(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
“I change my nickname each time I start a new term.”
“They live in the second poorest country in the world and have one of the shortest life-expectancy, but they rarely suffer from depression.”
“One night, while reading a book on his couch in the living room, James felt a sudden chill running through his bones.”
Needless to say, a unique first sentence in an essay like those above (which were written by my students) will not only make readers feel intrigued and interested in continuing to read, but it also can affect the impression that the readers will have about the writer’s skills.
Writing interesting first sentences is a technique that most writing teachers present to their students. However, there are effective and ineffect approaches to doing this.
First, here is a common, ineffective approach. In some writing books, students are shown several examples of remarkable first sentences. Often these are at a level that is beyond most ESL students; sometimes they even come from professional writers. Then they are told to try to write an interesting first sentence on their next essay. Or, the more “enlightened” books include an exercise in which students are given some topics and directed to write interesting first sentences for practice.
There are some reasons why those are ineffective, especially with lower-level students. First, students seem unable to apply the examples to their own writing. And second, when they write a rather dry or uninteresting first sentence on an essay, they don’t realize it.
There is a proven, effective approach to helping students learn the technique of writing exceptional first sentences. (Included is a handout that you can try out with your students, even lower-level ones.)