National Writing Project

Leaving A Trail: Beginning With the End in Mind

Publication: The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project
Date: September 28, 2011

Summary: Jim Davis, a teacher with the Northern Virginia Writing Project, describes his attempt to improve his students' writing by leading them away from circular endings and towards following "breadcrumbs."


Excerpt from Article

When I ask students what's hardest for them about writing, two complaints usually top the list: "I don't know how to get started;" and, "I don't know how to end it." During my first few years of teaching, I gave students the sage advice of "hook them" at the beginning and "restate your main idea" at the end. This, of course, sounds a lot like the five-paragraph recipe that leads to an inedible mess...

Once I diagnosed the problem, I started searching for a cure and found one while reading Sports Illustrated, as I've done every week since I was in elementary school when our TV went on the fritz and my parents decided not to replace it. I missed out on The A-Team, but I subconsciously learned a lot about writing while reading about my sports heroes each week.

I started to notice that many of the feature articles and profiles started and ended with the same idea or anecdote. Circular endings are nothing new, especially with fiction, but I seized upon the idea and gave it a new term—breadcrumbs—to help with students' non-fiction. I took the term from Hansel & Gretel, who leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest to find their way home (and yes, I conveniently ignored the fact that birds gobble up the crumbs in the fairy tale and the kids remain lost in the woods).

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