Opening lines – Making an impact

So, any students of mine who have been in my Cambridge classes in the last few years will recognise this lesson, I usually do it right at the beginning of term.  I like it as it uses novels, and asks students to respond to them in a natural way, then examines the language that is used to attract the reader, and then features a bit of peer teaching of vocab.

Procedure

Right, to begin you need to pick 4-6 novels and photocopy the first page (it can be a good idea to blow them up a bit to make them easier to read), cutting off any paragraphs that continue onto the next page, or you can just use the first paragraph if you prefer.  Also have the extracts photocopied onto A4/A3 so that you can hand them to the students.

Books I have used include:

  • Girlfriend in a coma – Douglas Coupland
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
  • The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguru

Those ones have always worked pretty well and all have a different beginning, but any books that have a good opening that you think might interest your students will do the job.

At the beginning of the class, stick the different beginnings up around the classroom spaced out.

1: Reading:  Ask students to read all of the 1st pages, give them between 5-10 mins depending on their reading speed.  Emphasise that here you are not worried about them understanding every single word, but just reading to get the general idea.

2: Reacting: Ask students to go and stand next to the extract they found most interesting and ask them to try to justify why.

3: Checking gist / memory: Ask the students to sit back down and brainstorm in pairs what they can remember about the different extracts.

4: Genre / dating: Hand out the photocopied extracts to students in pairs and ask which they think is the oldest and why.  Give them the answers, but accept that in some cases they will be written in a more archaic way.  For example in the books above, students always expect “the remains of the day” to be oldest due to the formal language used, when in fact it is the most modern.  Similarly, “Catcher” is normally believed to be the most recent, as long as they can say why, I am happy with any answers.

5: First line analysis: Ask students to look at the first line in each extract and to look at what grammar or lexis has been used to try to grab the readers attention. I monitor while they do this to help students and push them in the right direction.

For example

Girlfriend in a Coma“I’m Jared, a ghost” – short sentence, abrupt, shocking, directly addressing the reader.

The Remains of the Day – “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days” – Directly addressing the reader, use of language of prediction, being vague about the expedition

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – “It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea” – Very poetic, lots of adjectives, setting the scene, letting the reader picture it.

The Catcher in the Rye – “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – Conditional makes it confrontational, use of slang, really long sentence that sounds as if the narrator is speaking to the reader directly.

Optional: You can ask for students to look for other specific bits of grammar, depending on their level, you could do it as a grammar hunt, or just ask them to find things of interest if you think they are strong enough, basically, scaffold the task as much as you think your class will need.  I do this on the first day so I tend to use it as a form of diagnostic to see how much grammar students know.

6: Vocab: Ask students in pairs to work on one of the texts each, they can use their dictionaries if you want. Or you can help each group.  If you have already worked on meaning from context, encourage them to do this.  Then, ask them to peer teach the other students the new vocab.

7: Reflection:  Ask students to think about where this could be used in their writing to improve it, give it more range.  This stage is especially useful for Cambridge Exam Students

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