When we greeted our students on that first day back to school in early January after our winter break, stories of holiday celebrations, time with cousins and aunties (and other relatives), visits from Santa, and new special toys filled the air. Students were primed to start work on product reviews. They started by listing three favorite holiday gifts in their writer’s notebooks and then picking just one to recommend.
After hearing the special features of Mrs. Douillard’s monopod hiking stick (a favorite holiday gift of hers), they went back to their notebooks and began to describe the features that make their gift so special. From Rubik’s Cubes to Barbie’s Dream House, programmable robots to American Girl dolls, students were happily engaged writing about things that mattered to them.
With their work on book blurbs before the holidays, students were already familiar with recommending books. They knew to start with an interesting lead, to include some details to help the reader know what the book is about, to make deliberate word choices to keep the writing interesting, and to say why the book is a worthy read. Writing book blurbs was a perfect prelude to our longer product reviews.
But what exactly comprises a product review? We took a close look at a few reviews to study and notice how they were composed and what choices the authors made. First we studied a restaurant review written by a third grader a few years ago. We also examined the book review that Ms. Boyesen had written of Lizi Boyd’s Big Bear, Little Chair. Finally, we watched a video review of the 3D Viewmaster composed by some kindergarten students in a school not too far from here. Students looked closely, noticing the details and then identified a list of parts to include in their own reviews.
For this project, we decided that instead of typical written reviews, students would use the app Explain Everything to screencast their reviews. That meant they would need photos and maybe even a video of their product to use in their production. So…the favorite homework assignment of the year was born! Students got to take their iPads home (on the rainiest day of the year) to take photos/video of their favorite gift…they couldn’t wait!
Successful digital projects require planning and in the case of product reviews, thoughtful writing and revision before even getting to the screencast. Our students wrote drafts, first in their notebooks, taking the time to revise to make sure they were giving specific reasons why they liked their product. They then had to consider the order of their photos and how they related to the words they wrote. This offered yet another opportunity for revision–maybe another detail needed to be added to the writing. Before students were ready to record their screencast, they decided which words would be paired with which photos, writing them on large index cards. The last step before recording was taking the time to practice speaking their review out loud, thinking about keeping their volume up and using expression in the recorded review.
Eventually, student’s reviews will appear on their blogs for everyone to see. For now, here a few as a preview of what’s to come!