June 11, 2009 / Write Away

Style matters

Written by Donna Skates

One of the most useful tools in the yearbook room is the lead notebook. At the beginning of each year, I make a standing assignment of 10 “knock your socks off” leads per week from each writer. They must cut these out of newspapers or magazines and glue them onto a piece of notebook paper. I give the students credit each week for the 10 leads by just glancing at the papers; then I put them in the big red lead notebook that everyone uses. Periodically, I grade them carefully, just to let them know I am serious. And only the sheets with 10 outstanding leads receive an A.

A good idea would be to have the writers take their two favorite leads and write leads for articles that could appear in the yearbook, using the same style. I do that at the beginning of the year, but I usually become too busy to keep up with it. Here are a couple of entries from notebooks:

Original
Congratulations! You’ve made a name for yourself in business. Your work is recognized. You’ve been invited to sit on other organization boards.

Student Rewrite
Congratulations! You’ve made a name for yourself in this school. Your work is appreciated. You’ve been invited to sit on the principal’s council.

Original
In the novel, she had a bit part. A mere two chapters. But somehow, Lady Chablis stole the show.

Student Rewrite
In the fall play, he had a bit part. A mere two lines. But somehow, Jake Tomblin stole the show.

Another good idea would be to have students read each other’s leads and explain which they like best and why.

I like the lead notebook because it keeps the writers constantly thinking about writing style, and it is really helpful when those terrible leads appear on story after story. I simply tell students that they need a better lead, and when they do not come up with one or when they start to whine after the copy editor and I have rejected the third or fourth attempt, I head them toward the lead notebook.

It has never failed yet.

Donna Skates