Research has shown that the number one reason students don’t pass standardized writing prompts is lack of idea development. Their pieces are just too short. They haven’t spent enough time elaborating on their ideas and using details.
To combat this problem, Kristina Smekens compiled a list of 20 favorite ways to develop ideas.
As you teach each strategy, reveal short excerpts or passages from picture books to show students the detail in action. To just tell them to use prepositional phrases, onomatopoeia words, comparisons, or number details isn’t enough. Students may need to see several examples of these elements in context to better understand how they can utilize them in their own writing. Students always need to see the strategy before they can successfully implement it.
While introducing one strategy at a time, consider building a wall chart for these 20 ways to add details. This would provide a constant resource and reference within the classroom environment for the next couple months.
After teaching students ways to add details and showing them several examples in anchor papers or picture books, have students apply these different strategies in their own writings. Give kids ample opportunity to use colored pens and go into old writings and play with inserting a variety of details. If students can’t insert a prepositional phrase as an afterthought, they can’t do it as an initial thought. If they can’t develop an idea using sensory details and comparisons as an afterthought, they won’t be able to do it off-the-cuff in a new first draft.
Then, as you get closer and closer to that standardized test, encourage students to apply these different development strategies in new first drafts. Remind students that the standardized test requires them to write a long, well-developed piece in one draft. There is no opportunity for revision; they need to be able to elaborate the first time around.