Journey to Excellence


Scaffolding is a structure for skill-building which is gradually withdrawn as the students become more competent and confident. The teacher uses his/her knowledge and capabilities to show how to do a task so the students can accomplish the task on their own. Teachers who assign projects should provide scaffolding to ensure quality student products. For example, a writing teacher assigning a sensory/descriptive essay could employ the following model.

Memory Snapshot Lesson


Sharing Pictures

  • Ask the students to bring a picture to school that they would like to write about. The photograph could be of themselves, a family member or a special pet, an important event, a trip, or anything they have a special memory of.
  • In small groups or with the whole class, have students share their photos and discuss why they chose them.

Snapshots and Thoughtshots

  • Discuss the concept of snapshots and thoughtshots in writing. Explain that when the students write about their actual photograph, they will be creating a written picture which can convey the writer's thoughts and feelings.

"Writers have a magic camera that they can point at the world and create snapshots that contain smells and sounds as well as colors and light." Barry Lane. After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision.

Modeling by the Teacher: Cluster and Open Mind

  • Share a photograph which you as a teacher plan to write about. In front of the class, start a cluster in which you generate descriptive language to capture your photograph in words. Then draw an Open Mind in which you draw and record your thoughts and feelings about the memory depicted in the photograph. (An Open Mind is simply a blackline drawing of the outline of a head. Inside the head, use words, pictures or symbols, and colors to illustrate actions and feelings.)


  • Provide students with the prompt. Read it out loud and discuss any questions the students have.

Your task will be to create a written mental snapshot which captures your photograph in words and creates a “you are there” feeling in the reader. Use the "magic camera" of your pen to zoom in on your subject and create rich sensory details (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and movement). Remember that you can make your snapshot a "moving picture" by adding action and dialogue. Also, give the reader more panoramic views of thoughts, feelings, and big ideas to create a frame for your specific details.

You will be writing an autobiographical incident about your memory snapshot. An autobiographical incident focuses on a specific time period and a particular event that directly involves you. Your goal is not to tell about your event but to show what happened by dramatizing the event. You may write in the present tense as if your event were happening now or in the past tense to describe your incident as a recollection.

Your memory snapshot paper will have a setting that leaves the reader with a dominant visual impression, a plot or story line, and characters. However, the nature of your memory may cause you to place your emphasis on one of the elements over the others. Throughout your paper, and particularly in your conclusion, you should show (and not tell) the reader why this memory is so significant.


  • Draw your mental snapshot.

Tell the students: "The memory you have in your mind may not be identical to the actual snapshot. Draw the picture of the snapshot in your mind. It may include a number of significant details that are not in your actual photograph. After completing your drawing, write at the bottom of the drawing: This snapshot memory is significant to me because _________________. Be sure you show the significance of this memory in your writing through the use of your snapshots and thoughtshots."

  • Have students discuss their drawing and the significance of the memory with a partner and then talk about how they might begin their essay, what portion of the memory might be an effective "hook" for the reader.


  • Before students write, read a model of a memory snapshot piece. Have them identify what makes the writing effective. These criteria might become the scoring guide or rubric.


Give students ample time to write.


  • Give students a memory snapshot response sheet to fill out in pairs or groups of three.
    • The most memorable part of your memory snapshot essay was . . .
    • The words or phrases that were especially vivid and created mental pictures for me were . . . because . . .
    • You made me feel like I was there when . . .
    • One thing I learned about you is . . .


Have students revise with an eye toward enhancing snapshots, adding thoughtshots, or showing the significance of the memory.


Have students edit for the conventions of English.


A possible scoring rubric on a six-point scale might be:

  • Uses rich, sensory/descriptive language (snapshots) to help the reader "picture" the snapshot memory
  • Adds action words and/or dialogue to make the snapshot a "moving picture"
  • Uses thoughtshots to show the characters' thoughts and feelings
  • Clearly demonstrates why the snapshot memory is significant
  • Follows the conventions of written English
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