Great Writing Begins with a Sizzling Start
We're excited you've joined our Sizzling Starts Series. We can't wait to get you started on your journey to transform your students' writing. Here you'll find lots of resources - including a training video, activities and writing samples - to help you in the classroom.
What are the Seven Steps?
Think of the Seven Steps as the building blocks to great writing. Isolating writing skills into individual steps ensures students don’t get ‘bogged down’ with writing a whole story, recount or persuasive text. Students gain confidence in each building block, then take the next Step and the next. Finally, they pull it all together to become creative and engaging writers.
Designed by an author, the Seven Steps program breaks down writing into seven core techniques that can be taught in less than 20 minutes a day. Importantly, you create a vibrant writing classroom and your students’ writing results can quickly improve!
In the Sizzling Starts Series below, we’ve shared with you all you need to know about the simplest, easiest and most fun of the Seven Steps – Step 2: Sizzling Starts.
This is the perfect complement to the giveaway you received at the conference!
Table of Contents
Learn the Theory: Step 2: Sizzling Starts in Narratives
Let’s get started with the theory behind Step 2: Sizzling Starts. This 5-minute video, taken directly from our online membership site Seven Steps Online, identifies some of the critical concepts required to create dynamic and engaging story starts. Jen, ex-author and creator of the Seven Steps, introduces you to the ‘Moment of Change’ and shares some examples that clearly illustrate the concept in action.
You can see how a Sizzling Start is vital to engage the reader. In books and movies, writers use the opening scene to capture their reader’s attention and in the classroom, these same principles apply. By starting at the ‘Moment of Change’, you can skip the nullable plain of writing most students start with and jump straight into the action.
Before and After – Sizzling Starts Samples
Demonstrate the power of a Sizzling Start with these exemplars for the three text types:
The Cranky Tooth Fairy
Once there was a Tooth Fairy with a bad temper. She always went out and …
‘Whaaaaat… Is that the fairy?’ the little kid in the bed muttered.
‘No!’ said the Tooth Fairy. ‘Be quiet. And keep your eyes shut or you’ll get no money for your tooth.’ It was her 104th visit for the night and her wings hurt and she was definitely over eager little kids.
Left handed people
Over 10% of the population are left handed. However, most of the tools in our society are set up for right-handed people.
Are you a right-hander? Take this test.
For one day, open every door – the car, classroom, house doors – with your left hand. See how the door swings the ‘wrong’ way? Tomorrow try cutting paper, using a computer mouse, or reaching across the steering wheel of your car to put the keys in the ignition. Awkward, right? That’s the world for 10% of us – the left-handers.
Do ghosts exist?
I think ghosts do exist. Once my family were staying in a hotel room and it felt really creepy…
Do ghosts exist? I’d never even thought about it until the night we stayed in the Glendowne Hotel. It had a swimming pool and a large screen TV – and a cold, cold feeling that seeped into you every time you walked into the room. We cranked the heater up to full, but no hope there. It was only later we found out the mayor of Glendowne had been murdered in the room just two weeks before…
Looks great in theory right? But how do you get your students to write like this?
Next, we’re going to give you an Action Activity to start transforming your students’ writing from fizzling starts to Sizzling Starts in as little as 20 minutes a day.
Action Activity: 5-Minute Fast Starts
Now that you know how to explain the Sizzling Starts theory, let’s jump into our most popular Action Activity – ‘The 5 Minute Fast Starts’.
This is one of the best ways to get your students on board and writing lots!
- Read out one of the topics below and give students 1 minute to write a Sizzling Start.
- As soon as the minute is up, read out another topic and start the next minute.
- After 5 minutes, each student should have 5 different Sizzling Starts.
- Get them to share their favourite in groups of 3–4. This will help them generate more ideas, develop concepts and learn from each other.
- Don’t ask them to share all of the Sizzling Starts they’ve written, or share with the entire class. The idea is to practise, practise, practise. Reading everything out doesn’t give them the opportunity to make mistakes, play around with ideas or try new things that don’t work. Reading to the entire class can also be daunting for student and very time-consuming for you.
- Run this every day for an entire week to solidify it into muscle memory. Good luck!
- A day at the beach
- A dance
- Lunchtime fun
- Learning to ride a bike
- Playing with a pet
- An interesting animal
- Lunchtime game rules
- Something blue
- How to walk
- Where to find fruit
- What makes a good friend?
- What makes a better pet – cats or dogs?
