Empowering Writers

February 2010 Lesson of the Month

Have you ever read an expository piece of writing and then said to the student, “Give me more detail”. I know I’ve done that plenty of times. Here’s what they write: a string of very’s, or a color word or size word. They have no idea how to write more! This lesson is the secret to learning how to give more detail in expository writing. We call it Just the Facts and it begins as a fast paced oral exercise that ultimately moves to the writing.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) Grab a good sized bag and collect some common objects – here’s some suggestions:

  • a pencil
  • a scarf
  • a necklace
  • a bedroom slipper
  • your ipod
  • a scented candle
  • a watch
  • a framed photograph
  • sunglasses

2) Explain to students that when writing narrative or expository pieces specific, sensory detail is important. When writing about a topic or main idea in expository writing, or about a story critical object in narrative writing, we need to include powerful detail to bring these things to life!

3) On two distinct areas of the board, write the following:

  • Just the facts!
  • Wow – I can SEE it!

What does it “look” like?


4) Stand next to the heading “Just the Facts” and pull an object from the bag – ex. the pencil. Ask the class what you have in your hand. Of course, they’ll say a pencil. Say to them, “Okay class, you’ve just stated a fact!” Now let’s kick it up a notch…”

Move over and stand by the “Wow I can see it” heading. Ask the class, “What does this particular pencil look like?” Take their observations and “revise” your original statement: “I have a sharpened yellow pencil with a clean eraser”.

If you’ll be testing in expository writing, take it a step further and add another heading – “Why is it important?” Then, your elaboration might sound like this:

“I have a sharpened yellow pencil with a clean eraser to use for classwork”. What an improvement!

5) Demonstrate with a few objects, then give them a turn. All of this is done orally. Keep it fast-paced and fun! After a week or two of the oral practice, write it down instead. Always model this first, then have them try it.

Here’s a few more examples for you:

She bought a necklace. She bought a thick silver necklace. She bought a thick silver necklace

with a cloudy blue stone. with a cloudy blue stone to match her new jeans.

Look at my ipod! Look at my little lime green ipod! The color cheers me up and makes it harder to lose when I’m dying to hear my favorite music!

Mom has a scented candle. Mom has a tan-colored candle in a jar that smells like sugar cookies. It not only makes the house smell cozy, but the flickering flame is pretty to look at.

Ms. Allan had her slippers under her desk. Ms. Allan had a pair of pink, fuzzy slippers under her desk. I think she slips them on when her feet need a gentle, warm hug after standing on the hard, cold pavement during recess duty!

6) Remind students that using this kind of description will dramatically enhance their writing! (It certainly doesn’t hurt on the writing test, either!)


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