What’s in a title? That was the question I put to my Year 6 class last week at the end of a three-week unit on creative writing, which had ended in them writing a story based on the theme of ‘Home’ for a competition.
We’d put a lot of work into playing with language and ideas, worked on planning and redrafting. All of them had written stories that were variously amusing, entertaining or tragic and there was a positive feeling from the class about the results.
However, there was just one thing wrong; all the stories were titled ‘Home’.
Of course they were – one of the things child writers rarely pay attention to (and many adult writers as well) is titles. It seems like such a trivial thing, an afterthought. Something that can be added on at the end, if there’s time.
So I decided to run a lesson on titles. Ok, not just because it would help them develop their writing but also because I was being observed by a colleague and wanted something neat and discrete to teach.
In planning this lesson I had 3 objectives:
- get them thinking about titles which link/reflect/add depth to stories
- allow them to share their knowledge and ideas
- everyone to generate a better title for their story (not hard).
The heart of the lesson would focus on them examining some famous titles and reflecting on why they had been chosen. All I had so far was an article I had read a few years ago about famous books which had had different working titles. A lot of Yahooing later (no Google in China without a VPN) I came up with a worksheet. Like Catch 22 was originally going to be called ‘Catch 11’ or ‘Catch 18’. Interesting, even if they hadn’t heard of the novel (they hadn’t).
There was a problem though – I was spending more time on planning than the students would in the lesson. Alarm bells were ringing in my teacher brain. If this lesson took me ages to plan and caused me to put other work (marking!) aside, what use was it to my colleague?
So I stopped planning, did some marking & went home.
The morning of the observation, I still had only half a lesson. How to complete it? I wanted to put more onus on the students to do thinking. I also needed to create some space in the lesson for me to talk for about 10-20 minutes. By chance, I had an old Kagen book in my classroom. I had a quick scan and picked out two structures: ‘stand up, hands up’ (sometimes called ‘sticky high five’) and ’round robin’.* These two would book-end the lesson as starter and plenary and with this the lesson fell into place:
Starter: Ask class, “how many book titles can you name?” Use ‘stand up, hands up’ to share titles then 2 min to write them all down on individual whiteboards.
Introduction: go through titles they have come up with. Questioning:
- Do you like the title?
- Does the title reflect what happens in the book?
- Does/did it make you want to read on?
- Can you think of an alternative title?
Drawing out lots of discussion about why the title may have been chosen.
Segue into the famous titles before and after. More chat, especially now can look at things like choice of article. E.g. definite article are more common for titles – ask class why. Can use as an opportunity to drop some cool grammar words in there. Also a chance to talk to the whole class about why titles are important.
The pièce de résistance. ‘Round robin’ (carousel) all their stories & their cleaned whiteboards on group tables. They read each other’s stories & write suggested titles on the whiteboards. As we were running short on time, I set a stopwatch & beeper for this. If there had been more time, we would have spent longer discussing the ideas in groups. As it was, I got them to scribble down the suggested titles and they had to come back the next day with a finished title on their work.
The results? Amazing. We ended up with 21 stories all with different, engaging titles. Some of my favourites speak for themselves almost independently of the stories. In all cases, they made you want to read on. And, of course, every single one was better than the dullity of ‘Home’!
- Story of Riley
- Machine House
- The Boy Noticing How To Be Nice
- The Drowned Spirit World
- Falling into the Book
Feel free to steal this lesson. Message me if you want any of the materials or details about Kagen etc. I’m on a break for Chinese New Year so Happy Year of the Rooster!
*If you are unfamiliar with Kagen, I’d highly recommend checking it out. The structures can be incredibly effective in developing specific group work. Ignore the stuff in the book about learning styles, which is now outdated and generally discredited.