- Everyone should learn to…
- Why my mum and dad are the greatest
- Lunchtime is too short
- Almost getting caught
- It’s not fair
- My Grandparents…
- A holiday that…
- A fight with my parents
- Ordering at a restaurant
- How to dance
- A theme park
- Importance of washing your hands
- Weekends should be longer
- Why I should get more pocket money
- Should parents always tell the truth to their children
- Mornings are better than evenings
- If only I had (listened/done)…
- My annoying habit I want to change
- A time I got in trouble
- The thing I fear most
- I learn best when
- A haunting dream
- The best form of government
- Cause and effects of air pollution
- How your belongings are organised in your room
- Electric cars
- Why we work
- The biggest problem in education/our school is…
- An extra right, kids should have
- Our government needs to…
- Are rules always right?
- I am now old enough to…
Next, discover how you can build on this Action Activity and develop students’ Sizzling Starts even further.
Sizzling Starts and NAPLAN
Sizzling Starts are the most effective way to engage the audience and the quickest way to improve students’ writing results.
This extract from the ‘Simple Guide to Improving NAPLAN Data’ is a great starting point when preparing students for the NAPLAN Writing Test. The complete guide is available on Seven Steps Online.
Top Sizzling Starts Styles
We hope you’ve enjoyed running the 5-Minute Fast Starts in your classroom. Let’s build on this and explore a few different types of Sizzling Starts.
Below are some of the favourite (and easiest) ways to create a Sizzling Start. There’s also loads of examples to help showcase them with your students.
After you run through these examples, download and run the ‘Discovering Different Styles’ Action Activity below. You can use the Activity in class or give it to your students for homework (trust me they’ll love it – it includes watching TV).
Begin with Action
Five, four, three, two, ONE! The cameras were rolling and I was about to eat a cockroach.
Where are the Billabongs
‘Well you were the one who forgot the can opener.’
‘I said I was sorry, didn’t I? How many more times do I have to say it? Sorry. Sorry. Sorry!’
(Jen’s second novel from long ago, about five multicultural kids lost in the bush and how they have to meld together as a group to survive.)
Angry Birds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0ITf-Oi9eU
How to Train your Dragon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTcQGzUfXE8
Make the reader curious
The beach house was great, but then my cousins arrived with the bacon, the bricks and wearing their usual beanies.
You try delivering a rat to the presenter of TV’s biggest news program. I took a deep breath, marched across half a hectare of chrome and carpet and placed the brightly wrapped box right in the middle of the receptionist’s desk.
(The sequel to Dreamcatcher where Tess and her Green Guerrilla gang fight to stop a toxic paper mill being built in their town.)
The Pirates of the Caribbean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvdrCPr3gDQ
‘It’s just a rat,’ I said, breathing hard.
‘Rats don’t growl,’ said Mike.
The Frogs of Betts
“Professor Betts, Professor Betts!” Marchella, the new young assistant called. “The frogs have arrived!”
(A story about a crazy scientist who hopes to prove the last remaining mystery of the world…)
Batman Lego Movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzNAyZw7DF0
Ever cheered for your footy team with a pie in one hand and a drink in the other? Don’t. When that final goal happened, I wore both.
If it rained for very much longer, even the ducks would drown.
(A girl who can read your thoughts through the ends of your hair… she is soon running a ‘life advice’ hairdresser shop in school.)
How to Train your Dragon 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et5yP6WRC8s
‘The Moment of Change’
All was going well on the hike until the heat wave happened. I was hot and sweaty and dying for a swim. Then I saw the river. And the sign: Warning! Crocodiles.
My dad’s allergic to me. No joke. Well no one in our house is laughing, that’s for sure.
(A heart-warming story about a father who gets massive hay fever attacks every time his son walks into the room.)
Finding Nemo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG3L98NFyro
Remember, Sizzling Starts can incorporate different Seven Steps concepts. As such, students will get better each and every week as they learn more and more about each step. Run a Sizzling Starts Action Activity every Friday to continuously develop students’ ability to engage the reader.
‘I love the fact that I can go back to any of the teaching videos and watch again. The support materials are also very useful and practical. You run with them straight away.’ – Sandy Tyndall, Senior Teacher, Yorkeys Knob SS
Action Activity: Sizzling Starts Styles
Now that your students have explored how texts use different styles to begin, it’s time to put it into practise. This Action Activity is designed to develop many different styles of writing and can be used for ANY text type.
- Choose one of the topics on the card, download or below.
- Give students 1 minute to write a Sizzling Start for the Sizzling Starts Style ‘Action’.
- As soon as the minute is up, give students 1 minute to write a Sizzling Start for the next Style ‘Intrigue’ using the same topic.
- Continue until students have written Sizzling Starts on the same topic for ‘Dialogue’, ‘Humour’ and ‘Moment of Change’.
- After 5 minutes, each student should have a Sizzling Start for each style. Ask them to share their favourite in groups.
Download the ‘Sizzling Starts Styles’ Action Activity below.
