Thursday, December 6, 2012

Writing with Focus

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your brain is so full of ideas, that once you sit down to put them on paper they come flooding out and the focus becomes muddy? For a lot of students (especially mine), the answer to that question is a big, fat, Y-E-S! Through the years, I have noticed that my students have great ideas, but difficulty sticking to those ideas in their writing. Or, they try to write too big, and the interesting fall by the wayside in an effort to get down the events that happened on a particular day. That's why I had to share the awesome writing project we did earlier this year. I would LOVE to take all of the credit for this one, but I actually got this idea from a coworker who had been struggling with the same issue with her students. 

We wanted our kids to be able to pick an interesting topic, but then narrow the focus of their writing so that they could add great details and be more descriptive. Often times, when students pick a topic that they have a lot to say about, the writing becomes too general and jumps around. We wanted the students to "linger" in a specific moment in time with their audience. To do that, they had to focus their writing from broad to specific. To help my students understand this idea, we first viewed the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. The students and I discussed that the more we "zoomed in" on each picture, the more details we were able to discover. I then related this to a microscope. As you zoom in on a microscope, you obtain more information about your subject than you would have gleaned by simply using your eyes. This visual reminder helped immensely as the students began their writing projects.

 Image courtesy of
We started by picking events that we remembered very clearly. But, instead of writing about the entire experience, we "focused in" on a moment. It was challenging for the kids to not write about an entire trip or an entire day, but with some help they got there. I gave them a graphic organizer (see right) that was an upside-down triangle. I modeled the process of narrowing our writing focus with my own trip to the zoo during summer vacation. Rather than write generally about the whole day, I decided to write about watching the new baby gorilla playing in the pool of her enclosure. The narrowing of my topic went like this: Summer Vacation> Trip to Washington, D.C.> Zoo> Gorilla Enclosure> Watching the baby play in the pool.

Rather than have the students take off and start writing, we spent time developing good leads and then choosing the most interesting one. We discussed how to incorporate sensory language into our writing to help the reader feel as though they, too, we a part of our experience. We ended with how to write a conclusion, or "wrap," that tied back to our lead and brought our writing to a satisfying end. Below are some pictures of our final writing display, as well as examples of student work. 


I hope you find this post helpful and try it out with your students. Have you done any interesting writing projects this year?


  1. Love the way you organized the students yet allowed choice in their writing. I will be sharing this post with other grade levels in my building.

  2. Thank you so much! I am a firm believer in giving students as much choice as possible in their reading and writing lives. After all, if we want them to have an appreciation for both, we shouldn't stifle their curiosity and creativity by demanding them to read/write specific books/topics ALL the time. No one tells me what I can and can't write, and I love both!

  3. This is fabulous. I have a small group of writers who need this like crazy!

  4. It was fun! I just wish the pictures were bigger so you could read their writing!

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