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Teaching Guide: Detail and Development

Choose any item below to learn more about Detail and Development:

Definition of Detail and Development

Students often forget how important detail and development are in helping the audience understand their writing. The old "showing not telling" addage really holds true in nonfiction writing as well as fiction. In a Literacy Essay, for example, it's one thing to say "I was in third grade" and another to describe what that experience was like so that the reader can visualize or "feel" it as they read details about the classroom itself, the teacher's appearance and demeanor, or what it felt like to sit in the classroom and watch the hands on the clock slowly lurch their way towards three o'clock. "I was in third grade" gives accurate information but no sense of what this experience means to the writer.

Suggested Sequence

The Suggested Sequence section provides ideas and ways to work the exercises into your class. The bibilographical information provides other sources for more information about exercises like these or other ideas for your classroom.

We've set up suggestions for some exercises that work well together and suggested days on which you may want to implement them, but shuffle them around according to what works best for you and your class.

Day One

It's probably best to stick to going over your syllabus, introducing yourself to your students, and having them introduce themselves to one another. Since this is a workshop course, the earlier they get to know one another and feel comfortable discussing assignments together, the more smoothly your workshops will go in the future. If you have a Tues./Thurs. class and don't want to let them out too early, the PHG cookie exercise works well on the first day. It gives them some early practice with writing detail, they get to work together, and most importantly, you provide them with a tasty snack that will endear you to them for the rest of the semester.

Cookie Exercise

Back Back to Day One
In the PHG on page 58, a famous architect has written two paragraphs describing the structural properties of the Nabisco sugar wafer and the Nabisco Fig Newton. You could have them turn to this page after the activity -- it will show them how one's experience constructs how they observe and evaluate things, but also give them some more insight into how great detail can really change the way the reader perceives even common objects or events. Besides, feeding students cookies and other treats is a good way to get them on your side quickly.

Day Two

The Detail Game works well on the second day, as does the Object Lesson. Depending on the length of your class period, you could do both. This will give students an excellent opportunity to not only practice detail and development, but also to work together as a class or in small groups. These are both fun assignments, so they can really get your class excited about the course.

Detail Game

BackBack to Day Two
This idea comes from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff's Community of Writers. It is helpful in getting students accustomed to class participation and using descriptive detail. The activity is fun and always gets everybody involved -- the wilder the class gets with their ideas, the better. You will ask students to look at an object and use descriptive detail -- stressing the five senses -- to reveal something about the object to the audience. You can bring an object from home, the odder the better, and have them come up with as much description as they can about it. You can often have them launch into a narrative by beginning to build a story around your object.

Object Lesson

Back Back to Day Two
The purpose of this exercise is to give students practice working with details and similes, as well as to reinforce the ideas of focus and development. You'll need enough good objects to have one object (placed in an opaque bag) for each group. A few of the objects should have similar characteristics, such as a knife and scissors. Each group will get a bag with an object in it, and they will have to describe it so that the other group can guess what the object is based on the descriptions.

Relevant Pages from PHG

Back Back to Day Two

Day Three

There are three activities that work well on the third day, or you may want to skip ahead to Day Four, depending on how much time you want to devote to these activities. The PHG cookie exercise, World Without Adjectives Lesson, or the Mystery Person Contest all move students beyond simple five-senses detail into describing characters and putting them in action to reveal something about them by "showing" rather than "telling."

Cookie Exercise

Back Back to Day Three
In the PHG on page 58, a famous architect has written two paragraphs describing the structural properties of the Nabisco sugar wafer and the Nabisco Fig Newton. You could have them turn to this page after the activity -- it will show them how one's experience constructs how they observe and evaluate things, but also give them some more insight into how great detail can really change the way the reader perceives even common objects or events. Besides, feeding students cookies and other treats is a good way to get them on your side quickly.

World without Adjectives

Back Back to Day Three
This exercise involves taking a passage from a book, removing all descriptive detail, and having the students fill it in for themselves. It not only gives them practice writing description, but it also shows how boring and lifeless (and less meaningful and effective) writing is without supporting and descriptive detail.

