When I began writing my picture book, Picnic at Camp Shalom, I had a problem. For marketing reasons, my editor requested a summer camp setting. While I agreed that my story of friendship and misunderstandings would work well at a summer camp, I panicked. My childhood memories of summer camp were dim, at best. Was there a way I could boost my recollection of an experience I had nearly 40 years ago? Yes, there was! Google searches provided information on summer camp programs complete with pictures and testimonies. My research taught me that a swim test is a typical first day activity. This gave me my opening scene in which my protagonists, Carly and Sara, meet at the lake. Later, I read that scavenger hunts are popular for getting new campers acquainted with the grounds, giving me material for the second scene in the book.
While a random internet search may not be a good source for collecting facts for nonfiction writing, it can offer great assistance for developing descriptive details. Google Images provided just the picture I needed when trying to visualize the cabin Carly and Sara slept in. I often use Google images to prod me into better descriptions. Staring at a picture for a few minutes can help me imagine my character’s surroundings.
Before you ask your students to write about their summer vacations, display pictures of beaches, swimming pools, fireworks, and other summer scenarios on your classroom screen. Talk about the sensory details these images evoke. What does the sand feel like between your toes? Did you see sand crabs disappearing into tiny holes? How did the water smell? Did the shiny pool rails gleam in the sun? How would you describe the sound of people diving off the board? Could you compare it to anything else?
As a pre-writing activity, have your students study the details of displayed pictures and discuss ways of describing them. Figurative language requires thought. Giving your students a little time to visualize the scenes they plan to write about will enliven their writing.