In between every 2-3 formal writing units, I love to throw in something fun! It keeps the kids excited about writing class
and gives me a break from excessive grading! At this point in the school year, the kids have done a lot of writing! We created and wrote from lists for most of September to get us well-established with Writer’s Notebook and to increase our stamina. And we’ve spent the good part of October writing two different narrative pieces.
Now, it’s time for something fun!! This Spooky Snapshot writing is a blast and perfect for this time of year! We started it on Wednesday and will continue working on snapshot writing all next week.
(Snapshots, if you’re not familiar with the term, is when a writer zooms in on the setting of the story and uses sensory details to explain what you’d experience if you were there at that moment in time. Writers use them all the time in novels and short stories to paint a picture of the scene in a reader’s mind.)
Every year, I teach this unit differently. This year, I began (on Wednesday) by defining the term “snapshot” with my kids and then sharing some great snapshots from one of my favorite books, Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets. J.K. Rowling is an EXCELLENT snapshot writer! I shared the snapshots that describe Harry’s first encounters with the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, and the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle. (Sorry, I can’t share these on the blog as they are copyrighted! But they are easy to find in the first quarter of the book!) After sharing, I had the students work in pairs to reread the snapshots categorize the details she provides, noting which appeal to sight, sound, smell, etc.
The next day (Thursday) I had students go on a Sensory Detail Scavenger Hunt! I pulled out all the book bins from our classroom library and placed a few at each table. Next, I had students create this organizer right in their Writer’s Notebooks:
For the rest of the period, students looked through the books in the baskets and wrote down some of the great sensory detail sentences they found.
The kids LOVED this activity! It’s the first time we’ve done a scavenger hunt this year and they told me they can’t wait to do another!
(Side note: library scavenger hunts are one of my FAVORITE Writer’s Notebook activities! First, you tell the kids what to look for: great openings, awesome endings, AAAWWUBBIS sentences… anything! And then you set the kids loose in the library – all the better if you have a big enough classroom library… then you don’t need to go anywhere – to collect examples that they find in the books. Engagement is always super high because kids LOVE getting their hands on REAL BOOKS! Kids learn a ton because they are reading awesome examples from REAL BOOKS! And the lesson itself takes zero prep… just access to a large number of REAL BOOKS! If you’ve never done a library scavenger hunt, I simply cannot recommend them enough! And don’t let age stop you! I’ve done them many times before when I used to teach third grade. They work for any age group, really!)
Yesterday (Friday), we got started with our snapshot writing. First, we reviewed the term “snapshot” and I reiterated that we were only writing a paragraph or two that described the scene at one brief moment in time. Then, I modeled how I used my picture to complete a sensory detail organizer, and then used my organizer to write my snapshot:
Next, I had the kids team up in groups of 2-3 (I love shared writing experiences! I work them in whenever I get a chance!) and gave them a large spooky picture, an organizer (available here), and a large piece of construction paper. They first completed the organizer and then used it to write their snapshots. (I had students glue their picture at the top of a piece of large construction paper and then write their paragraphs underneath.)
With just ten minutes of class time left, the kids were BEGGING to share, so I let them. They were so proud of all their scary, suspenseful paragraphs. Every single team wanted to read aloud, which is a rarity in 7th grade.
Next week, I plan on letting them write a collection of snapshots in their Writer’s Notebook and then picking their favorite one to submit for grade.
So, what kinds of fun writing are you doing in your classroom? I’m always looking for new ideas, so please post a comment and tell me about them!