Mystery Person Contest

Back Back to Day Three
Aside from teaching the importance of detail, this activity has the virtue of requiring no materials, so it can be done as a fun activity any time you are stuck for something to do (maybe you got through everything else at lightening speed), and you want to reinforce the idea that description is important. It involves individual writing that will be shared with the rest of the class. You can run the activity as a contest, depending on the dynamic in your class. Some classes love this; others feel insulted, as if you are bribing them like recalcitrant children. Either way, it gets them to write and to share their writing with each other.

Relevant Pages from PHG

Back Back to Day Three

Day Four

If you haven't done it yet, the Object Lesson works well on the fourth day, and it can lead you into a collaborative narrative. This is a useful tool for getting your students to work together in groups, as well as to start moving beyond simple description and into using detail to enhance a narrative and move it along.

Object Lesson

Back Back to Day Four
The purpose of this exercise is to give students practice working with details and similes, as well as to reinforce the ideas of focus and development. You'll need enough good objects to have one object (placed in an opaque bag) for each group. A few of the objects should have similar characteristics, such as a knife and scissors. Each group will get a bag with an object in it, and they will have to describe it so that the other group can guess what the object is based on the descriptions.

Collaborative Narrative

Back Back to Day Four
This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works well to move the class from simple description to creating a story or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets students to enjoy working together. Usually I do this as a classwide activity to model the exercise, and then I have them break into groups for another narrative. Once in groups, I have them decide on titles for their narratives. You can put these on the board, and when you're finished, you can have the class can vote on the best narrative.

Relevant Pages from PHG

Back Back to Day Four

Exercises

This section divides the exercises into those that can be done by students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class activity. It's best to use a combination of these to get students comfortable with working together in small groups, to get them recognizing and responding to each other as a class early on, and to give them individual practice with the writing techniques.

Many of the whole class activities can also be done in small groups; in fact, it's often useful to model the activity by doing it as a whole class and then breaking the class into small groups to work on the same activity.

To learn more about the exercises, choose any item below:

Whole Class Activities

If you want a discussion-based class, the more you get students talking to the whole class from the beginning, the more comfortable they will be talking later, when you want to discuss essays or articles. Fun activities get everybody talking from the first few days of class, something that often continues through the semester. They also provide basic lessons about the need for detail and description to develop the ideas in their essays. You can use these activities as whole class activities first to model the activity and get everyone participating before breaking into small groups to repeat the activity.

Detail Game

Back Back to Whole Class Activities
This idea comes from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff's Community of Writers. It is useful in writing classes writing classes to get people accustomed to class participation and using descriptive detail. The activity is fun and always gets everybody involved -- the wilder the class gets with their ideas, the better. You will ask students to look at an object and use descriptive detail -- stressing the five senses -- to reveal something about the object to the audience. You can bring an object from home, the odder the better, and have them come up with as much description as they can about it. You can often have them launch into a narrative by beginning to build a story around your object.

Detail Game Setup

Pick an object from home that's somewhat unusual to draw students' attention and to get them observing and describing creatively. Pass the object around, and going from person to person, have each say one thing that describes the object. At first you'll get boring things like the object's color and its size, so stress the idea of the five senses: What does it feel like when you touch it? Does it have a smell? Taste? Sound? As you get to the middle of the class, ask someone to place the object in a setting. What's it doing there? Or imagine who the object might belong to, and build a story from there.

Let students them have fun with it and they'll probably surprise themselves with what they come up with, especially as they often begin to try to top one another with the creativeness of their contribution.

Mystery Person Contest

Back Back to Whole Class Activities
Aside from teaching the importance of detail, this activity has the virtue of requiring no materials, so it can be done as a fun activity any time you are stuck for something to do (maybe you got through everything else at lightening speed), and you want to reinforce the idea that description is important. It involves individual writing that will be shared with the rest of the class. You can run the activity as a contest, depending on the dynamics of your class.

