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A good start

Many juniors struggle with the first sentence of a story. Crispin Andrews offers a helping hand

The first paragraph of a story is often the hardest part to write, not just for children. I find it useful to explore the opening lines of books and use them to develop pupils' writing, so here is a selection of openings and some teaching ideas to help get your class get into the creative spirit.

Introducing characters

Take, for example, Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen's Sports Day, which begins: "Hooray! Today is sports day.

"Sam is training hard. He's eaten all his breakfast and now he's doing his exercises.

"Tracy is still in bed. She says she's saving her energy for later."

Contrast this with Mr Bear and the Bear by Frances Thomas and Ruth Brown, in which the emphasis is on the main character. "Everyone called him Mr Bear, though perhaps he had another name. 'Cross as a bear,' people said.

Nobody smiled at him in the street, children stuck their tongues out behind his back. Dogs growled and cats ran away."

This also gives the reader a conception of Mr Bear's nature that is challenged when an act of kindness frees a bear held in captivity.

These two beginnings focus on quirks or traits (exercise-loving Sam, lazy Tracy, grumpy-looking Mr Bear) that say something about the personalities of the characters.

* Get pupils to write a character-led introduction to a story. Here's an example: "Sandy's grandma stood straight as a broomstick. She cleaned her house every day and she didn't like muddles. Or EastEnders. Or children who picked at their their food. When Sandy went to grandma's house, he had to leave a clean plate, even if there were carrots. Sandy hated carrots."

A sense of place

Russell Hoban's The Sea-Thing Child opens with a description of a beach:

"The wind was howling, the sea was wild, and the night was black when the storm flung the sea-thing child up on the beach. In the morning the sky was fresh and clean, the beach was littered with seaweed, and there he lay - a little black heap of scales and feathers, all alone." The story is about a baby bird gradually realising the beach is only a small part of the world.

* Ask children to use a place to introduce their stories. Discuss where they might set them and brainstorm vocabulary. Here is an example: "The park was spooky at night. In the day time it was full of mums and toddlers, and people walking their dogs. There was an ice cream van and old men and women playing bowls. But it was different at night and Kelly wished she wasn't there."

Events, events

Describing a dramatic meeting or event can also form an effective opening.

In The Owl's Lesson, Nick Butterworth begins: "Swallows and swifts flew high above the head of Percy the park keeper. Soon they would be off on their long winter holidays. Some birds had already gone. Percy was thinking how nice it would be to join them, but his thoughts were soon brought back to earth."

Later, Percy finds a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest. The rest of the story is about how Percy and an owl teach it to fly.

* Read and discuss the opening lines of The Owl's Lesson. Ask pupils what they think snaps Percy out of his daydream before reading that part of the story. Then read the whole story aloud and discuss with pupils how the introduction is relevant to the story.

Home-school links

* Brainstorm more openings with your class then, for homework, ask them to work out how the stories might end.

* Ask your pupils to bring in examples of introductions they like from books they have at home.

Crispin Andrews is a primary teacher and writer

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