Writing an effective introductory paragraph binds the audience to the writer. A bound audience means you get to share all those wonderful ideas you’ve been wanting to share. Teaching this skill means instead of communicating with grunts, your students will communicate with words.
A Trying Afternoon
I felt good. I had taught students about thesis statements. I explained how to hook the reader. I had taught them how to research and use evidence. These were going to be the greatest essays ever. Then I read them. I realized I had not taught them how to write an essay
introduction. After reading the 300th cliché introduction, and the 423rd lame definition introduction, I passed out.
When I awoke, Thomas Paine stood above me. He spoke: “Good thing you weren’t my teacher. When I asked my teacher how to write an effective introductory paragraph, he taught me how to do it." Mr. Paine shook his head, uttered, “Oh, these are the times that try men’s souls," bashed me on the head with a stack of pamphlets, and left. I woke up hours later. On my desk rested a stack of pamphlets with the title “How do I Write an Effective Introductory Paragraph: Information and Lesson Ideas for Writing an Effective Introduction."
I’ve summarized it. Unless you want one of the founding fathers to visit you during an hallucination, I'd use it.
Two Types of Introductions
1) The Hook Introduction: Follow this link for a more detailed lesson plan on how to hook the reader with dynamite leads. Think fishing when you think of hooking the reader. Once the reader is hooked, you’ve got ‘em. The following techniques are effective:
- An anecdote that exemplifies the thesis statement.
- An authoritative quotation
- A controversial opinion
- Shocking fact or statistic
- Definition of an unusual term central to your thesis
2) Funnel: A funnel introduction begins broad and then narrows into the thesis statement. For example, if your thesis statement were “For the active traveler, cross-country skiing is a perfect way to spend a day in Steamboat Springs," you could begin your introduction with a statement on cross-country skiing, followed by its growing popularity in the western United States, its health benefits, and finally get into the actual thesis statement.
Introductions to Avoid
When teaching students how to write an introduction, teach them to avoid the following:
1) Clichés: Dead expressions will lose the audience.
2) The Definition of a Well Known Word: High school writers love defining words in the introduction that everybody over the age of three knows.
3) The Announcement Introduction: In this description of an announcement introduction, I’m giving you an example of an announcement introduction; then I’m going to tell you how annoying the announcement introduction is and how nobody will continue reading because you just told them what they need to know.
4) The Space Alien/Future Archeologist/Time Traveler Introduction: If a future archeologist looked at this reason he would ask himself why on Earth am I so popular. This introduction type is a subset of the cliché.
5) The “In Common" Introduction: What do Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnel, Elizabeth Taylor and my mailman Bob have in common? They’ve all fallen victim to one of the ten biggest fitness mistakes Be sure to read the previous statement in an annoying announcer voice.
NOTE: The thesis statement should come at the end of the introduction for short essays (less than six pages). For essays greater than six pages, add a thesis paragraph after the introduction that contains the thesis statement and an outline of the points you are going to cover.
- Write several topics on the board. As individuals or in groups, have students write two separate introductions with the same thesis statement.
- When reading any non-fiction piece of literature, analyze the introduction. Discuss what type it is, what methods are used, what its strengths are, and what its weaknesses are.
- As part of a revision assignment, have students evaluate their own introduction.
- In groups of four, instruct students to evaluate each others’ introductions.
Rewrite the introduction to a famous work of non-fiction (The Declaration of Independence, for example) or a not-so-famous work of non-fiction (a classmate’s essay or this advice article on Fantasy Football basics).