Empowering Writers

January 2017 Lesson of the Month

Happy New Year from the Empowering Writers Team. Our entire crew has rolled up its sleeves to continue to make 2017 your best writing year yet! If you haven’t checked out what’s new from Empowering Writers, be sure to visit our website and take a look at what we’re doing to improve instruction and help create confident, enthusiastic writers! By now, you should be well on your way to a place where student writing is starting to shine. If a little “polishing” is in order, pick up one of our guides and begin the step-by-step process to writing success. This month’s lesson comes to you from a fellow teacher at Clear Creek Elementary in Killeen, Texas. Sheridan Williams is an ESL teacher who’s passionate about Empowering Writers. Her desire to teach her students how to write no matter what has inspired us to share one of her ESL techniques. The lesson layers Narrative elaborative detail skills so that English Language Learners can experience success.

Lesson of the Month:

Elaborative detail in any genre is a skill that requires repeated instruction and practice. The advantage of repetition, for most learners, is that they’re exposed to the skill in many different scenarios, establishing their confidence and competency in the technique. Sheridan’s prescriptive lesson, adapted from pages 88 – 93 in the Narrative Guide is designed to approach elaboration in small do-able segments – with extraordinary results.


Students will use their five senses to elaborate about winter. They’ll generate details about what they would see, hear, smell, taste, or feel in winter. Then students will pair sentence starters with their details and write the sentences on paper strips. Lastly, the students will organize their sentence strips into an elaborative paragraph.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) First, brainstorm with students what they might see in winter. As the students generate ideas, chart their responses. Sample ideas: snowman, snowy hill, sled, bare trees, fire in the fireplace, someone’s hot breath in the air, roasted marshmallows, horned deer searching for food, Santa and his reindeer, decorated Christmas trees, frozen icicles, holiday decorations, nutcrackers, wreaths, blankets, frosted dew, layered clothing, boots, scarves, toboggans, and so on. After the students have responded and their choices are charted, have students copy some of their details on their own paper (12×18 piece of construction paper). See sample photo below:

2) On another day, repeat the process with what they might hear in winter. Sample ideas: snow skier swishing snow, wind whistling through the trees, snow plows cleaning the streets, children playing in the snow, Christmas carolers singing in front of your house, birds chirping/singing, dripping of melting icicles, feet crunching in the snow, crackling fire, and so on. Chart their responses and have students add several details to their individual charts. See sample photo below.

3) Continue this process until all five senses are discussed and charted. This can take 3-5 days to complete. The photo below shows what a completed student sample might look like.

4) The next step involves sentence starters. The teacher will write sentence starters on a single sheet of paper (two or more relating to each of the five senses). Then make multiple copies and cut the strips apart, one set for each student. Have the students decide which sentence starters would best match particular details on their chart and actually place these beside the corresponding details. See sample photo below.

5) Continue the lesson, distributing each student a number of sentence strips (5-10). Have students write sentences describing winter, using their detail chart and matching sentence starters to write about winter, one sentence per strip. See sample photo below.

6) Once each student has a collection of sentences on paper strips, have them organize their strips into a specific order representing an elaborative paragraph. When they’re satisfied with their grouping, have them copy the sentences on writing paper.

7) Adhere the paragraph to a large sheet of construction paper and let students illustrate their paragraph. See final sample photo below.