Students can usually get something written down on their paper when they are given a topic to write about. Yet, there are the students who write the bare minimum and throw a hand up in the air and call out that they are finished. These students need to work on their elaboration. Deirdre Prisco, a special education middle school teacher at Edgewood Magnet School in New Haven, CT, has written, "Elaboration is an essential key to writing. The development of elaboration is what makes writing clearer, stronger and more effective. It is a challenge for writers of all ages and levels from Pulitzer Prize winning authors to elementary-school students. Writing curricula and programs are filled with lessons on elaboration. Teachers line the margins of student work with comments such as 'add more details,' 'much too general,' 'show, don't tell,' 'tell more' and 'explain better.'"
We need to work with our students so they have a better understanding of what all of those comments mean.
By using something such as a photograph to help with their writing, students will be able to have the subject right in front of them. Just as a reader will read a book without pictures and visualize what is going on, a writer can look at a picture and write using details to explain what is going on in a photograph. By using the photographs of a person, place or thing, a student will be able to tell a narrative from a particular moment in time. Students are creating a verbal snapshot in their narrative essay, so using a picture to help them elaborate is a perfect way to make them feel more confident in their writing.
When the students are asked to pick an expert topic for their expository essay, they first have to come up with something they are an expert on. We work on making lists under different topic headings until they come up with the one main thing they feel they know the best. If students were then given a camera to go home and take pictures of their subject, they would bring them in to use as a helper when they getting to their writing. Even though they feel they are experts about these things, it's sometimes a challenge for the students to come up with everything they know.
Kathleen Cali, who is a doctoral student in the Early Childhood, Families, and Literacy program at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, wrote, "The key to developing support and elaboration is getting
. Good writers use concrete, specific details, and relevant information to construct mental images for their readers."
When students have photographs in front of them, I could confer with them and ask probing questions to help them be able to add more detail.