Learning How to 'Zoom In' When Writing

It is important for young writers to understand that not all parts of a story are equal. There are parts through which a writer moves quickly, and important parts where the writer slows down and lingers a while. This is where the writer might intensify the action or reveal the character’s reactions in greater detail. Young writers need to know that this is a deliberate strategy on the part of the author. The author consciously zooms in. The writer uses a magnifying glass to view a part of the story more closely; to focus on a moment and to slow down time. When an important part of the story is enlarged upon, it  is a signal to the reader, that this part of the story is important.

The strategy of ‘zooming in’ goes by many names: ‘exploding a moment’ ‘magnifying a moment’, ‘hotspot’ ‘snapshot’, ‘adding detail’ or ‘slowing the action.’  What ever the name, the idea is the same. The author writes in a way that expands a significant part of the story with the intention of drawing the reader’s attention to the words and the events.

In introducing this strategy to students, it is important to use authentic examples from children’s literature, your own writing, and writing by students. Such examples will prove powerful in illustrating how this strategy takes the reader closer to the subject and the action of the piece.   It is also important to provide opportunities for students to learn in different modes — by drawing, talking to peers, moving their bodies, etc .to better appreciate the concept of zooming in.

When sharing passages where the author has clearly zoomed in ask the students to visualize what the characters are doing and then discuss with their writing partners what they are visualizing. Ask them to think beyond any illustrations that may accompany the relevant text. Encourage students to discuss in groups their visual observations. Following this, ask students to share what their group saw in their minds while reading the passages.

You might ask questions about how much action could be seen from the beginning of the passage to the point where the passage ends.

Repeat this with other passages, reinforcing what the students are describing. Hopefully they will notice that the authors keep moving closer and closer to what is being described.

Have students divide a blank piece of paper into three sections.
Display an illustration from a familiar book and ask students write a description in the first section. Then cover half of the illustration, and the students write a description of what they see. Finally, cover all but one small aspect of the illustration, ask students write their descriptions. Share student descriptions –with a partner, in small groups, whole class etc.

Ask students to go to a story in their writer’s notebooks and find a place where they now believe they can ‘zoom in.’ It might prove useful to have students talk to a partner about where they might 'zoom in' before they start writing. After the students have tried the strategy, ask some of them to read their revised work. Then have the class discuss how the writer 'zoomed in' on the action.

Key Features Of Zooming In
  • Focuses on a brief, yet important moment in the text
  • Enlarges images in the same way a camera lens works. The scene becomes crisper!
  • Provides a specific use of the strategy, ‘Show, Don’t Tell’
  • Involves the use of precise words, the senses, characters feelings/emotions
  • Builds the tension in the story.

Writing Like Writers: Guiding Elementary Children Through a Writer's Workshop

 By Kay Johnson, Kathryn L. Johnson, Pamela V. Westkott, Pamela Westcott.

Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, Teaching A Revision Strategy: Zooming In, Silvia Edgerton.

Crafting Writers K-6, Elizabeth Hale, Stenhouse Publishers

Mentor Texts, Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6, Lynne R Dorfman & Rose Capelli , Stenhouse Publishers


  1. I love the idea of zooming in by describing the picture and covering parts at a time. This is something I can try with students and teachers. Thank you for this hint Alan!

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