A typical school day
How to build a sand castle
Blue is the best colour
My secret talent
How to win a fight with mum/dad
School days should start later
Rules of texting
Aliens do exist
Did one of your students come up with an amazing Sizzling Start in the 5 Styles in 5 Minutes Action Activity? Why not share it on our Facebook page so they can be rewarded with feedback from other teachers. There, you can access lots of great ideas, activities and inspiration from your fellow teachers!
Top 5 Tips to Writing Incredible Sizzling Starts
Here are the 5 Top Tips on writing Sizzling Starts from author and Seven Steps creator, Jen McVeity.
Top Tip #1
Remember, the task of the first paragraph is to make the reader want to read the SECOND paragraph. And then the third, fourth and fifth etc. Keeping this in mind helps the writer focus on making a start ‘Sizzle’!
Top Tip #2
Start with a Sizzling Start and then backfill the who, what, when, where and why as the action unfolds. In other words, start at the ‘moment of change’.
Here’s a great example: Monsters Inc. – Mike’s New Car
Note that the scene doesn’t start at the start of the day when Mike jumps out of bed and is super excited to be picking up his new car. Instead, by beginning when he’s showing it to his best friend, there’s heaps of time to develop the multitude of problems that come next.
Top Tip #3
Creative writing is about ideas, exploration and discovery. After writing, students should share their favourites with a small group (2-5 students). This allows them to:
- Analyse their own work, to decipher which one(s) they like the best
- Receive feedback from others on how well they’ve done
- Explore other concepts and ideas through listening to fellow students’ work
- Practise their critical thinking and editing skills (and saves you time!)
Top Tip #4
Use small groups and gameshow-style activities to create a sense of rivalry and excitement whilst also engaging students. They love it! Verbal is a vital part of the curriculum, don’t overlook it.
Top Tip #5
Sizzling Starts can incorporate many of the other techniques from the Seven Steps as well. That’s the wonderful versatility of writing to engage the reader. Sizzling Starts can use tension (Step 3), dialogue (Step 4) or visual imagery (Step 5) to enhance their impact. Attend a Seven Steps Workshop to unlock all of the Seven Steps and over 30 Action Activities!
So there you have it, 5 great tips to help you teach your students how to write amazing Sizzling Starts.
While Sizzling Starts is one key aspect of great writing, all Seven Steps combined will unlock real improvement and transform your students’ writing. Attend a Seven Steps Workshop to unlock the Seven Steps and learn the theory, try the activities and head back to your classroom with over 30 turbo-charged Action Activities.
We’ve included a BONUS Action Activity below. Using different types of media (this activity uses photo prompts) helps show students that they can get inspiration from a myriad of sources!
5-Minute Photo Fast Starts
Let’s switch up the inspiration for your students in this final activity – run the 5-Minute Fast Start Action Activity using photos as story prompts rather than text. This will help your students develop strength in idea generation, and improve their Sizzling Starts. And, don’t forget, many students are visual learners and will connect better with receiving prompts this way.
You can even get students to run the Action Activity themselves. This ties in with the National Curriculum which strongly emphasises verbal scaffolding and interaction.
Form students into teams of 3-5.
Every team is responsible for running the Five-Minute Five-Photo Challenge for the day, which means they have to:
- Source photos to show to the class.
- Decide on the final five.
- Run the Photo Sizzling Starts activity for the day.
- Once everyone has written their Sizzling Starts, put students in teams to share what they’ve written and nominate the best Sizzling Start for each photo.
- The team in charge can run a class ‘competition’ to see which team has the best Sizzling Start for each photo.
- Finally, inspire synergy between classrooms by having students Tweet or post their winning entries on your intranet.
To help you get started with the activity here’s a collection of over 40 Sizzling Starts photo prompts you can use in your classroom.
Only the Beginning
There you have it. Sizzling Starts that are exciting and fun for your students to write, share and listen to – and are quick and easy for you to teach, mark and give specific, practical feedback that students can implement in minutes. And they can make a significant difference.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning how quickly you can improve students’ writing. But don’t stop there! Step 2: Sizzling Starts is only the beginning of the transformation. Master the other steps to radically improve your students’ writing and give them the tools to create stories you want to read!
Transform even more of your writing lessons into fun, engaging and collaborative classes! Attend a Seven Steps Workshop today, and take home the key concepts of all of the Seven Steps with over 25 Action Activities that make writing fun!
Inspire Great Writing
The Writing Workshop for Teachers
Discover the Seven Steps that transform words on a page into convincing arguments, informative texts or imaginative worlds. Learn what makes writing great, what NAPLAN is looking for and how to teach it. In the process, you’ll discover every students’ true potential by taking the complexity out of writing, unlock their curiosity allowing them to become active learners, listeners and sharers and finally create your dream classroom filled with students begging you to let them write.