Teaching Kids to “Zoom In” on Small Moments


We are working on our “small moments” writing unit right now.  We have done some extensive work with writing personal narratives (stories about our own lives.)  At this time of year the focus is on getting kids to “zoom in” on really interesting moments in their lives, and then share rich details about those moments.

I find that it is pretty tough to get kids to understand exactly what zooming in is all about without some concrete examples.  They can easily craft a run on story of lots of different events, but the zooming is tricky.

For a few years now I have been using two fabulous children’s books – The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Before I Was Your Mother by Kathryn Lasky – to help my kids grasp the concept of small moments.  These books are both told in first person, and they describe authentic, tangible experiences that the kids can connect with.  And each page in the book is a separate small moment.



In The Hello Goodbye Window, the “big” story is all about a little girl spending the night at her nana and poppy’s house.  Each page is filled with beautiful little moments shared during this time.  Poppy chases the little girl with their hose; Nana and the little girl say good night to the stars; Poppy hides bananas and raisins in her oatmeal, etc.

In Before I Was Your Mother, the “big” story is all about the mother’s own childhood.  Each page is a memory that she is sharing with her own daughter.  She tells her about a time when she and her friend had a circus in their backyard, when she broke a china cat and her mom fixed it, when she slept with her firefighter boots on, etc.

With both of these books, I explain to the kids that the whole book is a personal narrative, and each page is a small moment.  After reading the books several times, we make a list of all of the small moments in each book.



I then have the kids zoom in on their favorite moment in each book.  Their writing work for that day is to actually draw and write about a moment in the book.






We then compile these into class books.


I find that this process really helps my kids to understand the different between a long (bed to bed) story, and a small moment.  You can download the small moments “zooming” paper I use here.  We then move on to exploring and writing our own small moments.

This process takes about a week.  We spend two or three days on each book, and then move on to our own stories.  Because mentor texts are so powerful to writers, I find that they are days well spent.

How do you help your students understand the difference between a personal narrative and a small moment?

5 Responses to Teaching Kids to “Zoom In” on Small Moments

  1. Valerie April 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Love this. This will be a great help for my homeschool classroom. I will be looking into both the books you mentioned. Thanks! 🙂

    • Karen Langdon April 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Great! They really are wonderful books. I had to buy them both for my daughter as well because they are so well written.

  2. Connie April 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    This is really helpful. I’ve struggled with this concept myself so teaching it has been an even bigger struggle, thank you!!

    • Karen Langdon April 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

      My pleasure – glad it is helpful!

  3. Becky Stucki March 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experience and insight. This is my first year (partial year at that) with this writing program. I have loved it so far, but anticipate the exact struggles you have addressed. I am glad to know this isn’t unusual and that taking some extra time to address it will pay off in the end. The titles you share look wonderful. Can’t wait to put this into action.