–Does any of this sound familiar? If you’re reading this post, I bet so. When we say “add more details” – what exactly does that mean? Do you know? Do your students know? Maybe, possibly, but we all know that doesn’t help a child understand their next steps. Part of teaching writing in the elementary grades is being super clear in our teaching. Writing is very abstract in itself, so our job as writing teachers is to bring the abstract to a more concrete level.
Let’s start with identifying what elaboration is in terms of writing. Just so we’re clear. Elaboration is the process of presenting and developing an idea. Elaboration is also adding more detail to better explain what has already been said. Elaboration looks different depending on the genre in which you are writing.
- In Narrative, elaboration means to be more descriptive and help the reader feel like they are in the story.
- In Informational, elaboration means to explain the main idea in depth using key details that also describe or develop the topic.
- In Opinion, elaboration means to really dig into the reasons that support your opinion and support your opinion.
For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on elaboration in reference to Informational and Opinion writing.
What is the difference between evidence and elaboration?
Another great way to think about the relationship between evidence and elaboration is that the evidence is WHAT is important. The elaboration is WHY it is important.
One common misconception I want to get out of the way is that evidence and elaboration are two different things. This isn’t quite true. Elaboration says more about the evidence. However, depending on the writing task, there could be more evidence that elaborates on a prior piece of evidence.
Part of what makes writing so difficult is that it is SO abstract. By bringing the abstract to concrete, we make it accessible for our students. This activity is a fun (and yummy!) way to help your students brush up on their elaboration skills.
1// Students will need their writing notebook and a piece of candy. Starbursts are always a big win! If sugar or school policy is an issue, then choose a favorite healthy snack – goldfish, pretzels…it really doesn’t matter because you and your students are going to turn the ordinary into extraordinary.
2// Write a topic sentence at the top of their notebook page. This can be a simple main idea sentence. For example, “Starbursts are a type of candy.” I suggest you also model this using your writing notebook or chart paper.
3// Next, write a sentence that gives factual information supporting this. Explain what makes Starburst a candy. “They are made from sugar and come in a variety of flavors.” This is evidence that supports the main idea sentence.
4// Elaborate! Now, is where we can elaborate and say more about that one piece of evidence. Ask your students these 3 questions:
- So what?
- Who cares?
- Why does it matter?
So what they come in a variety of flavors? Who cares there are different flavors? Why does that even matter?
Invite your students to share their ideas about why different flavors matter. This is the elaboration. Use this as an overall discussion and brainstorm. You could be the facilitator of the discussion and have a student recording the ideas on chart paper or even open a Google Doc and display on your overhead to type it quicker. (Plus, you’ll get to hold onto it longer.) Don’t require students to write anything down just yet – they can, but it’s more important to participate in the discussion and create a buzz.
Use the responses below to get things started if your students have difficulty coming up with ideas:
- People like different flavors. For example, I do not like cherry – many people love cherry.
- This makes it easier to share with a friend.
- You can trade colors – it becomes a social experience.
- You won’t get bored by tasting the same old flavors all the time.
- You can make it educational by sorting the different colors.
- If you don’t like a certain flavor, then you can give it to someone else.
- You can learn more about your friends by figuring out what flavors they like.
- If you know that you like a certain flavor of the candy, then you might like the actual fruit. This could lead you to want to eat more fruit. And that’s healthy.
5// Flash Write! After students have had a chance to brainstorm ideas as a class, have them flash write for a few minutes to elaborate on their own. They can use the ideas you came up with together or come up with their own. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes and tell students to write as much as they can about Starbursts (or your topic). During this time, you can write as well to model that we are all writing right now. Or you can write for a little bit and then roam the room complimenting writers with words of encouragement. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling, etc. Just let them write. Also, be on the lookout for examples of student writing to share. Ask for permission to share their writing and then make a big deal about it! We’ll talk more mentor authors in the classroom below.
There are three questions that I like to share with my students when it comes to teaching elaboration.
- So, what?
- Who cares?
- Why does it even matter?
I like to share these phrases with students to get their attention and also get them thinking about their evidence. These questions help push the writer to say more about their topic. With the Starburst activity, we used these questions to think about why do different flavors even matter? This pushed students to think beyond – “oh this is a great candy and it comes in different flavors.” Now that students understand elaboration more, we can look at specific strategies for elaboration. These notebook charts are included in my Informational Writing Unit.
I also want to offer a few more strategies not included in this chart. These strategies come from the book The Big Book of Details by Rozlyn Linder and a few of my own.
- Imagine That! (Or Imagine This!)
- Good Question
- Opposite Sides
- Call to Action
- This Matters…
I suggest teaching 1-2 elaboration strategies specifically, then have students put a star next to other ones they would like to try. The notebook charts stay in their notebook so that they have an example of the strategies for future writing.
If your students are having difficulty applying this to their writing, cloze writing is a great way to have students focus on a specific part of the writing. In a cloze exercise, a portion of language is missing and students complete it. This helps students practice a specific skill without having to worry about all of the other parts of their writing. This freebie is located in my free resource library. You can snag the freebie by clicking the link below. This is part of the freebie that you will find inside the Free Resource Library.
Color coding writing is a great way to help students “see” the different parts of their writing. The colors you use don’t matter, but be intentional, stay consistent, and use as few colors as possible. Otherwise, students get overwhelmed and confused.
I use this chart to help students identify the colors. Then, we use a mentor essay (usually mine) and color code. Some ways you can do this:
- Use an anchor chart.
- Use a Google Doc, Google Slide, or PowerPoint
- Use colored pencils and your writing notebook, written, or typed essay
You can use color coding while you are teaching or introducing elaboration, but it is also a great way to have students revise their writing. Having them color code their writing helps them to see what might be missing. And usually… it’s elaboration. 🙂
This is my favorite way to motivate students, get them excited about writing, and to also show them that they are writers and admired by others.
When you see students doing something specifically well, begin to showcase their work. And not just their whole essay – but when they are doing something specifically amazing. I typed these 4th Grade student examples up while teaching elaboration.
This helps other students see that if their peers can do this high-level work, then they can too. Plus, it’s a way to help them feel more confident in their work.
Another huge benefit for you and your students is that you are curating mentor texts and sentences of writing. I suggest saving these examples to use for modeling in the future and to have examples for yourself when it’s time to teach specific strategies.
(Side note: I collect student writing in a binder so that I always have examples. When you see your students doing something well, find a way to keep a copy of it. Copy student notebooks, have them type it up for you, or make it super easy and snap a picture!)
So there you have it! My top tips for teaching elaboration. Be sure to snag your freebie from the Free Resource Library. This also puts you on my email list so you’ll be the first to know when more writing centers and activities come out!
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