One of my Yr2’s came to see me at lunch. She is creative, energetic and outgoing – everything that I ask and very sincere in trying to improve her language skills. But she has been disappointed lately that she is not finding the ‘fully meeting’ in her presentational writing pieces.
“Sensei – I’m trying to hard to get to put in more details – but I keep getting ‘mixed up’ and feel jumbled in my thoughts.” She felt that she was so busy trying to ‘push her level of detail that what she was writing was not making sense. “How do I start?” she asked.
I struggled for a tip, a simple way to help her to understand how. Now I will add that this student is also a snappy dresser who melds her love of cos-play with her everyday wear. And it struck me that, like putting together an outfit, writing was a matter of adding ‘layers’ to basics too. So we talked about getting dressed. “Do you”, I asked, “put on your earrings, bracelets, jacket etc before you choose your basic outfit?” “No,” said my student, “I get dressed first.”
“Well,” I told her “This is just the same as writing – you ‘get dressed’ with a basic sentence – then you add some accessories.””But what would I add?” she asked.”What do you do when you choose an outfit?” “I accessorize” she said…Then I asked “What are our ‘accessories’ when we communicate?”…All of a sudden I saw it dawn on her. “Our follow-up questions...”.
And it dawned on me too. It’s not just enough to write on the rubric and say “try adding more detail.” I had to help them to do this in a logical and ‘understandable’ way. I had to more explicitly link what we do with ‘Wheel Of Detail‘ for interpersonal speaking to their writing too. With this in mind I went back to the entire class and talked about adding details using our follow-up questions as a guide. We started with a simple idea (and written) sentence:
Kenji watched a movie.
If this is what Ken said he did, I asked, what would you want to know? And their follow-up questions included (1) why? (2) when? (3) who with? (3A) what are they like? (4) how? (5) where at? (6) how did they watch? Gradually the expanded sentence emerged.
(1)Because he really likes them, (2) last week on Tuesday at 4pm, (3A) tiny but cute Kenji and (3A) really funny (3) Naomi (6) quietly watched a (3A) very interesting movie (5) at a movie theatre in Shinjuku.
They then practiced in pairs – coming up with their own ‘accessories’ for another sentence and we debriefed them as a group. I saw many have a “I can do this…” or “Oh this is how…” moment.
Making more detailed and interesting sentences should not be hard. I had neglected to help them see the link from the questions we use when we speak to the written text. My students often talk now about ‘accessorizing’ their sentences…and as they emerge out of novice it has also led to more interesting written pieces…with more detail than before!