Setup for Mystery Person Contest

Have everyone write a page describing a well-known person or character without naming the character. The idea is to describe the person/character in such detail that everyone will recognize who it is. While you don't want students to create a cryptic riddle no one will be able to guess, but you do want them to move beyond "He's the President of the United States." The idea is to describe the person's physical attributes, personal characteristics, actions, etc., so that classmates will recognize the person/character by the description. Stress putting the person/character in action. For example, it would be pointless to describe Michael Jordan as a "tall, bald African-American man" -- that could be many people -- without describing the way he moves, which reveals something singular about him. When they are finished, have students read the descriptions out loud and see how effectively they have described their person/character. If no one recognizes him/her, then the student has either picked someone obscure, or they will (hopefully) realize that their powers of description could use a little work. Have students decide whose description wins -- some students really do a wonderful job with this, providing entertaining and detailed sketches.

Collaborative Narrative

Back Back to Whole Class Activities
This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works well to move the class from simple description to creating a story, or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets students to enjoy working together. Do this as a whole class activity to model the exercise, and then break into groups for another narrative. Once in groups, have students decide on titles for their narratives. You can put these on the board. When you're finished, you can have the class vote on the best narrative.

Setup for Collaborative Narrative

All that you need ahead of time are a few provocative opening sentences. The groups will use these to build their narratives. You can make these up or borrow them from novels or short stories. The opening sentence of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," for example, gets students started on stories about a man who turns into a bug. To model the activity, write down the first sentence and then go around the room and have each person contribute successive sentences. Encourage students to focus on detail and description over plot. Emphasize the idea that descriptive detail is important to the meaning of the narrative. If someone says, "a girl walks in," encourage the next person to describe that girl. Go around the room until you come to some sort of conclusion. You can go through the class twice and just keep building.

In small groups, give students all the same sentence and have them repeat this, with one person recording their story as the group comes up with it. Again, reinforce the idea of detail, rather than a bare-bones plot with little development. When everyone is done, have a reporter for each group read the story aloud.

Small Group Activities

Since workshop critiques are such an integral part of CO150, small group activities like these not only give students practice using detail for developing their essays, they also give students opportunities to work with one another. Some students establish groups through these activities that they maintain throughout the semester, which has the benefit of giving them a space where they trust one another and get to know what sort of patterns to look for in each other's papers. But it can also be a problem for groups that don't help each other much, so you may want to reshuffle people as the semester wears on. Establishing criteria for workshopping essays, though, should go a long way toward preventing this from happening.

Collaborative Narrative

Back Back to Small Group Activities
This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works very well to move the class from simple description to creating a story or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets them to enjoy working together. Usually I do this as a classwide activity to model the exercise and then have them break up into groups for another narrative. In groups, have them decide on titles for their narratives you can put on the board -- if you want, the class can vote on the best one, too.

Setup for Collaborative Narrative

All that you need ahead of time is provocative opening sentences the groups/class will use to build their narratives. You can make these up or borrow them from novels or short stories -- the opening sentence of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" get them started on stories about a guy who turns into a bug, for example. To model the activity as a class, write down the first sentence and then go around the room and have each person contribute successive sentences. Description usually falls out the window as they concentrate on plot, so reinforce the idea that detail is important to the meaning of the narrative. (If someone says, "a girl walks in," encourage the next person to describe that girl a little.) Go around until you come to some sort of conclusion. If they get into this, you can go through the class twice and just keep building.

In small groups, give them all the same sentence and have them repeat this, with one person recording their story as they come up with it. Again, reinforce the idea of detail -- they usually come up with only a bare-bones plot and no development. When everyone is done, have a reporter for each group read the story aloud.

Object Lesson

Back Back to Small Group Activities
The purpose of this exercise is to give students practice working w ith details and similes as well as reinforcing the ideas for focus and development to reach an audience. You'll need enough good objects to have one object per group and an opaque bag. A few of the objects should have similar characteristics, such as a knife and scissors. Each group will get a bag with an object in it they will have to describe so that the other group can guess what object they chose when they share their descriptions.

