Applying the "Filling in the Gaps" Technique

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SWBAT add detail and description to narrative writing.

Big Idea

Show me. Don't tell me!


15 minutes

Begin by displaying several statements on the board.  

It was boring.

I had fun.

She is nice.

I liked it. 

Ask students as a whole group what they notice about these statements?  They will likely tell you that they are boring or not detailed.  If they don't remind them of our friends Jack and Jill from the previous lesson.  We took a pretty sketchy story and filled in the gaps.  These statements are stories waiting to happen.   We have many, many gaps to fill.  

Let the students know that these are telling statements. They just tell the reader something, but they leave us guessing what really happened.  In writing, we need to show our reader the event by adding detail.  

I take one of these statements and do a little modeling on how to change it from a telling statement to a showing.  

For example:  

Instead of "It was boring."  I might write....I had been sitting in the waiting room of the dentist's office for almost 45 minutes now.  There was no one in the room but me.  I search for a magazine to keep my mind of the boredom, but the only thing available were dental brochures.  I walked over to the fish tank only to find it completely empty.  I could hear the ticking of the clock counting of each second of my torture.  

I ask the students to help me add details and refer them to the guiding questions:

 How did you feel?

What were you thinking?

What did you see, hear, feel, taste, touch, smell?

Next, I ask students to choose a statement of their own or one of mine and practice showing not telling.  After a few minutes of writing I have them share with a friend.  The friend should read the paragraph and offer feedback by telling where their partner did the best job of showing...not telling.  The students usually are very eager to describe exactly how boring something is (like my class  : ) ) or how much fun they had  (somewhere else).  

This activity helps engage the students in writing and warm their brains up for the application process up next.


Flee Map Time

20 minutes

Have students read over their revised flow map that they created by applying the Slow Motion technique earlier in this unit.  During this lesson, I asked students to add some detail about their main event.  Now it is time to show even more detail and fill in those gaps in the stories.  

Refer to the following guiding questions to fill in gaps:  

How did you feel?

What were you thinking?

What did you see, hear, taste, touch, smell?  

Students should ask these questions about each of the main parts of their event at given in the flow map.  

Blank Flee Map

Any elaboration that they have added, goes underneath the box.  Students need to record at least 3 details, but more is always ok!


Once the planning stage is complete, it is time for students to rewrite the body of their narratives.  Each of the 3 boxes will become a paragraph, so students will be writing 3 paragraphs focusing on the most important event in their story.  The ease that the flow map turns into 3 paragraphs is why I use it so often.  It allows students to elaborate in a way that most of the hard work of thinking is out of the way, and the writing begins to flow.  

You may be wondering why I have decided to have the students revise the body of the essay first.  I find that most of the time the kids know that story they want to tell, but don't know how to start it.  If they write the body first, their work is generally more focused and concise.  I see a lot of rambling when students try to write an introduction that they aren't quite ready to write.  The introduction and conclusion is the hardest part for many students to write, but after they have conquered the body, it is a little easier.  

Wrap It Up

5 minutes

Have students switch body paragraphs with a shoulder partner.   Parents will then read the other paper and find the part that is the most detailed and descriptive.  They will circle it and underline or highlight key words or phrases that make it descriptive.    

 Once they've identified it, them tell their partner what they think.  Share a few super descriptive parts with everyone.  Seeing good writing helps students become better writers.  I love sharing student writing.  It helps kids develop confidence is an area that can sometimes be overwhelming.  They also learn from each other and get new ideas. 

Here are some extra resources that look fun!