What does she mean add details?

My daughter shook a paper in front my face, with her other hand on her hip she said, “I lost points because she [the teacher] said I have to add more details. How do you add more details to this?”

I looked at her paper. At the top of the worksheet she wrote each of her twenty spelling words. At the bottom of the worksheet she was suppose to use two spelling words in a sentence. Hannah wrote:

The friends were partners and sometimes they are lazy.

Looking at the work, I understood Hannah’s frustration. Hannah said, “This isn’t even real writing.”

I think this is an issue for many young writers. Teachers say “add details,” but never explain the kinds of details to add. I said to Hannah, “I think you need to add some words that prove you know what the word means. You can do what Lemony Snicket does. Sometimes when he writes a word, he then defines it. One way to do this is with a parenthesis. So your sentence could go like this:

The friends were partners (two people working together) and sometimes they are lazy (don’t get their work done).”

Then I promised to bring home a Lemony Snicket book tomorrow. I doubt she’ll read the book (she is obsessed with historical fiction), but I think she will use this kind of detail in her writing. I also don’t know if this is the kind of sentence her teacher will want. So another kind of detail I want to teach her is adding an example using the word “because.” I also want to teach her the kind of detail where you reword the definition within the sentence. (These will be for another day, though.)

The friends worked together as partners and sometimes they are lazy because they talk instead of work.

Most importantly, though, I think these kinds of details ought to be taught within an authentic writing experience. This weekend Hannah wanted to write a short story, so I taught her kinds of character details. I just taught this lesson to third graders earlier in the week, so I sketched a similar picture of this chart in the top corner of Hannah’s draft.


A chart to help students learn to "add details." In this case, I'm teaching KINDS OF character DETAILS.



After we talked about kinds of character details, I encouraged her to allow her character to show the story to the reader. Here is the beginning of Hannah’s short story (historical fiction about her favorite thing — horses):

“Mooom, I really want a horse!” Laura said for the millionth time.

Mom threw her hands in the air and said, “Laura! I’m sick and tired of the complaining. You have more stuff than you need.”

Laura runs upstairs to her room and throws herself on her bed. Laura feels love in her heart for horses, but her mom won’t let her have a horse. She screams, “I WANT A HORSE!” into her pillow. She knows her mom won’t let her. So she punches her pillow, “it’s just not fair,” Laura says to herself. I’m going to sneak to Grandfather’s house.

So the next morning she put on her petticoat and her gown and her shoes. She went to the kitchen to get an apple for Snickers, her Grandfather’s horse. Snickers loves apples. She tiptoes to the stable.

Clearly Hannah is the type of writer who adds detail to her writing. She is this kind of writer because of specific teaching into her point of need. Obviously writers should add detail to their writing. However, as teachers, we should be specific in teaching kinds of details to add. Here are a handful of kinds of details lessons I teach students:

  • Character Details (Moving, Thinking, Feeling, Talking)
  • Setting Details (5 senses)
  • Important Object Details
  • Description (Character, Object, Setting) — similes & metaphors fit well into this kind of lesson, as well as adjectives
  • Non-narrative Details (Quote, Statistic, Fact, Anecdote, Definition)

How about you? What kinds of details do you encourage students to use in their writing?