Inspire Writing: Here’s a First!
During this lesson, we will focus on the following goals:
- Write an expository essay.
- Add a creative perspective from which to share your topic.
- Review capitalization rules in the exercises at the end of this lesson.
Would you believe that a schoolteacher, Annie Edson Taylor, was the first person to
successfully survive a drop from Niagara Falls in 1901 in a barrel? Can you imagine what
motivated Slovenian daredevil, Davo Karnicar, to be the first to ski down Mount Everest in
2000? Why, in 1974, would tightrope walker, Philippe Petit, be given a lifetime pass to the
Observation Deck after he was the first to walk the 150-foot span between the Twin Towers—
Firsts amaze, intrigue, and inspire all those who watch. Most onlookers marvel at the courage
(or stupidity) of the daredevil, and later some may even try to beat the record. While faster
times may be made or greater dangers posed, it’s those first attempts that stand out in our
collective memory. From the first man to walk on the moon to the first man to hop all 1,899
steps of the CN Tower with a pogo stick, human nature strives to beat the odds and overcome
the toughest challenge.
During this first week of class, you are to choose any “first” from history. Bring that scene or
situation to life for your readers by explaining the facts and details behind the scene in about
three to five paragraphs. Of the four standard approaches to writing (expository, descriptive,
narrative, and persuasive), we are focusing on the expository approach. Here are a few
suggestions to trigger some ideas:
- The First Flight
- The First Man on the Moon
- The First Successful Face Transplant
- The First Telephone Call
- The First Successful Summit on Mount Everest
- The First Emperor of China
- The First Successful Invention of Soda-Water
- The First Email
The point of expository writing is to offer facts and ideas in a way that is both accessible and
attractive to the reader. It tells who, what, when, where, and why. Exposition exposes and
explains facts from a fresh voice, but it also serves a useful purpose in people’s lives. Some
expository approaches include the list in the box to the right.
No matter which approach you choose, your goal is to make a difference in your readers’ lives,
but first, you need to know who your readers are. What do they care about? What is
significant about what you have to share? How will it affect them? To help your readers
understand an event or follow instructions, the structure of your expository response should
flow smoothly. You can’t leave out some of the ingredients or an important step.
Your expository response should follow the basic structure of an essay with an introduction,
body, and conclusion, as outlined in the steps of the writing process. Unique to the expository
essay, though, is its dependence on facts, details, examples, statistics, quotations, and other
useful information that develops the thesis statement. (As a reminder, the thesis statement is
the main, guiding sentence, usually found in the introductory paragraph. Written well, this key
sentence reveals to your readers the overall point of your essay and helps you stay focused
when developing the supporting points in the body.) Without supporting evidence and
explanations, the expository essay falls flat.
For exposition to work, you’ll need to inform or explain something to readers in a way they can
understand and appreciate. Good exposition tells the truth, using accurate, reliable sources
and relaying those facts in the context of the situation. However, the biggest problems that
creep into expository writing start with a writer who is too casual about the topic or has not
checked out a variety of sources. This results in a distorted or incomplete report.
Of course, your response shouldn’t look like it jumped out of an encyclopedia either! While
facts from those resources can help, you should use those facts and make it a bit more human
with surprise or humor. The most interesting expository response blends information with the
writer’s unique style. This makes the reader hungry for more.
Facts and details are important, but equally important to the expository essay is the perspective
you’ll choose. One of my favorite non-fiction authors, Kathleen Krull, understands this
approach well. Instead of simply stating the facts about famous historical men and women in
her Lives of… series, she chooses interesting and unusual details, focusing on the neighbors’
perspectives. In an article she wrote to encourage other authors, Krull advises, “Come up with
an approach that will make your material fresh. You must take a point of view on your facts.” i
With a creative perspective, you can make any expository response spring to life.
I’ve been using this approach with my students for the last several years, and I’m amazed at the
results. Those students, especially some who may have been a little reluctant at first, suddenly
burst out with new ways to share their ideas. Sometimes they imagine obscure “behind-the-
scenes” roles in major battles, such as a dishwasher in a king’s kitchen. At other times, they
take on the role of a rainforest ecologist in the Amazon jungle. This gives my students an
opportunity to share true details they’ve gathered about what really happened in the past or
what is taking place in the present. When they combine those facts with a unique perspective,
they captivate their readers.
Once you’ve written your essay, give it a title—something fresh and eye-catching. While you’ve
learned long ago that any proper nouns or adjectives must be capitalized, remember to leave
articles and conjunctions (like a, an, and, the) in the lower-case—unless it’s the first word in a
title. As part of your homework this week, refresh your memory of other capitalization rules
on page 12 in Basics. From there, complete the exercises at the end of this lesson.
Have a fantastic week, and please, let me know if you have any questions.
- Mrs. Lee
1. What is an example of a proper adjective that needs to be capitalized?
2. In the example sentences about the cookies and the aunt, why is the word “aunt”
capitalized in the first sentence and not the second?
3. In your own words, explain the rule for capitalization of geographical names and locations.
4. Create a sentence that includes the proper name of a public place.
5. Choose any specific era or event from American history, and create a sentence using that
6. Write a sentence using a specific American monument or structure.
7. List five examples of titles that need to be capitalized.
8. Create a sentence that includes the specific name of an American institution, school, or
9. Using a calendar, write a sentence that includes your birthday, including the day of the
week in which it will fall this year.
10. Create a sentence that states the importance of any official American document (besides
the Declaration of Independence).
Krll, Kathleen. “Nonfiction.” The Craft and Business of Writing: Essential Tools for Writing Success. Mosko,
Lauren, ed. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. P. 260.