Setup for Object Lesson

Have your class divide into groups of four. One group member should take an object from the grab bag going around. Tell them NOT to show this object to the other groups! Then s/he should place the object where each group member can see it. Each member should then write a paragraph describing the object. Tell them NOT to name the object if they know what it is. They should use as much detail as possible in the description, including sensory detail regarding size, shape, color, weight, materials, etc. They may want to make comparisons in their descriptions, such as "It's the size of a _________, or the shape of a _________).

Collect the objects when they are finished, noting for yourself which group had what object.

Each group member should then exchange his/her paper with someone in the next group. Everyone must then draw the object based on the description they've been given.

After they have completed their drawings, pass back the objects to the groups. Have them compare their drawings with the objects themselves. Discuss the descriptions. Which ones produced more "accurate" drawings and why? Where was there good detail? What would have made for better descriptions?

Time Saving Tip

To save time, instead of having them compare their papers, collect them. Line up the objects on your desk. Then read a few of the papers and have them guess which object it is describing.

Individual Activities

These activities involve individual writers, but you could turn them into classwide activities by having students read their work out loud, or by collecting and reading some of their paragraphs as a basis for class discussion about effective detail. In this way the activities involve both individual skills-building as well as establishing greater classwide camaraderie.

Cookie Exercise

Back Back to Individual Activities
In the PHG on page 58, a famous architect has written two paragraphs describing the structural properties of the Nabisco sugar wafer and the Nabisco Fig Newton. You could have them turn to this page after the activity -- it will show them how one's experience constructs how they observe and evaluate things, but also give them some more insight into how great detail can really change the way the reader perceives even common objects or events. Besides, feeding students cookies and other treats is a good way to get them on your side quickly.

Setup for Cookie Exercise

You'll need enough of two different types of cookies (or candies) for everyone. You may want to use two cookies/candies that are similar to encourage them to recognize and describe subtle differences, like the difference between a fig newton or an apple newton, a ginger snap and a molasses cookie, etc. It should, however, allow for more distinction than "An Almond Joy has an almond and a Mounds doesn't."

Have them describe each one in a paragraph and then write a third paragraph that compares the two. Have volunteers read or collect the paragraphs and read a few randomly. Discuss what made some essays more effective than others, and what they will need to keep in mind about effective detail in general. This is good practice for evaluating and workshopping when there's no pressure.

World without Adjectives

Back Back to Individual Activities
This exercise involves taking a passage from a book, removing all descriptive detail, and having the students fill it in for themselves. It not only gives them practice writing description themselves, but it also shows how boring and lifeless (and less meaningful and effective) writing is without supporting and descriptive detail.

Setup for World without Adjectives

Photocopy (and make a transparency of) copies of a passage you have selected and omitted all descriptive detail. Tif used a passage from detective novel that describes an investigator arriving at a crime scene -- and without supporting description, it's pretty bland rather than grisly. Other passages work well (I used Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a passage that reveals a great deal about a character unless the description is removed) and a pulp romance would work really well. Have them decide where they think detail should be added and what they would add and let them rewrite the passage.

When they are finished, ask volunteers to read, or collect and randomly read a few passages. Discuss to see where people generally agreed detail need to be added and what was lost to the meaning and effect of the passage without it. The pass out copies of the original passage (and maybe make a transparency) to show them what it really looked like. Discuss the difference between the two, and impress upon them that this is exactly why detail will be so important in their essays.

Mystery Person Contest

Back Back to Individual Activities
Aside from teaching about the importance of detail, this activity has the virtue of requiring no materials from you, so it can be done as a fun activity any time you are stuck for something to do (maybe you got through everything else at lightening speed) and want to reinforce the idea that description is important. It involves individual writing that will be shared with the rest of the class, and you can even run it as a contest (some classes love this; others feel insulted, as if you are bribing them like recalcitrant children). Either way, it gets them writing and, just as importantly, sharing their writing with each other.

