How many times have we as teachers wanted to push our student writers below the surface or beyond the obvious but had no concrete strategies for them to do so?
The following writing approach provides every student, regardless of any current writing weaknesses, with a wealth of new ideas and profound perspectives for which to transform ordinary writing into extraordinary authorship!
The Dreaded Concluding Paragraph
One of the most difficult writing skills for many students to grasp is finding ways to bring their essays to a satisfactory close. Even after mastering the foundations of organization, cohesion, and clarity, my middle school students often need concrete strategies for creating compelling conclusions and apt titles for their various essays.
I created the following Conclusions and Titles Brainstorming Activity so all of my students could efficiently write a set of six conclusions and coordinating titles for their individual essays and from which they could choose the very best title and conclusion to bookmark their compositions.
I always require every student to complete all twelve items in this exercise, even in the cases when they have already zeroed in on which strategy they think will be most effective. I have found that when students commit to exploring multiple possibilities and are required to write down several ideas, this opens up new insights and approaches that many young writers may have overlooked or may have too hastily dismissed.
Armed with this collection of ideas, my students can then make an informed decision as to which conclusion and title option they like best, or I can help them winnow it down to the top two so the final decision is not too overwhelming for them.
Often, students end up incorporating some of their remaining conclusion ideas within the body of their essays, so this structured brainstorming activity is always time well-spent and fruitful in several ways. Besides producing some truly intriguing titles and though-provoking conclusions, this exercise generates fresh perspectives and additional insights students can and should use throughout their essays, even when they think they are “done” or presume to have exhausted all possibilities.
After their final title and conclusion choice has been made, students can develop their initial idea into a fleshed out concluding paragraph that also contains a connection to an effective title. Of course, the full meaning and impact of the link between the title and the conclusion may not become fully apparent to the reader until the very end of their essay, and this extra level of depth only adds to the creative experience of writing. Suddenly, the craft, artistry, and importance of true essay writing become even clearer to my students, and their personal investment increases accordingly.
Great Writers are Great Thinkers
If you want your students to produce great writing, then you must prepare them long before they set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. As a true facilitator, you should routinely be taking your students beyond the facts, below the surface, and back inward towards reflection. Be their model and guide as you lead them on fascinating journeys to unfamiliar lands, people, times, and texts.
Enrichment activities should never be reserved for only our stellar students. Students who struggle also benefit from the validation and resulting confidence that come from teachers who sincerely honor each child’s personal viewpoint. If you want your students to speak and write like experts, then value their expertise and provide them with frequent opportunities to express themselves and refine their voice.
Not that we want our students to perpetually get stuck in the personal, but it is a potent place to start and a perfectly acceptable place for your students to return again and again. In fact, as we move students from writing mere reports towards writing essays full of analysis, inference, and response, students will be required to call on their wealth of personal insight, opinion, experience, and knowledge.
Differentiating Writing Instruction
Differentiated instruction is especially crucial in my classroom because I have many students who have IEPs and/or who are English Language Learners. Some of these students need reinforcement or intervention in the fundamentals of writing. Some kids never were taught the essentials, some need it taught again, and some need it to be taught differently (or better). Many just need a consistently supportive setting where they eventually dare to trust their teacher, as well as themselves.
Therefore, you will see that steps 1 and 2 of the following Creating Conclusions and Titles Brainstorming Activity elicit only the most basic type of conclusion and title. I always quickly guide my students beyond simple recall and regurgitation, but it does not hurt any student, even the most advanced, to begin this exercise refocusing and reflecting on the main ideas and points of their essays. Students cannot successfully move beyond or move below the surface if they have not already clearly comprehended and cohesively conveyed their topic, thesis, and main ideas or points.
This type of differentiated instruction has served my varied students well. I have made significant progress with students with extremely low skills, as well as with students who were clearly advanced. Some may call some of my writing scaffolds “formulaic,” but I would call them necessary, albeit temporary, foundations that allow all students to immediately express their ideas with coherence and to find their voice with confidence—all while they are also developing in the basic nuts and bolts of writing.
Creating Compelling Conclusions and Titles
I use the following definitions for conclusions and titles so my students have a clear understanding of the purpose and potential of a strong opening and closing to their writing.
Conclusions wrap up, summarize, or provide a satisfactory ending for your essay. They also can provide a deeper meaning or purpose for the reader of your essay.
