Strategies for Adding Details and Using Elaboration in Writing

Teaching Elaboration Strategies Adding details to writing

Adding Details in Writing

One of my biggest pet peeves in writing is when a student will rewrite the exact five sentences from their graphic organizer, call that a paragraph, and tell me they’re finished. Getting students to elaborate and add details to their writing has been extremely challenging. It’s been helpful to introduce different strategies and spiral back as needed.

Elaboration Strategies:

  • Asking questions. Students can ask where, how, what kind, and why to add more details. While the added details (and specific questions) may look different in a narrative vs. an informational writing piece, the strategy works either way. While this strategy can be the most helpful, students can be stuck looking at their own writing because, in their minds, they know the answers. It helps to have students peer edit or to conference with them to provide questions.
  • Show, don’t tell. Instead of saying “Ryan is angry,” show his emotions by describing his face, body language, actions, and words. “Ryan’s face was red. With his fists clenched, he bellowed, ‘Stay away from me!’”

In nonfiction writing, this might mean describing a scenario to support an idea. For example, instead of telling, “The giraffes at the Austin Zoo were happy with their new feeding,” show by saying “The giraffes at the Austin Zoo played with their new food maze box everyday and didn’t need to lick the bars of their cage. They also eagerly accepted food from the visitors, now allowed to feed them.”

  • Adding support from text. For any nonfiction writing, students can do research to find more facts to support their opinion or give additional information on a topic. In narrative writing, students could research more about a specific setting to add details. This would be important (and helpful!) if they’re writing a historical fiction story.
  • Adding support through personal stories. This strategy works when students have experience with a topic. In a narrative, while writing about a school scenario, students could use their experience to add details about what the classroom looks like or what happens at recess. In a nonfiction piece about whether students need a bedtime, they can include whether or not they have a bedtime and how it affects their day. 
  • Adding support through personal research. This strategy became my new favorite this past year. When writing opinion pieces about a topic related to them, I allowed my students to poll the class. Then I modeled how to include that information. For example, in an opinion on whether dogs or cats make better pets, one student found that 15 out of 21 classmates preferred dogs. Their added detail became “In a fourth grade class, 15 out of 21 students agreed that dogs make better pets.” Another way to add this type of research is letting students interview each other (or anyone knowledgeable about the topic, like another teacher or an adult at home) and then including a quote from their personal research.
  • Providing a related word bank. This isn’t a strategy students can always do on their own, but through no fault of their own, students may be lacking the vocabulary to add more. Identify what kinds of words are lacking. In narrative writing, it can simply be adjectives. With informational writing, it may be more topic based, such as animal-related words or technological terms.
  • Peer editing. Let students read each other’s writing, and then find places where their partner could use one of the strategies above. After introducing a strategy and letting students try it on their own, I like having them practice the same strategy on a peer’s writing. This works pairing writers of similar or different abilities. If I pair two struggling writers, then I usually help to facilitate those groups to make sure they’re able to really practice whatever strategy we’re focusing on.
Using these writing anchor chart bookmarks helps my students remember the different strategies we learning throughout the year, from elaboration to revising & editing.

Focusing on Elaboration

Besides adding new strategies for elaboration each time, I love using a writing unit that focuses mainly on description. Bonus? It gives students the chance to draw some monsters! The goal is for students to be able to write a paragraph (or two) to describe their monster so well that another student could draw their monster using the written description. If the paragraph is descriptive enough, the pictures will match! If not, it’s back to the editing/revising phase where more details are added.

First, I model drawing from the description while my students read to me (and critique my direction following!), and then they try reading and drawing another monster. After that…it’s their turn!

This is my monster I created as a model. You can make your own…or use the two model monsters & paragraphs in the unit.

This full unit includes...

✔️Unit Plan

✔️Printables for Modeling & Partner Work

✔️Graphic Organizer

✔️Drawing Paper

✔️Decorative Final Copy Paper

✔️Extra Activities, including a mini book about your monster!

Need help organizing your writing lessons? Check out this free minilesson planning template to keep your lessons on track.

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