Adapted from The Writing Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
Elaboration is the specific information a writer uses to develop her topic. Elaboration includes but is not limited to: details, facts, anecdotes, dialogue, inner thinking, setting description, character descriptions, statistics, reasons, information, and direct quotations from interview subjects. With strong use of purposeful detail, a piece of writing comes to life and the author's intended meaning is clear. With an absence of detail to develop the character, paint the world of the story, explain the content, or offer reasons and facts for the purpose of persuasion, the writing often falls flat or feels confusing to a reader.
Offering a variety of elaboration strategies will also help students to vary the types of details they may include in their piece, so their drafts don't end up sounding one-note. Overall, we should aim to not just say to children, "Add more details," but rather, "Think about what it is you're trying to say/show/tell. Now what details would best help you do that?" (Murray 1985; Anderson 2005).
Watch an elaboration strategy in action below as Jennifer Serravallo works with a student on her writing:
Want to learn more about writing strategies to use in your classroom? Join the online Summer Writing Camp for teachers hosted by Jennifer Serravallo! The five-week program takes place in the Reading and Writing Strategies Facebook Group, and runs through July 27th. Registration is not required, and you can drop in and out whenever your schedule allows. Learn more here.
Jennifer Serravallo is the author of New York Times bestseller The Reading Strategies Book as well as other popular Heinemann titles, including Teaching Reading in Small Groups; Conferring with Readers; and The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, Grades K–2 and Grades 3–6. Her newest book is The Writing Strategies Book. She is also the author of the On-Demand Courses Strategies in Action: Reading and Writing Methods and Content and Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Matching Methods to Purposes where you can watch dozens of videos of Jen teaching in real classrooms and engage with other educators in a self-guided course.
Jen began her career in education as a teacher in Title I schools in NYC and later joined the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Through TCRWP and now as an independent consultant, she has spent over a decade helping teachers across the country to create literacy classrooms where students are joyfully engaged and the the instruction is meaningfully individualized to students' goals.