Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Thanks to a former student of mine who I saw this morning while refueling my car, I have learned a new word.

Clickbait, apparently, is when you have a status on Facebook that is inflammatory (guilty as charged with my previous post where I used a quote from Gary Paulson) to get people to click on your link, which, in this case, took you to my previous post which was a playful jab at the MN dentist who killed a popular lion on safari.

The more I think about this term, clickbait, the more I realize I have to use this in my composition classes next year.

There are many things in the world of education that I am passionate about:

1.  Helping students find their elements.

2.  Helping students realize that failure is essential.

3.  Trying to show students that not all literature is boring nor impenetrable.

4.  Declaring war on boring slideshows and Powerpoints.

5.  Using social media and smart phones to engage students.

6.  Showing students that the five paragraph theme is a write-by-the-numbers shallow way of writing.

7.  Declaring all out war on generic leads.

This last one is where 'clickbait' applies.

I want my students to make the leads to their essays 'clickbait' worthy.

That is, I never ever ever ever ever want to read anything resembling these -

There are many problems in the world today, one of which is toxic waste.  (Whenever I read one of these, I always state that another major problem is boring, unoriginal leads to research papers).

I am going to write about the time I shot my first buck.  (Whenever I read one of these, I always state how I know that they're writing about this because well, they are writing about it, and I assigned the topic!  So they don't need to tell me what they are actually going to write about).

Summer is my favorite time of year. (I simply scribble - "Then show me" next to this one).

The game was intense.  (Again, "Then show me.")

In the beginning . . . (Just kidding about that one!)

These are all terrible ways to begin essays (except my last example from Genesis 1:1).  Just think about your favorite movie.  Peter Jackson doesn't begin his Lord of the Rings trilogy by stating "this is going to be a very long movie about a ring and two hobbits who spend the whole three films walking toward a volcano to destroy it."

No.  He has a brief intro showing how the ring was created to enslave the folk of Middle Earth and then he cuts to an epic battle scene.

Steven Spielberg doesn't begin his epic, Saving Private Ryan, by stating "Our great nation has experienced many wars, but what the Allies were able to do at Omaha beach was one of the greatest challenges in our history."  No!  Spielberg actually begins the movie at the end of the movie, with an elderly private Ryan visiting the graves of some of the soldiers who died saving him.  Then it flashes back to horrors of the invasion.

We are intrigued by the juxtaposition from the old man visiting the graves to the young man about to have the most grueling day of his entire life.

There are actually many ways to begin an essay in an engaging fashion -

A snapshot lead (where you paint a picture for the reader) - The sun painted the horizon in broad strokes of pink, yellow, and red.

Dialogue (two of my favorite examples from last year - "Excuse me, sir, but can you help me find the rest of my finger?"  and "Bitch, get your hands off my Louis Vuitton purse."

Set up lead (set the action up in a few short words) - That was my house the flames were roaring through.

Shocking lead (shock the reader with a statement) - Lon has to be the only kid in the history of St. Joseph's to get his ass whooped by a nun.

Action lead (begin at the most intense moment of the narrative) - I closed my eyes and then lead with my right hand, fist clenched, as hard as my 130 pounds would let me.

Thinking lead (show us what is going on in your mind) - I knew I had to score on fourth and goal no matter how many linebackers they blitzed.

Misleading lead (set the readers up expecting one thing and give them something else) - one of my favorite past examples was an essay a UND student read about her farm.  After a few lines it became apparent she was just a child playing with her Fisher Price farm set (you know the one with the barn that opened and had an automatic moooooo).

Question lead (just ask your readers a question) - Ever think you were totally going to get away with something only to get caught red handed?  (cone on, who wouldn't want to read that essay).

Quotation lead (use a quote to engage or intrigue the reader) - "No adult male should enjoy hunting" or "The worst punishment is getting away with it."

Any of those are superior to "I am going to write about . . ."

So come fall I am going to tell my comp students if the lead doesn't make me want to click on it and read more if it were a FB post, I don't want it turned in.  It must be "clickbait worthy!"

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