Getting Detail into Students’ Writing


I hear this all the time from teachers. The latest was in response to having students draft on iPads. To combat the lack of detail in drafts, I like to work with my students on developing prewriting strategies that help them think through their story grammar.


One of my favorite strategies is using a storyboard. This idea is not new but I put my own spin on it – rather than starting at the beginning, I have my students develop the climax scene first.


Last week, I modeled this strategy in a fifth grade classroom. We started by reviewing the important aspects of story structure by creating an anchor chart. Then I introduced students to my Winter Roll-a-Story story starter page. I asked four volunteers to roll the dice for me to select my character, setting, mood, and conflict.


roll-a-story pic

Once I had the important aspects of my story selected, I started thinking aloud about what the climactic scene might look – how I could best bring my problem to a tipping point. Then I started sketching the scene on my storyboard. I moved the story forward by drawing the next scene where my main character tried to solve his problem then I drew the resolution.


writing story board


After completing most of my drawings, we talked about how I used sketches and included items in the scenes that extended beyond just the character. Then students got to work rolling and drawing their own stories.


The next day we looked at sharing our stories with a friend and then revising our drawings as needed. I have found that it is easier to get students to revise their drawings than it is to revise their actual writing, so we do some of that work before we put words to paper. Then I modeled for students the next step, which is to cut apart each scene. Then on the back of each scene, we listed 3-5 events or details about what is happening in the scene. We also talked about how not all authors start with the introduction but sometimes start with the climax and then flashback to give the reader more information. So I modeled how I might re-arrange my scenes to tell my story more effectively, settling on a slightly different order than I drew them in.


story board pieces


On my last day in their classroom, we worked on moving from drawings to words. I shared with students the beginning of my story, showing them that I had a page of words and that was only describing my first two boxes because as I wrote, I was able to add more details by thinking about my character’s thoughts, feelings, and environment. They were excited to get started and jumped right into the writing. Each student logged onto Google Docs on their iPads and shared their story with me, which allowed me to comment on their writing during our workshop time. Their works in progress are already more detailed and organized than before. Their teacher was excited and planned to use the strategy when she introduced her next writing unit – myths and tall tales.


How do you increase the amount of details that students include in their writing?


winter RAS                       Horizontal Storyboard mini

Interested in trying out my storyboard strategy or my winter themed Roll-a-Story in your room? Visit my TeachersPayTeachers store or click the image above to download a free copy.


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