Exploding a Moment: How I Show Students This Revision Strategy in Action

Seeing is believing with my “before and after” handout

First things first: THANK YOU, BARRY LANE! Barry Lane’s video where he retells the story of “Jane Wilson’s poured milk memory” is one of my all-time favorites to introduce my students to the idea of exploding a moment.

Exploding a moment is one of Lane’s signature revision strategies. When writers explode moments, they do what movie directors do to indicate a film’s pivotal moment: they show the moment in slow motion to indicate its importance. When a moment in a written narrative holds the same importance, exploding that moment across a page or two can do the same thing.

Slowing down or exploding a moment lends emphasis to important moments in narrative writing. Exploding a moment does the following:

  • It fleshes out the moment, loading it with images, textures, smells, and other sensory details.
  • It brings in the setting that hosts the moment, establishing a solid sense of the environment.
  • It lavishes the moment with extra attention that naturally and subtly conveys to the reader: This is important. Let’s spend some extra time right here.

“Exploding a moment” is an effective way to describe it and I can’t thank Barry Lane enough for coining that phrase and publishing the resources that have brought this concept to life for my students through the years.

When we are working on memoirs, slice-of-life essays, and other narratives, “exploding a moment” invariably shows itself as a skill that my students need help with. Most of my students nod their heads when I ask them to elaborate, but I’m not sure they fully understand. Most kids will just add a few adjectives and think they’ve done enough, but often their writing still lacks immediacy and emphasis.

The result? An opportunity for narrative excitement and richness is lost.

Inspired by Lane’s video, I’ve created a few lessons over the past couple of years to help kids learn what it means to “explode a moment” in their stories. I made this one for middle school students and this one for high schoolers.

Today’s post is about something else I did with Lane’s video script: I transcribed it and made a handout for students to read.


Why transcribe it? To show students the literal difference between Jane Wilson’s one-sentence draft and her revised “exploded” draft.

In deciding to transcribe it, I speculated that if my students were to see the moment evolve from one sentence to five paragraphs on the page, they would also see how the technique can help them “flesh out” their own stories.

While watching the video, as Lane reads Jane’s first draft (“I poured the milk over her head and it was a total mess everywhere.”), students follow along on the handout. Moments later, as he narrates the accompanying video, students continue to follow along and watch Jane’s sparse 15-word sentence explode into a 244-word, five-paragraph moment that, by its very length alone, implies THIS WAS A SUPER IMPORTANT THING THAT JUST HAPPENED!

Here’s the video that goes with the handout I made for my students:

Barry Lane’s video and the entire “explode a moment” revision strategy has been very successful in helping my students understand what it means to “flesh out” their writing. My handout reinforces the point and shows students how exploding a moment can truly enhance the experience they provide to readers.

revisers toolbox
Barry Lane’s book, Reviser’s Toolbox, covers the concept of exploding a moment, plus many other lesson ideas.

For more ELA teaching ideas, student writing contests, and creative resources, enter your email below. In return, I’ll send you this free printable handout to teach your students how to write Treasured Object Poems.

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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