agency · elaboration · goals · mentor texts · small group · teacher writing · writing workshop

A Small Group in Action: Elaboration Strategies, Here We Come!

Walking around a fourth-grade classroom, I pinpointed four writers who were all ready to think about elaboration strategies. They had their ideas, they were able to tell me or show me their beginning, middle, and end, and they were excited to tell their story… but they had some work to do.

One of them, Student A, was a dialogue glutton; if you’re a fourth-grade teacher, you know what I mean when I say the whole thing was a conversation. Another one of the four, Student B, was an actionist, and the other two students could make their stories better with some inner thinking. I knew all this, but my goal was to have the students recognize it and then take steps to revise accordingly.  This post describes the first session of a series of small group instruction to inspire these fourth-grade writers to use more elaboration strategies.

My first move with these students was to let them know how impressed I was with their understanding of how stories go and their ability to pinpoint a story that would interest readers. From there, I let them know how tricky it can be for writers to blend action, talk, description, and inner thinking, using this card as a visual for them. You can access four of these through  this link.

Then, I showed them a page from Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina. 

This picture book is one of my favorites, and I have a chart that enumerates the craft moves throughout it. 

I have a number of books I’ve charted, and these resources makes small group preparation much more efficient!

Even though the students had not read this book before, with only a little coaching, they were able to identify how Meg blends talk and action in just a few lines. 

I showed them another passage, this time from Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale, (Mentor Text Craft Move Chart linked here). As partners, they identified more elaboration strategies. They debated whether the passage included description, and it was fun for me to listen to them. I cared much less about who was right and who was wrong, and much more about the level of discourse they had about a text. 

Then, moving along the process, I showed them a piece of writing I’ve been working on about a girl named Samantha who couldn’t find her sweatpants in the morning. 

My yellow card shows that my beginning has a lot of action, and the orange card has my proposed revisions.

Before I showed them my revisions on the orange post-it, I showed them how the yellow elaboration strategies card indicated that my piece was action-heavy and could use some description and maybe even some inner thinking. 

By that time– about seven minutes into the small group lesson which I know because we were videoing it– they were really wanting to examine their own pieces. It did not take long for them to show me some results. 

“All I have is talk,” student A said, showing me her card. 

“Isn’t that interesting,” I said, working to hide my smile. Her realization was exactly what I’d been hoping for. “What are you going to do about that?” I asked. 

“I think I have to balance it out a bit,” she said. “My story needs some action and desciption.”

You think?!?!

Student B was very clear about his tendency to write with all action. “It helps me get the story out,” he reflected, “but it would be better for readers if I add some of the other strategies.”

By the time this ten-minute small group was done, all four students had made important reflections about their own writing, and all four of them were busy with goals for improving their writing. I can’t wait to see what they do next week!

4 thoughts on “A Small Group in Action: Elaboration Strategies, Here We Come!

  1. I’m amazed at how this one simple strategy can help the kids own their work and be willing to revise based on their own feedback (with a little help from the chart.) What a great resource! Thanks!

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  2. I was making a video for my 6th grade teachers to use to remind students why to elaborate using dialogue. I read your post and it was all I needed to get myself started! Thanks for the clear inspiration! I will also be sharing your post with my 6th grade teachers as I think they will like your tally sheet! Thanks for sharing your brillance!

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