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Say What You Mean: Part Two

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Tammi Myers wrote the following on our Facebook Page in response to the post I wrote on Tuesday:

Sometimes we repeat jargon with the goal of being consistent with other grade levels- but that just gives us a class of kids who can parrot the terms with no real understanding.

Tammi makes an excellent point.  In these days of making sure things are consistent from grade-to-grade, as they should be, we’re losing the meaning when we communicate with students.  Thank you, Tammi, for bringing out that point by leaving a comment.

As promised, I wanted to spend a little time on what it means to “add details.”

There are several kinds details we teach students to add to their narrative and non-narrative writing:

  • action
  • dialogue
  • facts
  • setting
  • thinking/feelings

It’s our goal, as writing teachers, to teach students how to incorporate a wide-range of details, as it pertains to the genre we’re teaching, to their writing.  Let’s imagine, for a moment, we have told a student to simply “add details” to their writing.  Well, that student might go ahead and create a story that is held together with mostly actions.  That student’s story wouldn’t be too rich if it didn’t include dialogue, setting details, or internal thinking, would it?  While the student would have done what you asked (i.e., to add details), s/he didn’t include the wide range of details that would make their story interesting.  Therefore, simply telling our students to “add details” isn’t enough.  We have to name the possibilities for adding details to a story and then show them examples (e.g., mentor texts) of what a wide-range of details would look like in a story.  Finally, we must be precise when we show students how they can try to add a wide range of details to their writing when we teach them how to do this during a minilesson, strategy lesson, or in a one-to-one conference.

What are some other terms/jargon we throw around with our students in writing workshop that could use some more clarification? 

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

2 thoughts on “Say What You Mean: Part Two Leave a comment

  1. Late to respond, but wanted to share that I agree, teachers do use words that are empty, really, because there is no follow-up to teach what is meant by the critical words. As I read your post, I realized that awareness doesn’t mean I do it all right. I think the phrase I’ve used most with middle school aged students is ‘would be helpful if you made this point clearer’. This ‘aha’ moment will mean some new lessons to develop this year. Thanks!


  2. One that I use quite often that tends to be too general is “try to focus on your __________ (topic, ending, etc).” I teach kindergarten students and they often are working on organizing their ideas or their sketched plan. Something I am excited to try next year to help clarify this general word in a conference is to make a small paper frame and put the frame around the section of the plan or the area of the writing that needs more focus. I think it wil help to clarify the idea of “focus” in an area that needs improvement for the student.


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