Titles are “snappy, catchy, short, gripping, and fit” (Nancie Atwell). They should hook your reader into your essay by being dramatic, interesting, mysterious, challenging, or clever.
Consider using alliteration (the purposeful repetition of the same sound or letter at the beginning of words) in your title.
Titles often have a deeper meaning that may not be revealed until the conclusion, so it is best to write your title choices after each conclusion option.
Center the title in the middle of the first line. Capitalize the first letter of every important word. Do not underline the title of an essay. Use quotation marks only if your title contains dialogue (words someone is speaking).
Here is the writing exercise I give to my students:
The Twelve Ways to Create Engaging Titles and Effective Conclusions
Remind me! Tell me again!
- Write a conclusion that restates the major points of your whole essay (your thesis statement, topic, main ideas, or major examples) using different words.
- Create a title that tells about your thesis or examples in a few words.
Conclusion transitions to show an ending or to summarize your essay: In conclusion, To conclude, In summary, To summarize, To sum up, In short, In brief, On the whole, As I have stated, As you can see, Therefore, Finally, In the end,
Advise me! Help me! Challenge me!
- Write a conclusion that suggests, tells, or compels your reader to do something after they have read your essay. Writing this conclusion in the form of a question may be very effective to get your reader to take action.
- Create a title that works well with what your conclusion is telling the reader to do.
Teach me! Change my mind!
- Write a conclusion that suggests, tells, or compels your reader to think or think about something after they have read your essay. Open your reader’s mind, change their beliefs, and/or make them believe something new. You must effectively convey why your topic should be as important to your reader as it is to you. Writing this conclusion in the form of a question may be very effective to get your reader to think.
- Create a title that works well with what your conclusion is telling the reader to think.
Change my attitude! Make me care!
- Write a conclusion that suggests, tells, or compels your reader to feel a certain emotion after they have read your essay. Writing this conclusion in the form of a question may be very effective to get your reader to feel and respond.
- Create a title that works well with what your conclusion is telling the reader to feel.
Continue to interest me! Excite me! Inspire me!
- Write a conclusion that tells your reader something interesting that you have not already said in your essay. You may want to shock or amaze your reader with a new fact or opinion. You may want to make your reader wonder about or want to know more about your topic. Writing this conclusion using a quotation or by making a prediction about your topic may be very effective.
- Create a title that works well with the new and interesting/amazing fact, opinion, or prediction that your conclusion offered your reader.
Make me laugh or smile! Cheer me up!
Give me hope!
- Write a conclusion that is funny, makes a small joke, or leaves your reader in a good or hopeful mood after reading your essay. Even though your topic may be very serious or grim, you may still want to leave your reader with hope or a way to look on the bright side.
- Create a title that works well with your humorous or hopeful conclusion.
Using Mentor Texts with this Activity
Teachers can initially model this activity by identifying and showing their students mentor texts that contain a clear conclusion. However, remove the author’s title and entire conclusion from the mentor text before you present it to the students. Now you can have the entire class come to consensus and complete the conclusions and titles brainstorming activity for this mentor text. This modeling can be done together as a whole class and as one very large collaborative group.
You can also reinforce this skill by having small groups, partners, or individuals create amazing titles and conclusions for other mentor texts and then share their best, fully developed ideas with the class. If you like, the class can vote on the ones they like best.
Of course, with all these possible groupings, the big payoff comes when you finally reveal the author’s original title and conclusion. With practice, do not be surprised when your students write titles and conclusions that stand toe to toe with those of the author—and in some cases, that surpass what the author wrote!
There is built-in engagement and investment is these activities as the students strive to outdo their classmates and the author. In addition, they are learning a valuable lesson: Even when the class is assigned the same writing topic or task, there are multiple avenues each writer can take. There are also equally valid and compelling ways to approach a common topic that allow for multiple outlooks and insights, creativity and conclusion.
Another way you could reinforce this skill is to work backwards. Provide students with an unaltered mentor text and have the students try to match the type of conclusion the author wrote with those of this exercise. If they decide that the author’s conclusion is a whole new category, you can have them add that to their brainstorming possibilities. (I would love to hear of more conclusion ideas, so please share!)
