A revision mini-lesson
Because it seems my high school students would benefit from learning some revision strategies, I decided to do a search on Teachers Pay Teachers for any revision handouts featuring the work of Barry Lane. I found this one (it’s FREE from Texas ELAR Coach) entitled Writing Strategy: Adding Detail by Zooming In with Barry Lane’s Binoculars. Lane’s technique of “focusing the binoculars” allows readers to see better, clearer pictures in our stories.
When you download the page, you’ll see that the page’s title is “Focusing the Binoculars.” However, I decided to write “Zooming In…” at the top of my handout since I’ve often seen these two terms used interchangeably in some of Lane’s materials. In addition, when I talk in class, I often use both terms. To avoid confusion, I wanted to make sure that both terms appeared on the page.
The handout features this example of a fuzzy sentence: The lady looked kind of funny. In class, we talked about how that sentence doesn’t paint a clear picture. It’s a good example of vague language that accomplishes nothing. For example…
- What does “kind of funny” look like?
- Does funny mean humorous?
- Does it mean weird?
Below the fuzzy sentence are two sentences that paint a vivid picture of the funny-looking lady. It gives a crystal clear description that provides a “mind movie” to the reader. We discussed how much more vivid the zoomed-in sentence is. We can picture the woman, her hat, her pale skin, her bobbing head, the way she looks like a black lid.
Mr. Lane’s handout makes an obvious point: when you imagine that you’re looking through binoculars at an object, person, or landscape—or anything, really— in your story, and then adjust those binoculars, and describe what you see, your readers will be able to visualize your writing so much more clearly. Writing we can see in our mind while we read creates memorable writing.
On the handout, there are four further examples of zooming in. I decided to write each of these on an index card and then I made some more cards so kids could get with a partner, pick a card, and then zoom in.
Kids moved around the room to find partners and to write their sentences. I asked them to write their fuzzy sentence at the top of a sheet of notebook paper, and then add two to three more “zoomed in” sentences. After about five minutes of work, we went around the room and listened to each pair’s attempt at using their narrative binoculars.
Even though I had asked students to read their fuzzy sentences first, I also reminded them that if they “zoom in” well, the fuzzy sentence is unnecessary. This activity illustrates how the fuzzy sentence tells while the “zoomed in” sentences show.
Following our share time, I wrapped up the mini-lesson by reminding students to use this technique in the computer lab (where we were going next) where they were to continue revising their memoirs.
Side note: Because I thought my students might confuse ‘zooming in’ with “exploding a moment,” a technique we had explored a few days before, I reminded them that writers “explode a moment” when they want to fully develop the most suspenseful, climactic part of their narratives.
On the other hand, writers can focus the binoculars and “zoom in” at anytime during a story. “Zoomed in” detail makes the difference between vivid and dull writing. It’s especially useful for grounding dialogue… adding scene-setting imagery and details to conversations to develop characters or set a scene. Without this grounding, dialogue can feel like mere isolated lines of speech devoid of life.
After returning the conversation to zooming in, several students skimmed through their drafts looking for places where they could focus their binoculars and describe a person, object, or landscape more acutely.
This activity lasted for about twenty minutes. It was just enough time to explore the concept sufficiently, yet also leave enough time for students to immediately practice it in the computer lab, which is where we spent the remainder of the class period.
Since I had requested that their next draft be 750 words, most students recognized the lesson’s usefulness in helping them to increase their word count.
I felt this lesson resonated with my students. There was real purpose in it and they were able to immediately implement it.