Relevant Details

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Anyone can write. One of the keys to writing well is to organize your thoughts so that others can follow your thinking. Students are notoriously bad at this. In a paragraph about caring for cats, one wrote about seeing a cat sitting on the fence. In a paragraph about butterflies, one wrote that stained glass windows are beautiful, too. Okay, I made that last one up. Still, writing relevant details is a skill to practice. I teach my students to outline paragraphs in order to make sure they have enough information to write it up.

A topic must be stated as a claim. For example, ‘dogs’ is not an idea that requires details. It’s easier to come up with good details if your topic is ‘Dogs make good pets.’

Now I tell my students to pretend someone says to them, “Are you crazy? Dogs, really?” Give this person three reasons why dogs make good pets. They are loyal, easy to train, and keep you healthy.

I can hear you all saying, “What?” to the last one, and that’s what I say to my students. Each reason needs a RELEVANT DETAIL. This can be an example, evidence, or explanation. An example is an anecdote from the student’s personal experience (I walk my dog every day, and that’s good for me.). Evidence comes from a book or article. (“Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well.” Health Benefits of Dogs, HelpGuide.org). Explanations come from the student’s own ideas. (A person would be really healthy if they played catch with their dog, walked it, and swam with it every day.).

The concluding sentence of the paragraph wraps it all up by restating the claim in the first sentence. Students must be taught that restating is not repeating. Write the same idea with different words.

So a completed outline might look like this:

T = dogs are good pets

1. loyal

2. follow you everywhere

1. easy to train

2. tricks, guide dogs, obedience

1. healthy

2. walk every day

C = best pet is dog

In this outline, the reasons are numbered with a ‘1’ and the details are ‘2.’ Every ‘2’ supports the ‘1’ above it. All the ‘1’s’ support the claim.

Once they have a full outline, students are ready to write the paragraph in sentences…but that’s another post.

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