Modeling: Seeing this Activity in Action
In my ongoing effort to walk my talk—done to ensure my credibility as much as it is done out of sheer necessity— I will now model the Creating Conclusions and Titles Brainstorming Activity for you using this blog post as an example. Here are the six sets of potential conclusions followed by their companion titles that this exercise inspired for this blog post:
1. Remind me! Tell me again!
As you can see, my Creating Conclusions and Titles Brainstorming Activity is an effective way of differentiating your writing instruction that meets the varying needs of your students so they all can express their ideas articulately and engagingly.
- Title: Engineering Articulate and Engaging Essay Endings and Appellations
2. Advise me! Help me! Challenge me!
In order to take your students’ writing to the next level, I encourage you to use this fascinating strategy with your students. They will enjoy analyzing and augmenting mentor texts and will feel more confident in bringing their own essays to a gratifying close. Try it with your students, and let me know how it helped or how you made it work even better!
- Title: Bright Beginnings and Happy Endings
3. Teach me! Change my mind!
Providing students with structures and strategies to improve their writing is the intentional, scaffolded instructional approach from which all kids can benefit. We do our students a disservice when we expect them to fly too soon without the proper preparation and tools. Breaking down and chunking that what has been previously challenging for your students is the writing facilitator’s job. This conclusions and titles exercise is an example of such facilitation, and whichever path you choose, you must provide your students with a strong writing foundation.
Have confidence that kids will not hesitate to tell you when they no longer need to depend on certain strategies—and some will simply forge ahead and spread their wings without a word of warning or request for permission! It is not that any of them do not still need your guidance, support, and feedback, it is that they now need their teacher on a progressively more complex and profound level.
As true facilitators, we must not hesitate to provide our students with a solid foundation in all areas, especially in writing. Only then can they increasingly move forward and impress us, as well as themselves, along the way with their burgeoning independence and achievement!
- Title: The Structure of Style
4. Change my attitude! Make me care! Move me!
Other subjects are not called science arts, math arts, or history arts; only English Language Arts enjoys that honor and responsibility. In what significant ways do you consider yourself an arts instructor? How might you and you students find increased joy, meaning, and purpose with a dedicated emphasis on what is artistic and creative about writing?
- Title: Language Arts Writing Instruction
5. Continue to interest me! Excite me! Inspire me!
How do writers distinguish themselves? Why bother to write at all if you are only rehashing what countless others have said before you?
The answer, of course, is to find and refine your voice so that what you write becomes uniquely you. I struggled with this while writing my first book for teachers. What do I, an ordinary classroom teacher, have to add to the discussion? I had to overcome my self-doubt in order to confidently convey what inside of me was desperately waiting to be expressed .
This issue of confidence cannot be overstated. All writers, especially students, need to learn to write with an authority and assurance that allows their ideas to flow and that draws their reader in. Through the combination of my encouragement and guidance, my students begin to accept that their words have power and that their insights have merit.
Some may not know or understand everything yet, but my students certainly have valid opinions and ideas about some important issues that they must share with the world. Only then do they become brave enough to say what they really think and feel. Suddenly, their writing shines and captivates! Suddenly, their writing efficacy feeds their overall self-confidence!
- Title: Giving Students Voice
6. Make me laugh or smile! Cheer me up!
Give me hope!
It is especially intimidating to write for other educators and writers. I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder and second-guessing my every literary choice. Yet teachers who are also writers are wonderfully empathetic to their student’s writing hesitations and struggles. They provide their students with the kinds of feedback, encouragement, and strategies that they know work because they have found those things valuable and essential for themselves.
I knew this was a proven, effective strategy for my students, but when I came up with the idea to self-model this activity for this article I wondered if it would suddenly fall short in a professional setting. As I am writing this, I am happily astonished to find that it is indeed a powerful tool for all writers, young and old!
Can you see that many of my conclusion ideas could be incorporated into this blog post and only enhance my message and meaning? Which one of my conclusions and titles do you like best?
- Title: Save the Best for Last
What are other categories you would add to these twelve that would further inspire writers to think expansively or deeply? Please add your suggestions in the comments section below and continue the conversation!
For more on a whole-child approach to teaching, check out Robert Ward’s The Firm, Fair, Fascinating Facilitator: Inspire your Students, Engage your Class, Transform your Teaching published by Rowman & Littlefield.
Read more about Robert’s books for educators here.