Use this movie clip to teach high school writers how to “explode a moment”

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Plus, here’s a free slow-motion video site to give students more practice

For some reason, young writers seem to want to write as little as possible when describing a scene. I read descriptions as sparse as this example: I shot the ball and it went in and everybody freaked out. However, when kids see the effectiveness of exploding a moment, they’ll surprise themselves with how much description they can generate.

About a year ago, I wrote this post about a mini-lesson where my students watched a slow-motion video clip from writer and author Barry Lane’s YouTube channel. We watched the clip in five- to ten-second second segments. Following each segment, I would pause the video and the kids would write down what they saw. In effect, they were exploding a moment. The video was of a boy who looks about ten years old hitting a baseball. The idea is that the boy hits a home run, which causes the crowd to go wild.

If you’re unfamiliar with “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 narrative holds the same importance, exploding that moment  across a page or two can do the same thing. If students take an important moment from their narratives and envision it happening in slow motion, and then write what they see, they’ll inevitably “paint” a much more detailed rendering of the moment than they would otherwise. 

This year, I wanted to try this same Barry Lane idea with high school students.

This year, I wanted to try this same Barry Lane idea with my students at the high school where I now teach; however, I thought the ten-year-old’s baseball video might seem too much like middle school material.

So, I tried to remember movies that I’ve seen that include slow-motion moments. One of those I remembered also just happened to be baseball-themed: The Natural.

If you watch this YouTube video clip and watch it from :40 to 1:20 in eight- to ten-second chunks, you’ll provide your students a similar moment to explode that is a little more “grown up.”

Here’s that clip from The Natural, which only a couple of my students (out of about 90) had seen.

Before playing The Natural clip, I asked students to imagine that they were Roy Hobbs, the player at bat (played by Robert Redford), and I also suggested that they write their explosion in first-person point-of-view. I thought this would make their writing more immediate. Also, when it came time to share, it might be helpful if we all focused on the same character’s perspective in the video.

Playing the movie clip, pausing, asking students to write what they saw, and then also having a few of them share their “explosions” took about thirty minutes or so. (With some classes it took less time because —at least at my school— many of these older students are reluctant to share their writing. Right now, many of my high school students don’t care to share their writing, which is a real change from middle school where kids can’t share enough!)

Here’s one student’s exploded moment:

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Here’s another example from one of my high school students:

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Finally, here’s a copy of my handwritten explosion that I shared here and there during my classes to either encourage sharing or just to help students see what exploding a moment might look like.

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Here’s that free slow-mo video site…

I’ve also thought about finding more short video or movie clips to play during the year so kids can continue to practice this technique more. Videvo.net has a huge supply of short, slow-motion video clips of everything from runners in a marathon to a candle flame.

Many are free to view and some are only available for purchase with an account. Here’s a link to a free clip of that candle flame.

https://www.videvo.net/video/candle-flame-in-slow-motion/2683/

I haven’t used any of these yet, but I think an occasional one might make a good bell-ringer activity while also keeping the explode a moment technique fresh in students’ minds.

And no, it might not seem that a candle flame would be a pivotal moment in a narrative… but it could be.

Imagine if you had a character making an important life decision while watching a candle flicker. For example, I can picture the character watching the flame, pondering her choice of whether to marry her boyfriend. As she examines the flame, she might see connections to their relationship. For instance, she might see that the flame bends and sways in the breeze, much like their relationship has had to bend and sway to accommodate their individual needs and goals. Anyway, you get the idea.


Thanks for reading again this week! Feel free to click “like” if you found this post helpful, and leave a comment as well. Also, follow my blog to stay in touch.

Focus Your Binoculars and Zoom In

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Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

I created a mini-lesson that uses a technique from Barry Lane and a handout from TpT

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.

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Find this handout at this TpT page: Texas ELAR Coach

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.

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I made these cards. Four of them feature fuzzy sentences from the handout and I created a few more so I would have enough for class.

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.

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This photo shows some of the “zooming in” my high school students tried last week. They wrote the fuzzy sentence first and then “zoomed in” for two to three more sentences.

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.

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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.


Thanks for reading again this week! Feel free to click like and leave a comment or question. And if you have any ideas to share, please do! If you’d rather contact me directly by email, please contact me at marilynyung@gmail.com. Have a great week! 

Acknowledgement: Thanks to author Barry Lane and Texas ELAR Coach at Teachers Pay Teachers for the use of their fantastic materials.

 

 

“Exploding a Moment” with Barry Lane

This year, we wrote out an exploded moment instead of just watching one be narrated in a video.

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Photo: Pixabay

Last Tuesday, I planned an activity for my seventh- and eighth-grade classes that worked so well, I knew I had to share. We exploded a baseball moment.

