A good title can make your writing more attractive to an informationally overwhelmed public. This simple lesson helps students create articles that capture the readers' attention and give an overview of the topic.
What's in a Title?
It's bad enough we have to read the inane, ungrammatical ramblings of adolescents, but couldn't they at least come up with a catchy title? I vowed one February afternoon, after grading 327 essays with the same 6 titles--"My Essay," "Persuasive Essay," "My Persuasive Essay," Essay Assignment," "Persuasive Essay Assignment," and "My Persuasive Essay Assignment"--that I would answer the unasked question: "How do I write an effective title for my essay?". This is what I came up with.
- Write on the board the same 6 titles that appeared in all 327 student essays.
- Ask which of those titles would make them want to read the essay.
- When they answer "none of them," Yell, as loud as you possibly can, "Then what makes you think I want to read them?"
- Fake a seizure.
Here's an alternative, not as effective, but less likely to bring about a lawsuit.
- Write the following question on the board: "How do you decide whether or not to read a book, article, poem, or story?"
Write their answers on the board. Title, length, and subject matter are the three most common responses.
Discuss: An effective title must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- It should accurately predict the contents or focus (main idea) of the piece.
- It should set limits on the topic.
- It should communicate the dominant impression the writer wants his or her essay to make.
It should grab the readers' attention.
- Instruct students to fold a slice of paper in half.
- On one half, brainstorm a list of possible titles using the aforementioned criteria. Warn students that "My Essay" will cause the paper to burst into flames and result in an automatic 'F'.
- Write the criteria used next to each title.
- Instruct students to narrow their list to no more than three. Remind them once again that "English Essay" will cause a hailstorm to pelt their house and result in an automatic 'F'.
Once they've narrowed their potential titles, give them some more title suggestions:
Use wordplay that sets up a contrast: Good Times for Me; Bad Times for You.
Use words in an unexpected way: I'm a Frayed Knot: Lessons on Bullying from a Messy-Haired Shoe String
Use alliteration: Fewer Fried Foods For Franklin High School
Use a phrase or an oft repeated word that captures the essence of the essay: My Essay Deserves a Better Title
Remind them if they use "Writing Assignment," they will be forced to eat 29 hotdogs from the school cafeteria and will receive an 'F'.
Avoid the following:
A question: Why do Some People Still Use Questions as Titles After I Tell Them Not to?
Titles with an article followed by a noun or verb: The Essay, A Teacher, The Bus
- Instruct Students to choose their new title. Remind them that if they choose "My Essay," a comet will strike their desk and result in an automatic 'F'.
Engage students in a title challenge.