As I read over students’ initial drafts, I noticed that their stories did not contain many details. They pretty much jumped from the opening to the problem to the solution and wrote, “The End.” That is when I decided a lesson on adding details was needed.
I wanted students to add details about their characters; details about how they talked, thought, acted, moved, and felt. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse was a perfect example to show how Kevin Henkes did this with the character, Lilly. The reason I went back to a text we had read previously is I wanted students to focus on the concept I was teaching, not a new story plot. I displayed the part of the story I had previously used to teach character feelings. They still had the copied pages in their reading folder, so I had them pull them out. We discussed how the author showed Lilly’s feelings through details. He’d written how she felt about what was happening (Lilly felt awful), what she acted as a result of what was happening (She grew smaller and smaller), and how she moved (She ran home and told her parents everything!).
I had included these types of details in my draft I’d written with students. I wanted them to point them out in my writing. I displayed it on the document camera and we read it aloud together. When we came to a detail where I’d written how my character talked, thought, acted, moved, and felt, I highlighted it with a highlighter.
Both of these activities helped students see the connection between reading and writing as a constructive process. As we read, we create meaning in our minds using the words on the page written by the author. As writers, we create meaning for the reader by the words we write on the page.
Before sending students off to write, I posted a character details poster as a reminder to students as they worked.
I had students skip lines when they wrote their initial drafts. This enabled them to write details on the skipped lines. This works out better than having students erase large portions of their work or start all over. The extra work is discouraging to students and writing seems like more work than fun. We don’t do that as adults because we have word processing programs at our disposal, so I don’t ask it of 8-year-olds.
Most students had no trouble adding character details to their stories. I used the questioning technique to help those who needed extra support. Bree was one such student. The best way to teach writing is to use the student’s own work, so we used her story. It was about two boys fighting. She went and told their mother, the mother grounded them, and the fight was over. It was a very neat problem and solution. By asking her a series of questions, she was able to add details about how her characters felt, talked, acted, and moved to make her writing more interesting to the reader.
I wasn’t there in your story. I really want to know what happened. Can you help me see that?
Why are the boys fighting? Bree responds. Can you add that detail?
How did it start? Oh, wow! That’s interesting. You have GOT to include that detail! Bree, happily erases so that she will have enough room to add that detail.
What did they say to each other?
What did their mom say?
How did the boys feel about that? Oh, wow, I can imagine how they felt.
What did they do next?
At this point in time, I simply wanted to assess whether or not students were adding character details to their stories. I used a checklist to check off what type of details they were adding. If a certain type of detail was missing, I conferenced with the student and used the questioning technique to help them add those missing pieces.
For closing, I had students write the most interesting sentence from their story on a sticky note. They placed them on the bulletin board and read what their peers had posted. It is important for students to actively evaluate their writing. This ensures they keep the reader in mind and make it interesting. This also gave them the opportunity to hear other interesting lines for future ideas.