“Exploding a moment “ is what writing teacher Barry Lane calls it when writers take an important moment from a narrative and approach it like a filmmaker treats an important movie in a film… in slow motion. When we visualize the moment in slow motion and then describe the moment in slow motion, we automatically describe it in such detail that the reader views the event with the same intensity and importance that the writer does.

 

In the past, I have always shown one of Lane’s videos where he replaces the sentence, “I poured the milk over my cousin’s head and it made a huge mess and milk went everywhere,” with a thoroughly engaging and highly detailed “mind movie” of the milk incident that explodes across a full page or two. We visualize the milk running in rivers down the cousin’s face. We visualize the milk dripping onto the table and then puddling on the floor. We visualize the horrified expression on the cousin’s face as she blinks to keep the milk out of her eyes.  Here’s that video, which we watch only to 2:40.

This year, I decided to show another of Lane’s videos where he hits a baseball out of the ballpark. It’s a three-second moment and then it’s over. But then he follows that clip with the same scene in a slow-motion sequence that extends for about one minute.

As I previewed  the video, I got the idea to play the slo-mo part in class and stop the video about every five to ten seconds so students could describe what they saw in each snippet.

With a short talk, we recalled the spilled milk video to review what we already knew about “exploding a moment.” Then we reacquainted ourselves with the concept to use in our “slice of life” essays that students had started the previous day.

Following this, I played the “baseball video where Lane introduces and discusses using the “explode a moment” technique to describe especially important moments during decisive events in our lives, such as hitting a home run in a championship game.

After the introduction, we watch the slow-mo part and then I ask students to get out a sheet of notebook paper and a pencil or pen. I explain that I will play a short segment of the slow motion portion and then stop it. At that time, they’ll write about what they just saw. And that’s exactly what we did last week.

After about every third snippet, I asked a few kids to share the last two to three sentences they had written. They had fun doing that, plus it was fun to see how different kids described the exact same video.

When we finished the activity (at the 1:39 point), several students shared their writing, which filled the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. Only a few kids had less than a page. Most of the students couldn’t believe how much they had written.

We discussed how “exploding a moment” in slow-motion helps the readers visualize the story and how sometimes that kind of visualization involves a lot of writing.

Watching the video five to ten seconds at a time takes quite a bit of time. In fact, when I do this again, I’ll adjust my bell-ringer activity at the beginning of class so we end the activity with about twenty minutes left of class so kids actually have time to get out their laptops and work on their drafts.

Last week, when we finished, there was about eight minutes of class left… not quite enough time to get out their slice-of-life drafts in order to apply the technique.

That last eight-minutes of class last week would have been a prime time to share a handout I made the next morning called, “Explode the Right Moment.” I used parts of a book by Gary Provost called 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.

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This book, although a little outdated, contains so many short chapters on key writing techniques. Besides the chapter mentioned in this post, I especially like the one on sentence variety, which I discuss in this post.

My handout basically suggests using the “explode a moment” technique judiciously. In other words, choose the right moment to explode.

In any story, there will be only one to two key moments to explode in this way. For example, don’t explode your character’s walk to his car if the walk isn’t important to the story.

Find an important moment and explode that moment only.

Some kids have trouble finding such moments. I let students know I can help them find “explodable” moments if they need help.

 

 

Three more key tips I remember from last week:

  • Let kids know that, although Lane suggests exploding the big moments of our lives, this technique works equally well with the small, yet important, ordinary moments of our lives. That’s why I think it applies to “slice-of-life” writing especially well.
  • Don’t play the video segments over again and again. Perhaps once is fine, but any more than that and kids get the idea that they don’t have to be watching carefully.
  • Make sure kids stay “in the moment” for now. Some will be tempted to write about, for example, Aunt Julie watching the home run from the stadium bleachers and dreaming of her former baseball playing days. Encourage students to stay on the field and not to over-invent for now. The point is to describe the hitting of the ball, the build-up before the hit where the pitcher and batter are eyeing each other up, stepping back and forth, taking a few test swings, and all the other tiny worthy details that create a vivid, fleshed-out version of the hit.

 

I heard probably one or two “That was kinda fun!” comments in each class and I thought about how neat it would be to have other one-minute videos available of some activity done in slow motion. These could be a band walking onto a stage at a concert, the first time seeing a baby sibling, opening a special Christmas present.

Using videos such as these would allow this to be a recurring activity where we could  continue to build our skills in seeing the intricacies of a moment in order to write about them fully and completely.

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I’ll be trying this activity with sixth-graders next, who are shown in this photo learning new revision techniques during the first week of school.

I may even do this activity with my sixth-graders in a couple of weeks as they continue to work on their memoirs. I’ll share about how it works with them when I write about that unit soon.


Thanks for reading! Let me know how you use Barry Lane’s materials in your classes. I have the entire “Barry in a Box” set, but frankly, the DVD set was somewhat disappointing in quality and navigation. I just use what videos I can (such as the two mentioned in this post) by searching for them on Youtube. Follow me for more news from my middle school ELA classroom.