Writing Mini-Lessons: Good Titles

There is an old adage that states you only have one chance to make a first impression. A title may seem to be the smallest conceivable part of a piece of writing, and readers often ignore the title or forget about it, especially if it is not effective, but it is a reader’s first impression of a written piece. A good title is memorable. It prepares the reader for the journey ahead, enticing the reader and opening a door into the world of the piece. Choosing a title for a piece should never be an afterthought, but rather should be a deliberate creative choice that enhances the overall piece. The best titles are not labels or descriptions, but rather attract a reader’s attention and even create an air of intrigue.

Some characteristics of a good title are as follows:

Many writers choose to give a piece a working title— a title that is used during the initial drafting process, but is then revised once the piece is finished. This allows for careful consideration of the piece’s emphasis and the selection of a title that best suits or enhances the overall piece.

Read these Poem of the Day poems below, and then look at the titles sixth graders brainstormed.  Would one of the brainstormed titles make a better title for each of the poems?  What do you see in the text of the poem that makes you say that?

The Little Boy

Once a little boy went to school.
He was quite a little boy.
And it was quite a big school.
But when the little boy
Found that he could go to his room
By walking right in from the door outside,
He was happy.
And the school did not seem
Quite so big any more.

One morning,
When the little boy had been in school a while,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
He liked to make pictures.
He could make all kinds:
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats –
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.

But the teacher said:
“Wait! It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.

“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make flowers,
And he began to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she drew a flower on the blackboard.
It was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower.
Then he looked at his own flower,
He liked his flower better than the teacher’s.
But he did not say this,
He just turned his paper over
And made a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

On another day,
When the little boy had opened
The door from the outside all by himself,
The teacher said,
“Today we are going to make something with clay.”
“Good!” thought the boy.
He liked clay.

He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks –
And he began to pull and pinch
His ball of clay.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this,
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again,
And made a dish like the teacher’s.
It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait
And to watch,
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn’t make things of his own anymore.
Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.

This school was even bigger
Than the other one,
And there was no door from the outside
Into his room.
He had to go up some big steps,
And walk down a long hall
To get to his room.

And the very first day
He was there, the teacher said,
“Today we are going to make a picture.”

“Good!” thought the little boy,
And he waited for the teacher
To tell him what to do
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy,
She said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher,
“If everyone made the same picture,
And used the same colors,
How would I know who made what,
“And which was which?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy.
And he began to draw a flower.
It was red, with a green stem.

~ Helen E. Buckley

Brainstormed Titles:  Red with a Green Stem; The Rose; Little Boy, Big School; Death of Creativity; Learning to Wait; Teacher Two; Adaptation; The Door

Poem

When the world gets too loud,
you are a grassy field
where the only sound is the wind
that whispers through trees.

When life is boring,
you are a circus,
you are a bull fight,
you are an airplane.
And I am the pilot.

When I am sad,
you are all the roses
any gardener could ever dream.
your sweet, pungent smell
fills even the largest room.

But you are also the dank, dark streets
of some forlorn city.
And you are the bristly man
who wanders them,
hands rough with years
of too little love.

When I am lonely,
you are my friend
and I think
I can experience the whole world
right here, in my bedroom,
with you,
poem.

~ Julia Barnes

Brainstormed Titles:  My Good Friend; My Love, a Poem; How to Survive; The Power of Words; The Color of Words; Many Worlds

Choose one of your free verse poems. Brainstorm a list of possible titles. Select the one you think proves best, referring to the list of characteristics of a good title.