Setup for Mystery Person Contest

Have everyone write a page describing a well-known person or character without naming who that person is. The idea is to describe the person/character in such detail that everyone will recognize who it is. While you don't want students to create a cryptic riddle no one will be able to guess, you also want them to move beyond "He's the President of the United States." The idea is to describe the person's physical attributes, personal characteristics, actions, etc. so that his/her classmates will recognize who you have chosen. Stress putting this character or person in action. For example, it would be pointless to describe Michael Jordan as a "tall, bald African American man" -- that could be many people --without describing the way he moves, which reveals something singular about him. When they are finished, have them read them out loud and se how effectively they have described their person/character. If no one recognized him/her, then the student has either picked someone incredibly obscure or will hopefully realize that their powers of description could use a little work. Have them decide whose description should be the winner -- some people really do a wonderful job with this, providing entertaining and detailed sketches.

List Exercises

To view an exercise, choose any item below:

Bare Bones Plot Game

Back Back to List of Exercises
This activity is similar to the Collaborative Narrative Exercise, except you give your students the bare bones plot of a famous story. Have someone from each group record your story. For example, you could summarize part of Crime and Punishment by saying "There's a young man, and he's smart but he's poor so he's pretty bitter. He doesn't think some people should have so much money. He decides to go to the apartment of these two old women who are rich pawn brokers and steal from them when they are not home. But they come home and surprise him and, in a panic, he kills them. He escapes but knows that the police, especially one officer who suspects him, are bent on catching the killers." Then say "What happens next?" In groups, or individually, they need to finish the story. Any story works as the bare bones plot, and you'll be surprised with what some people come up with.

Object Lesson

Back Back to List of Exercises
The purpose of this exercise is to give students practice working with details and similes, as well as to reinforce the ideas of focus and development. You'll need enough good objects to have one object (placed in an opaque bag) for each group. A few of the objects should have similar characteristics, such as a knife and scissors. Each group will get a bag with an object in it, and they will have to describe it so that the other group can guess what the object is based on the descriptions.

Setup for Object Lesson

Have your class divide into groups of four. One group member should take an object from the grab bag. Tell the students not to show their objects to the other groups. Then have them place the objects where each member of their own groups can see them. Each group member should write a paragraph describing the object. Tell them not to name the object if they know what it is. They should use as much detail as possible in their descriptions, including sensory detail about size, shape, color, weight, materials, etc. They may want to make comparisons in their descriptions, such as "It's the size of a _________, or the shape of a _________."

Collect the objects when they are finished, noting which group had what object.

Each group member should then exchange his/her paper with someone in the next group. Everyone must then draw the object based on the description they've been given.

After they have completed their drawings, pass back the objects to the groups. Have students compare their drawings with the objects themselves. Discuss the descriptions. Which ones produced more "accurate" drawings and why? Where was there good detail? What would have made descriptions better?

Time Saving Tip

To save time, instead of having them compare their papers, collect them. Line up the objects on your desk. Then read a few of the papers and have them guess which object it is describing.

Collaborative Narrative

Back Back to List of Exercises
This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works well to move the class from simple description to creating a story or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets students to enjoy working together. Usually I do this as a classwide activity to model the exercise, and then I have them break into groups for another narrative. Once in groups, I have them decide on titles for their narratives. You can put these on the board, and when you're finished, you can have the class can vote on the best narrative.

Setup for Collaborative Narrative

All that you need ahead of time are provocative opening sentences the groups will use to build their narratives. You can make these up or borrow them from novels or short stories. The opening sentence of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," for example, gets them started on stories about a guy who turns into a bug. To model the activity, write down the first sentence and then go around the room and have each person contribute successive sentences. Description usually falls out the window when they concentrate on plot, so emphasize the idea that descriptive detail is important to the meaning of the narrative. If someone says, "a girl walks in," encourage the next person to describe that girl. Go around the room until you come to some sort of conclusion. If they get into this, you can go through the class twice and just keep building.

In small groups, give them all the same sentence and have them repeat this, with one person recording their story as they come up with it. Again, reinforce the idea of detail -- they usually come up with only a bare-bones plot and no development. When everyone is done, have a reporter for each group read the story aloud.

