This is a great way to review a topic, generate ideas or thoughts, design future test questions and answer them, recap at the end of a lesson, prepare for an upcoming test or quiz, use as a pre-writing strategy to get students' creative juices flowing, and so much more!
Here's what you need:
- scratch/trash paper (seriously...dig it out of your recycling bin, save the scraps that typically get thrown out throughout the year and put them to use! Just make sure that at least one side of the paper is blank.)
- Time (this activity can last as long as you can stand it. It will definitely push you to your limits, but the students will love it and you will love to hear and see the lengthy list of ideas that are generated.)
It's a great strategy for English Language Learners and classes of varying abilities because it gives them exposure to some ideas and sentences that they may not have thought of on their own. And because all of the responses and writing are done completely anonymously, the added pressure of being judged for your responses or not knowing is taken away.
Here's what you do:
- If you are using this activity for test prep, review or recapping a lesson, you can either give the students a topic and tell them to write down one factual statement they know about that topic, answer a question that could have multiple correct answers (it's best to avoid questions that only have one correct answer for this activity), or have the students write down one question that their classmates should be able to answer for the upcoming assessment or by the end of the lesson.
- When students are done, instruct them to crumple up the piece of paper into a "snowball". I usually tell them to stand quietly with their snowball until all of the classmates are ready. (This gives me an easy visual of who is still writing/working.) Once everyone is standing, I yell "Snowball Fight!"
- Students are only allowed to throw one time. Then, they must pick up a snowball that landed near them. If there isn't one nearby, they must go find one.
- They open up the snowball they picked up and read what was previously written. It is important to stress that students are NOT to make fun of the responses or writing that was done before them. This activity is intended to be done anonymously, and every effort should be made to keep it that way. If an incorrect response is discovered on the snowball a student picks up, he/she should point it out to the class (kindly), so that everyone can learn from the mistake. (I typically randomly call on about 5 students after each throw to gauge how the activity is going and discuss any important comments/questions that were made. I also allow for students to read the snowballs they picked up if they feel it is a great idea that needs to be shared or a misconception that needs to be addressed.)
- At this point, depending on the way you've decided to use this activity, you may wish to have students add a NEW idea/statement to the paper snowball they have or answer the question and add a new one. This allows students to share ideas and build upon the ideas of their classmates. As the activity continues, it forces them to start thinking more deeply (as they are not allowed to copy the ideas of the people before them - they must come up with a NEW idea or one that hasn't been shared with the rest of the class.)
If a student doesn't write down an appropriate response the first time, it's okay. Hopefully a classmate will catch the mistake and respectfully bring up the misconception that needs to be addressed. Then, you move on and have a second chance at being successful on the next turn. And worst case scenario, the student that is struggling may end up piggy-backing on the idea of the person before them. For struggling learners, this in itself is an accomplishment and a step in the right direction, so just go with it!
Some ideas for how to use it:
- Give students an open ended prompt, like "Write down one thing that relates to the movements of the Earth.", "Write down one thing that relates to the movement of the Moon." (Having such a broad topic is good because it allows the students to find at least one thing they know about that topic.) As the snowball fight progresses, they may add to the list of facts they know, simply by reading the responses of their classmates. In the case of these 2 prompts, students might end up writing about:
- seasons (caused by the tilt and revolution of the Earth)
- night and day (caused by the Earth rotating on its axis)
- moon phases (caused by the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and moon)
- the length of time various movements take (365.25 days for the Earth to revolve around the Sun, about 1 month for the moon to revolve around the Earth, about 1 week from the new moon to the first quarter moon, about 3 months from one season to the next, about 24 hours for the Earth to rotate on its axis, etc...)