Writing Workshop MiniLesson #7 – Adding Details Exercise

This writing workshop MiniLesson really didn’t involve much writing, but boy did it drive its point home! It was all about adding amazing details. This is sometimes referred to as “Show, Don’t Tell.”  I wanted the kids to really understand how details not only add depth to the story, they can help drive the storyline.  That was my objective, though I didn’t tell the kids that when we started out!

When we gathered for our Writing Workshop, I asked the kids to get drawing paper, their clipboards, and a pencil.  They were a bit baffled — “Wait, what about our writing journals?”  I just gave them an enigmatic smile. Once we were gathered, I told the kids, “There are two rules today. Don’t look at anyone else’s drawing. And, don’t talk about what you are drawing.” Once they were clear with the rules, I asked them to please draw a house.

DD immediately asked, “Well, a big house or small house.”  “Ahhh…”  I said, “I think you’ve got the point of the Writing Workshop today…” and I chuckled before adding, “It doesn’t matter. Whatever comes to mind. But remember, don’t talk about your drawing and don’t look at anyone else’s paper.”  When they were done, I asked if I could take a photo of their drawing…


From there I went on to ask a series of questions… pausing after each question to let them add to their picture

  • What time of day is it?
  • What is the weather?
  • What kinds of plants are around the house?
  • Are there any yard decorations?
  • Who else is around? Do you see anyone?
  • Is it a new house or an old house?
  • Are there any shadows?

Since it took anywhere from 3-5 minutes after each question for them to add more details, they became more and more involved in their picture and they began to burst with ideas. In fact, the more questions I asked, the longer it took for them to finish the next step.  By the time we got to the last couple of questions, the kids were adding their own questions… DD and LD asked

  • Can you see anything inside the house?
  • What is in the back yard (farther away)?

When we were finally finished with our drawings, the kids were excited to share all the details of the story they had created.  Let me give you a quick peek at their final drawings:


We had a wonderful discussion about how adding details to their picture transformed a simple house into a scene with a setting and a plot.  While DD’s picture (above left) was whimsical (her word!!), magical world and LD’s picture was bleak (right), ED’s picture was a normal-type day with animals and a picnic table.  The kids went into great detail about what was happening and what each element of their drawing meant.

We went on to talk about how details add depth to a story and can really move the story along.  I gave this example… You can go to the store… or you can climb aboard a bus retrofitted with jet engines that send you hurtling down the street at 300 miles per hour.  You come to a screeching halt just in front of Safeway and stagger off the bus wondering what just happened!

Which one grabs the reader/listener and leaves them begging to hear more?  It’s obvious, the one with details!

After that exercise, we grabbed our writing journals, set the timer for 20 minutes and started writing. No one wrote about the houses we created, but the kids were absolutely absorbed in writing that afternoon!

Oh and just a word of warning, this exercise took much longer than our “normal” MiniLesson… closer to 40 minutes that the 10 minutes or so we usually spend.

Mini-Lessons to Use in a Writing Workshop (in any order):


And if you are new to how/why we use the Writing Workshop, you might want to start with this post which will then give you links to about a dozen other Writing Workshop related posts!

Have a great day and Happy Writing! Oh… and if you try this with your kids – definitely leave me a note on our Homeschool Den Facebook Page… I’m curious to see if your kids get as much out of this activity as mine did!!

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~Liesl and the Kids

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