The art of writing a good introduction to an essay is something which students need to regularly reflect on. I encourage students to ensure that in an introduction they do such things as:

  • Set the scene
  • Provide a bold thesis statement to summarise what their argument will be
  • Outline the main factors that will be considered to prove this point (ideally, in a way that shows how they are connected using such words from our word wall (e.g. ‘therefore / as a result / exacerbated by’).

Another technique I have tried is to provide students with a series of screenshots of opening paragraphs of books dealing with the topic in question. In pairs, students should read through each one and discuss such things as how it draws the reader in, what argument it makes, what evidence it uses, what creative language is used to develop mood, what aspects of the introduction are most engaging or controversial, and which one overall is the most effective in their judgement. It also raises questions about how far history is an art or a science.

This approach can ideally inspire students to take the book away and read it in full. At the very least it provides hard examples from professional writers of what can sometimes be a rather abstract concept of what constitutes good writing.

Taking it further

If you have an Amazon account, there are an increasingly large number of books that you can ‘look inside’ for a preview – these provide great material for collating some opening paragraphs. Similarly, I wrote an earlier blogpost about Google Books for Student Research that is very relevant in this context.


Shown below are a few opening paragraphs of various books relating to the origins of World War One.

Which one would you regard as the most effective introduction and why?

1a 2a
4a 5a 6a