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LANGUAGE ARTS :: SECONDARY RESOURCES :: WRITING HANDBOOK :: USING SUPPORT AND ELABORATION EFFECTIVELY

USING SUPPORT AND ELABORATION EFFECTIVELY

How Can I Help My Students Expand On Their Ideas?

ASK FOR SPECIFIC DETAILS.
Students can help each other think of details to add to their writing by swapping papers and asking each other a series of questions about the piece. For example, a reader can find three places in the composition where additional details would be helpful. Instead of simply asking for more details, the reader can ask a specific question such as "How did the Town Council make that decision?", "What kinds of fabric work best for that project?", or "What specific complaints did the war protesters have?".

EXPLODE A MOMENT.
Lane (1993) recommends a technique that he calls "Explode a Moment," which lends itself especially well to narrative writing. He tells students to find a moment in time (for example, when someone spilled milk on the table) and develop the moment through descriptive detail that stretches time and makes it last longer than expected. Students may find the "Explode a Moment" technique helpful as they compose introductions to more expository writing as well when they use narrative to engage the reader.

USE QUESTIONS TO SCAFFOLD.
Strong (2001) advocates "using questions to scaffold" (p. 20). This involves asking questions that become increasingly specific about one piece of the composition. He gives the following sample starter sentence: "With fingers clicking, the dude is tuned in to the beat of music and to the verbal hysteria that comes from his radio" (p. 20). He then proposes the following questions for the writer: "What does the dude look like? What kind of music does he hear? What is the verbal hysteria?" (p. 20). The student writes another sentence and the scaffolding continues.

MODEL ELABORATION.
Students may need to see effective use of elaboration in order to use it in their own writing. By selecting a piece of writing in the same genre of the assignment, the teacher can create an "unelaborated" version to help students see the difference that the elaboration makes. Or, students can collaborate to "elaborate" the weak version as a way of learning how to take the bare bones of a paper and add flesh to it.

USE FREEWRITING AND LISTING.
Although freewriting and listing are often thought of as useful prewriting activities, they can also be used while students are drafting if they begin to have difficulty thinking of details and elaboration to flesh out the text. Students can be instructed to brainstorm a list of 10 things that they know about the topic but haven't included. They can also be asked to select one paragraph from the draft and write as much as they can think of about what they've written so far as a way of seeing if there are other details that may be helpful.

CLUSTER IDEAS.
Clustering is another technique commonly thought of in light of prewriting that can be helpful for students when they need to "check out" the elaboration they have used. Students can cluster the ideas from each paragraph to see if they actually get to the point where they are supporting the examples with details and elaboration that make it real for the reader.

TAKE TIME OFF.
Sometimes students simply need distance from the composition in order to see the lack of detail that may have been in their heads as they wrote but somehow didn't make it onto paper. After a few days away from the piece, they may be better able to judge where they need to tell the reader more to make the writing come alive, be convincing, or be complete.

Example
In Horticulture I, students examine a problem currently facing the farmers of North Carolina and propose a solution to that problem. In order to make sure that they have effectively explained the problem, students cluster the ideas in the piece as a way of finding places to add relevant details.

Example
In Foreign Language I, students compose a sentence in the target language describing the classroom. The teacher asks a prompting question to help students use vocabulary they know and flesh out the description with more detail

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