Cookie Exercise

Back Back to List of Exercises
In the PHG on page 58, a famous architect has written two paragraphs describing the structural properties of the Nabisco Sugar Wafer and the Nabisco Fig Newton. You can have them turn to this page after the activity; it will show how one's experience constructs an observation and evaluation of things, and it will also give them some insight into how detail can change the way the reader perceives even common objects or events. Besides, feeding students cookies and other treats is a good way to get them on your side early.

Setup for Cookie Exercise

You'll need enough of two different types of cookies (or candies) for everyone. You may want to use two cookies/candies that are similar to encourage them to recognize and describe the subtle differences, like the difference between a fig newton or an apple newton, a ginger snap and a molasses cookie, etc. Your choice should, however, allow for more distinction than "An Almond Joy has an almond and a Mounds doesn't."

Have students first describe each treat in separate paragraphs, and then have them write a third paragraph that compares the two. Select volunteers to read, or collect the paragraphs and read a few randomly. Discuss what made some essays more effective than others, and what they will need to keep in mind about effective detail in general. This is good practice for evaluating and workshopping when there's no pressure.

Detail Game

Back Back to List of Exercises
This idea comes from Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff's Community of Writers, and I've used it in developmental writing classes elsewhere and in CO150 to get people accustomed to class participation and using descriptive detail. The activity is fun and always gets everybody involved -- the wilder the class gets with their ideas, the better. You will ask students to look at an object and use descriptive detail -- stressing the five senses -- to reveal something about the object to the audience. You can bring an object from home, the odder the better, and have them come up with as much description as they can about it. You can often have them launch into a narrative by beginning to build a story around your object.

Setup for Detail Game

Pick an object from home that's somewhat unusual to draw students' attention and to get them observing and describing creatively. (The best object I ever used was a green plaster mold of someone's very crooked teeth, but I was lucky enough to have a roommate with a large stock of odd objects like this). Pass the object around, and going from person to person, have each say one thing that describes the object. At first you'll get boring things like the object's color and its size, so stress the idea of the five senses: What does it feel like when you touch it? Does it have a smell? Taste? Sound? As you get to the middle of the class, ask someone to place the object in a setting. What's it doing there? Or imagine who the object might belong to, and build a story from there.

In a class of reluctant writers, those green teeth produced a great story about a poor woman who was battered by her nasty husband and decided to burn down the house and run away to a swamp to hide. Let them have fun with it and they'll probably surprise themselves with what they come up with, especially as they often begin to try to top one another with the weirdness of their contribution.

Mystery Person Contest

Back Back to List of Exercises
Aside from teaching the importance of detail, this activity has the virtue of requiring no materials, so it can be done as a fun activity any time you are stuck for something to do (maybe you got through everything else at lightening speed), and you want to reinforce the idea that description is important. It involves individual writing that will be shared with the rest of the class. You can run the activity as a contest, depending on the dynamic in your class. Some classes love this; others feel insulted, as if you are bribing them like recalcitrant children. Either way, it gets them to write and to share their writing with each other.

Setup for Mystery Person Contest

Have everyone write a page describing a well-known person or character without naming the character. The idea is to describe the person/character in such detail that everyone will recognize who it is. While you don't want students to create a cryptic riddle no one will be able to guess, you also want them to move beyond "He's the President of the United States." The idea is to describe the person's physical attributes, personal characteristics, actions, etc., so that classmates will recognize the person/character by the description. Stress putting the person/character in action. For example, it would be pointless to describe Michael Jordan as a "tall, bald African-American man" -- that could be many people -- without describing the way he moves, which reveals something singular about him. When they are finished, have students read the descriptions out loud and see how effectively they have described their person/character. If no one recognizes him/her, then the student has either picked someone obscure, or they will hopefully realize that their powers of description could use a little work. Have students decide whose description wins -- some people really do a wonderful job with this, providing entertaining and detailed sketches.

