What’s in a 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.
- 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.
- Write the following question on the board: "How do you decide whether or not to read a book, article, poem, or story?"
- Write their 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.
- 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.
This post is part of the series: Lesson Plans: Fine Tune Your Writing Focus
- Lesson Plan: Determining Audience and Purpose
- Teaching Students to Maintain a Personal Voice in Writing
- A Lesson Plan on Using Tone Effectively
- A Lesson Plan in Creating the Perfect Title