The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

A Writing Lesson---Treasure Chest of First Lines

           Too often, writers are stumped...How to begin a poem or a story?  What inspirational line will catapult them into letting loose a flood of words onto the page?  When will the first line get put down on paper, after hours of sweating blood?

          This activity requires a great deal of frontloading, but if you're careful, you can reuse it year after year.  It works with everyone from elementary students to graduate students.

         Accumulate piles of poetry books. Look for intriguing first lines.  (Lines in the middle or at the end of poems work well, too.)  Type them up, double-spacing between the lines.  You should have 50-60 at least.  It helps to have one set of the lines for each small group (4-6 writers in each group).

        Cut them into strips, so each first line is a separate strip. (This is the part that is a pain in the neck!) You may put them into a treasure chest (a gold box) with gold Mardi Gras beads dripping out of the box.

          The writers open up the box, and spread out the lines, looking for one (or more) that "speaks" to them.  They will then use this line to begin a story or poem that is original and is their own...

           We work with a group of young writers every summer.  Every year, we think the students are sick of this activity, but each year, they clamor and beg to do it again...It never gets old, because if you work with the same writers, you create a new set of first lines every year.

         Note:  It helps to have lines that vary in tone.  Some dark and morose, some light and whimsical, some very concrete and some way out there.  The lines can also be taped to the walls--all spread out and scattered--instead of in treasure chests.  In this way, the students can "hunt" for first lines.