How do I Write an Effective Title for my Essay? A Lesson Plan to Teach Students

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.

Getting Started

  • 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?"
  • Discuss.
  • 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.

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.

This post is part of the series: Lesson Plans: Fine Tune Your Writing Focus

Writing that lacks focus confuses readers. Student writing lacks focus because they rarely have a purpose, do not know how to make a point, and write to an imaginary, non-existent audience. End their pointless meanderings with these simple lesson plans.
  1. Lesson Plan: Determining Audience and Purpose
  2. Teaching Students to Maintain a Personal Voice in Writing
  3. A Lesson Plan on Using Tone Effectively
  4. A Lesson Plan in Creating the Perfect Title