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Snowball writing is a winter-themed collaborative writing activity for middle school ELA. This is an easy-to-implement and inclusive way to incorporate the holiday spirit into your curriculum. It’s also a sure way to get even your most reluctant students putting pencil to paper.
To begin, each student is given a sheet with a different narrative story starter. This means if you have 25 students, you need at least 25 different story-starting prompts. I like to use picture prompts for these (as shown below), but you could also use written prompts.
Over the course of the activity, each story will have three co-authors. Writer 1 starts the story by introducing the setting, at least one character, and starting the plotline. I set a timer for students to write for 10 minutes, but you can choose your own timing depending on your particular students. I encourage students to use a pen for this activity. While I know this isn’t typically used for a first draft, the pages do get a bit wrinkled in the process, so a pen makes things a lot easier to read.
Once Writer 1 is finished, it is time for the BEST part. Tell your students to put their name beside their work, crumple up their paper into a “snowball”, and throw it to the front of the room. If you have the right class, you can also choose to have a snowball fight where students throw the snowballs everywhere. Be prepared for total confusion and chaos.
I have had some teachers modify this to keep the class from getting too wild by having students aim at a target at the front of the room. This might be a good idea if you have a particularly rowdy class that you don’t think would be able to come back together as a whole class easily.
Then, on your signal, students grab one of the “snowballs,” open it up, and smooth it out. If they happen to pick up their own work, they should crumple it up and grab another one.
Have students look at their new picture, and read the story so far. Writer 2 will be responsible for continuing the plot, developing the characters further, and developing a conflict. When the timer is up, have them sign their name beside their work.
Now, repeat the “snowball” throwing process one more time. Writer 3 will be responsible for looking at their new image, reading the story up to this point, attempting to resolve the conflict, and bringing the story to a close. Writer 3 then returns the story back to the original author (Writer 1).
After all three writings are complete, the rough draft of the story goes back to the first original author, and this will become their story. Writer is now responsible for writing a good copy, and doing all of the editing and revising. They may add information they feel is missing or provide a little more detail. They can take creative control to make adjustments to the narrative, but they must include the other two authors’ writing and credit them as co-authors.
My students love this collaborative writing activity so much that I have created different ways to use snowball writing to help students with poetry, descriptive writing, essay writing, and even as a back-to-school icebreaker.
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