Hot Chocolate Writing

Each December my world is a whirlwind as I’m sure many of your worlds are, too. There’s so much to do! There’s so little time! It’s an unbalanced force of nature that heaps on additional stress from party planning to gift giving to oh-my-goodness-we-are-out-of-tape-on-Christmas-Eve panic that is enough to make anyone want to crawl into the chimney themselves and hide.

Despite the chaos of holiday happenings, I secretly LOVE this time of year! Oh, the joy of writing by the twinkle of lights on my tree, decorated with decades of memories from my family! Oh, the love shown by others as Secret Santas sprinkle kindness to make someone else’s day just a little bit brighter! Oh, the jubilation of doing fun, creative lessons at school where holiday themes and acts of service trump standardized tests and worksheets!

One my my tried-and-true, favorite lessons to teach this time of year is “Hot Chocolate Writing.” It’s an engaging lesson that can be adapted for any age level and is sure to bring a smile to many!

The lesson begins with sounds of Sleigh Ride jing-jing-jingling throughout the room as students enter our Innovation Lab. They pick up their supplies from the table and sit anywhere they like. They have a small white board, a dry erase marker and an eraser.

That’s it.

There’s already a buzz of excitement in the room because the lights are dimmed low, music fills their ears, and they already know it’s going to be a fun lesson!

Once students are settled in their chosen spot – some are in wobble seats, others on cushions, a few on the sofa and carpet – we share a conversation about their first impressions of today’s lesson. They mention the music, the flexible seating, the materials “with no directions on what we’re supposed to do” and inevitably someone mentions the colored post-it notes I’ve placed on the back of their white boards.

The engagement factor is buzzing now as side conversations erupt.

“What color do you have?”

“What are we going to do with these?”

“What’s going to happen next?”

Ahhhhh… the hook has grabbed them already!

It’s then, with rapt attention, I talk about sights and sounds and all the ways people are drawn into whatever the experience may be. We talk about movies. Videos. Commercials. Cartoons. We discuss the power of storytelling and how it all begins with someone writing a screenplay, a script, a storyboard, a scene.

I then offer the challenge: List the five senses on your white board in less than 30 seconds.

Beat. The. Clock.

The only sound you hear is markers sliding across the boards.

I draw a very primitive picture of a hand and the students tell me which senses to add, labeling the fingers.

Five senses.

Five fingers.

Easy to remember.

It’s then that we shift our focus back on the power of stories and we watch a video clip from the movie, The Polar Express, that shows waiters and chefs serving hot chocolate to children on a train. The students are easily pulled into the moment as they watch with wide eyes and smiles. For many this is a familiar scene.

For some, it is new.

When the conductor closes the door and the music fades away, students turn their attention to the board on the side where I have placed colored post-it notes by the five senses listed earlier. Now they are given a task:

Look on your white board to see which color you are assigned and which sense matches your color.

Watch the same video clip but this time focus only on your designated sense.

What details can you add to your white board?

We watch the video again as students fill their boards with descriptions.

After the video ends, they are told to find their group members (based on color of  post-it notes) and share insights to dig deeper and create more meaningful descriptions.


The room is noisy, but productive, the creative banter ringing like bells across a snow-filled meadow. Time is limited so they work quickly, then we gather back together as a whole class to start sharing ideas of what to put in our descriptive paragraph.
They talk.
I type.
We go from group to group, sharing details based on the sense we were given. We begin with sight to set the basic flow of the paragraph, then move to sound, adding descriptions, changing the order, creating compound sentences with commas and comparisons. Then we add in smell, touch, and taste.
Our writing as a class is messy.
We misspell words. We fix them.
We realize we left out key information. We add it back in.
We debate word choice.
We ponder synonyms and syntax.
We write.
By the time each group has shared their suggestions, our basic summary of a movie scene is filled with detailed descriptions worthy of the big screen.
We read our story together.
We celebrate our success!
One reason why I love this lesson so much is because students focus on the 4C’s:
Critical Thinking – Students have to focus on their chosen sense and filter out other senses in their white board descriptions. They also have to think of figurative language which can be a challenge for some who struggle with abstract concepts.
Communication – Students communicate constantly in this lesson. They share their ideas. They write. They speak. They shift their conversations from internal dialogue to peer sharing to articulating ideas for the class.
Collaboration – Students take individual ideas and expand upon them in small groups, later collaborating as an entire class to join in the writing process.
Creativity – Students think of creative ways to describe something of familiarity with others.
I also love that students get to see what real writers do in the writing process:
We make mistakes.
We move words around.
We get excited when words work well and annoyed when they don’t.
We question.
We wonder.
We create.
If you are looking for a fun-filled activity that will engage your students in the writing process, you may want to serve up a cup of “Hot Chocolate Writing” as you wind down this holiday season. It’s sure to put a smile on your face and theirs!


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