashes before, but I had never seen a car tossed to the side of the road and left behind crushed by a camel. I will never forget the drive from Dhahran to Riyadh across the desert in the middle of a hot July night with my dad, my new step-mother, and my two brothers; Warren and David. I had just finished seventh grade and it was my summer vacation, it was our summer vacation, and we were driving across the desert to spend time with my dad in Riyadh. When my parents divorced six months before, I knew the divorce agreement would give him forty-five days of summer visitation and monthly visits which were virtually impossible because we lived in Sugar Land and he lived eight thousand miles away in Saudi Arabia. At the time, summer in Saudi Arabia sounded exciting, but leaving my friends, my home, and fun things to do back home was not what I wanted from my summer vacation.
So there you have it, my beginning. Today’s lesson will be on rising action and building interest to explain the conflict. Friday we will cover the climax or high point in the story. We come back after the weekend Monday to learn and write the falling action. Next, Tuesday we will finish with the resolution, where the conflict is solved and the lesson learned revealed. Interspersed, I will discuss revising, proof reading, and the final format; but I think they will do well. The entire paper is due Monday, 11/15. I am sure my narrative will change before the due day. I hope you enjoy a flashback to the summer of 1975.
I remember the song which launched this project….
This could possibility be the best day ever!
(This could possibility be the best day ever,)
And the forecast says that tomorrow will likely be a million and six times better.
So make every minute count, jump up, jump in, and seize the day,
And let’s make sure that in every single possible way,
Today is gonna be a great day!
Making the Day Count, one day at a time. Maybe even one writer at a time.