Top Ten Starters for Reading and Writing


A strong engaging starter involves three things: preparation, interest and purpose. A good starter will set the tone for your lesson and allow for a positive transition towards more challenging work.

Here are my top ten starter activities with specific purposes:

Reading Skills

#1 Analysis

Place key words from the text on students’ desks. They must first share connotations, associations and then interpretations: Think, Link and Magnify. The words can be themes from the text, a quotation or a context word.

#2 Plot

Write a summary of the text and cut it into sections. Distribute these around the classroom. Students must work against the clock to put the events in the correct order.

#3 Imagery

Display a series of images and symbols linked to the studied text. Students must explain how the image is linked to the text. They then nominate another student and this continues until ideas have run out! For example, for Atonement, a lock and key may represent: love for a character is unlocked, loss of virginity, a key to high society, secrets, something forbidden or being locked in the past.

#4 Context

Display a quotation (either on the board, on A3 for a pair or group). Direct students towards particular key words. Students are then given key facts or information about the context of the text. They must ‘explode’ their quotations to show the links between the two, effectively building the bridges between the text and the context.

#5 Key Words

Students need to be seated in rows. The first in each row is given a slip of paper with a key word – it should be an adjective to describe a character or setting. They must write down a synonym and pass it back; the next student writes another synonym (for the second word) and so on. This is best done as a competition. The winning team passes the paper back down the row the quickest – make sure to check their words are correct! A word bank is then built on the board for all to share. For example, you may use the word “violent” for Macbeth…

 Writing Skills

 #6 Similes

Display a key word on the board. Draw a circle around the word to fill in with the most obvious things it may be compared to. For example: the night sky – shadows, diamonds, the sea. Then, draw another circle and fill with more abstract ideas: a blanket, smoke, hatred, evil, secrets, eagle’s wings, witches’ magic etc. Provide a starting sentence, but this should not simply be, “The night sky was like…”; encourage students to begin with what they wish to compare it to: “Like the wings of a great eagle, the night sky enveloped us as we walked.”

#7 Varied Sentences

Students write down their phone numbers at the top of their page and cross out the zeros. Display a theme on the board, for example ‘Summer’ or ‘Lost’. Students must write a short description, but their sentences must have the same number of words shown in the phone numbers. Like this: 07105662673 – The sun’s rays were relentless and powerful. Hell. The evil heat punished me.

 #8 Creating Imagery

Print out a series of pictures on A4 and cut them into sections of four. Hand these out to pairs. Students must write down as many words as the can to describe their section of the picture. Display the complete picture and use feedback from each pair to model a description on the board.

#9 Purpose, Audience and Form

Dot a series of different texts around the room – cook books, newspapers, magazines, novels etc. Students have five minutes to walk around the room and note down the Purpose, Audience and Form of each text. Ensure you give them a list of these first so they do not come up with their own: explain, inform, advise, argue, persuade, entertain and describe are the key ones to go for.

#10 Form

In pairs students are each given ten or so post its. They are given four-five different forms: letter, article, blog, short story on the board. In timed conditions, they must write down as many features for each they can think of and stick the on the board. Using different coloured pens makes it easy to see who the most successful pair are!

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