Empowering Writers

January 2018 Lesson of the Month

Many wishes for a happy and healthy New Year from the entire EW team!

Holidays are always a busy time and now we’re all getting back to our school routines, so it’s a good time to recall an oldie but goodie lesson especially with assessment time in the forefront. Elaboration skills can be the key to unlocking your students’ gifts in writing!

Kids of all ages love monsters – and writing about them can be fun! In this lesson students draw and then write a vivid description of a monster – but here’s the catch. For homework the written description goes home and a parent, sibling, or other family member or friend has to draw the beast, based on all of the specific detail in the elaborative segment. Then there’s the big reveal! When the student finally displays her/his own monster drawing it should look dramatically like that of their family member’s or friend’s. And that is an indication that the elaboration was thorough, specific, and vivid! How much fun is that?

Teacher Background

Remember – using specific detail generating questions is the key to generating powerful, vivid detail. Modeling (as a regular part of the methodology) helps students apply these questions to stimulate creative thought. Also providing sentence starters.


Students use detail-generating questions to help them visualize a monster (story critical character). They draw their monster, and refer to it as they write a vivid description. The objective is for the level of detail to be sufficient for a reader to refer to in order to recreate a drawing of the monster.


1) Explain that they will be using some detail-generating questions to help them visualize, draw, and write about a monster. List the following questions:

  • How big or small is your monster? (Compare to something else)
  • What kind/color fur, feathers, scales, hair did it have?
  • What kind/color/size fangs, claws, horns, tail, eyes, ears did it have?
  • What kind of expression did it wear?
  • What kind of legs, arms did it have?
  • What sounds did it make?

2) Distribute a large piece of construction paper and ask the students to draw and color their monster, filling the page (as opposed to drawing a tiny monster in a setting – we want the detail to be clear and vivid. (A great idea is for you, as the teacher, to draw your own monster along with them.)

3) Referring to the detail-generating questions, MODEL writing a description of your monster. List the following sentence starters:

  • I couldn’t believe the monster’s __________.
  • The beast was covered in __________.
  • On its head were __________.
  • Terrified, I stared at __________.
  • The sight of the creature’s __________ made me __________.
  • It stared at me with its __________.
  • You wouldn’t believe __________. Etc.

4) Next (this can be done on another day) engage students in GUIDED PRACTICE, writing their own vivid description of the monster they drew. Circulate, offering feedback and making sure their writing depicts all of the characteristics featured on their monster.

5) Finally, distribute the AT HOME CHALLENGE providing instructions for the cooperating family member or friend. (Monster Sheet) Have students bring back three items – their original drawing, their written descriptive segment, and their family member or friend’s drawing. Display to highlight powerful, accurate description! Make a bulletin board of “Monster Twins”!

Have a look at our Canadian star, Carla Thio’s samples. Amazing! Thank you Carla, for sharing!