World without Adjectives

Back Back to List of Exercises
This exercise involves taking a passage from a book, removing all descriptive detail, and having the students fill it in for themselves. It not only gives them practice writing description, but it also shows how boring and lifeless (and less meaningful and effective) writing is without supporting and descriptive detail.

Setup for World without Adjectives

Select a descriptive passag and remove all of its descriptive detail. Photocopy and make a transparency of the original and the revised passages. One instructor used a passage from detective novel that describes an investigator arriving at a crime scene -- and without supporting detail, it's bland rather than grisly. I used a passage from Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh, that reveals a great deal about a character unless the description is removed. A pulp romance would work well too.

Have students decide where they think detail should be added, and have them rewrite the passage. When they're finished, ask volunteers to read, or collect and randomly read a few passages. Discuss to see where people generally agreed detail was needed, and what was lost to the meaning and effectiveness of the passage without the detail. Then pass out copies of the original passage to show them what it really looked like. Discuss the differences, and impress upon them that this is exactly why detail will be so important in their essays.

Printing a Copy of the Exercises

  1. Choose an exercise from the list of exercises.
  2. Click on the exercise to activate the frame. A dark line will appear around the frame to let you know that it is active.
  3. Use your browser's print button to print the frame. It is usually at the top of the screen.

Suggested Readings

We've suggested some readings from The Prentice Hall Guide for Student Writers that you may want to assign to coincide with the detail and development exercises. In addition, we've also included some other references that have useful acitivities or readings for both teachers and students.

Chapter Three in the PHG, "Observing," is particularly useful for helping students develop their essays by adding more detail and description. We suggest assigning these pages to your students. You may want to divide the reading into three sections, as we do here. For each section, we provide a summary as well as a screen you may want to download and modify for an overhead transparency. It's a good idea to provide a transparency that highlights the reading when you discuss it in class.

Techniques for Writing about Observations

Pages 54-55 in the PHG provide a list of useful techniques for writing about observations and the ways in which an author can limit or FOCUS on the specific details of an observation in order to present a "dominant idea" that reflects the writer's PURPOSE. A passage from Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa provides an example. If you want to make a transparency of the listed techniques, click on the link below. Read the pages so that you will be able to explain and give examples when you place the list on the overhead.

Techniques for Writing about Observations

Dowload file for Overhead

Authors on Observing

Pages 56-60 in the PHG present four authors who use techniques of observation in their writing, and they provide great examples. Joseph Nocera, a writer for Esquire, writes about Steve Jobs, co-creator of Apple computers, as an example of "Observing People." Paule Marshall observes a place in an excerpt from Brown Girl, Brownstones, which is contrasted with Wendell Berry's description in The Unsettling of America. Each passage provides a wonderful example of descriptions that evoke mood as well. In "Observing Objects," architecture critic Paul Goldberger's critique compares and contrasts a sugar wafer and a Fig Newton. An excerpt from Paul Guarlanicik's Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians describes a performance by Bobby "Blue" Bland as an illustration of "Observing Events."

The Writing Process

Each section about writing process in the PHG is useful as assigned reading for your students. For most subtopics we provide lists you can download and use as an overhead transparency.

Choosing a Subject

Back Back to The Writing Process
This reading emphasizes choosing a limited subject and discusses methods for brainstorming topics.

Collecting

Back Back to The Writing Process
Collecting activities include:

Shaping

Back Back to The Writing Process
Below are several considerations and possible organizations for shaping your essays.

Consider:

Organizing:

Drafting

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To create a draft:
  1. Reread your notes from collecting and shaping.
  2. Reobserve your object, if possible.
  3. Re-examine your purpose, audience, dominant idea (focus), and shape.
  4. Use your notes as a guide to begin drafting.

Revising

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Before you revise:
  1. Gain some distance and objectivity before rereading what you have written or having it read and reviewed by others.
  2. Reread and/or respond to your readers. Make marginal notes and focus on the overall effect of the essay rather than individual spelling, grammar, and/or style errors.
Guidelines:

Additional Resources

Tutorials and writing guides are available to help you write. Choose any item below for more information: