Lesson Plan: Creating the Perfect Title
It’s bad enough we have to read the inane, ungrammatical ramblings of adolescents, but couldn’t they at least come up with a catchy title? I vowed one February afternoon, after grading 327 essays with the same 6 titles–“My Essay,” “Persuasive Essay,” “My Persuasive Essay,” Essay Assignment,” “Persuasive Essay Assignment,” and “My Persuasive Essay Assignment”–that I would answer the unasked question: “How do I write an effective title for my essay?”. This is what I came up with.
ELA Common Core Standards
Teaching how to create the perfect title satisfies the following common core standards. If you’re not a teacher, skip this section.
- W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)
- L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
- L.9-10.5b Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.
Getting Started with a Good Title
A good title can make your writing more attractive to an informationally overwhelmed public. This simple lesson helps students create articles, essays, and papers that capture the readers’ attention and give an overview of the topic.
- Write on the board the same 6 titles that appeared in all 327 student essays.
- Ask which of those titles would make them want to read the essay.
- When they answer “none of them,” Yell, as loud as you possibly can, “Then what makes you think I want to read them?”
- Fake a seizure.
Here’s an alternative, not as effective, but less likely to bring about a lawsuit.
I actually created a Powerpoint for this lesson. I’m in a sharing mood: My Powerpoint Deserves a Better Title
- Write the following question on the board: “How do you decide whether or not to read a book, article, poem, or story?”
- Write answers on the board. Title, length, and subject matter are the three most common responses.
- Discuss: An effective title must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- It should accurately predict the contents or focus (main idea) of the piece.
- It should set limits on the topic.
- It should communicate the dominant impression the writer wants his or her essay to make.
- It should grab the readers’ attention.
Here’s an example.
Title of Speech: “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr
The speech’s title accurately predicts Dr. King’s vision for the United States.
- The speech’s title limits itself to Dr. King’s dream. Because the audience would have been familiar with King, there is no need in his speech to give any background information whatsoever.
- The dominant impression is King’s dream. Even if you don’t remember the details involving metaphors about money and allusions to seminal U.S. documents, you certainly are familiar with his dream of racial equality.
- The title successfully grabs the listener’s attention.
I’ll give Martin Luther King’s title an ‘A’.
Creating a Title Lesson Plan Procedures
- Instruct students to fold a slice of paper in half.
- On one half, brainstorm a list of possible titles using the aforementioned criteria. Warn students that “My Essay” will cause the paper to burst into flames and result in an automatic ‘F’.
- Write the criteria used next to each title.
- Instruct students to narrow their list to no more than three. Remind them once again that “English Essay” will cause a hailstorm to pelt their house and result in an automatic ‘F’.
- Once they’ve narrowed their potential titles, give them some more title suggestions:
- Use wordplay that sets up a contrast: Good Times for Me; Bad Times for You.
- Use words in an unexpected way: I’m a Frayed Knot: Lessons on Bullying from a Messy-Haired Shoe String
- Use alliteration: Fewer Fried Foods For Franklin High School
- Use a phrase or an oft repeated word that captures the essence of the essay: My Essay Deserves a Better Title
- Remind them if they use “Writing Assignment,” they will be forced to eat 29 hotdogs from the school cafeteria and will receive an ‘F’.
- Avoid the following:
- A question: Why do Some People Still Use Questions as Titles After I Tell Them Not to?
- Titles with an article followed by a noun or verb: The Essay, A Teacher, The Bus
- Instruct Students to choose their new title. Remind them that if they choose “My Essay,” a comet will strike their desk and result in an automatic ‘F’.
- Engage students in a title challenge.
Focus Your Writing Lesson Plans
Focus makes writing clear and coherent.