Elaboration Strategies: Mini-Lessons for Writing

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A mini-lesson is a brief lesson taught at the beginning of writer’s workshop (or another subject). In writing, mini-lessons may be used to teach editing, revising, or other craft techniques. You may also use them to teach about the writing process and procedures of writer’s workshop. If you are using writer’s workshop to teach writing, chances are you are already using mini-lessons to teach writing techniques. If you aren’t, here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin to use them.

  • Mini-lessons should be about 10 to 15 minutes long. If they are much longer then they will cut into the students' writing time.
  • If you are using a book to teach a mini-lesson, then make sure the students have read it or heard it before the lesson. This way you can just read the pertinent excerpts. Reading the whole book will most likely make your lesson too long.
  • Use thinking aloud and modeling to demonstrate what you are teaching.
  • Try to give your students a chance to try out the technique your are teaching. They can do this orally by talking to a partner. You might say, “Turn to the person next to you and tell them where you could try … in your story.” Fill in whatever you are teaching that day.
  • When you send your students off to write, let them know that you expect them to at least try out what you have just taught.

Here are few easy ways to get your primary grade students adding some interest to their stories by using some simple elaboration strategies. These ideas can be taught early in the year, once the students are writing just a few sentences. These lesson give students an easy way to try to add some elaboration to their stories. They are good for young writers, because you don’t need to be able to write a lot to use them. Sometimes it just involves adding or changing a few words, so they aren’t too intimidating to try out.


Onomatopoeia is one of the first craft techniques I teach my first graders. I tell them that it is adding words to describe sound in their stories. They love saying the word, onomatopoeia and they’ll remember it all year. It’s also very easy to add to your writing. To introduce it, read a book that uses lots of sound words. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss is a fun choice. During your mini-lesson remind your students about the book and read a few pages. Then show them how to use onomatopoeia in their writing. You can model writing a new story or go back and revise an old one. You might also brainstorm a list of sound words they might want to use: RING RING for the phone, Knock Knock for the door, BOOM for thunder, etc.

Reteach onomatopoeia using a different book. Some other good choices are The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood, and Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant. These books only use onomatopoeia a few times and they are good for a mini-lesson when your students are overusing the technique, which many probably will the first few times they try it out.


Similes are another easy craft to teach your young students. As with onomatopoeia, you may find that the first few attempts at using them will result in similes in every sentence, but after they have had more experience with them, students will learn how to use them more effectively. A great book for introducing similes is Quick as a Cricket by Audrey and Don Wood. Once again you can start a chart with examples of similes on it. Provide sticky notes so that students can add similes to the chart that they find in their reading. Periodically read over the new ones and write them on the chart.

Some great follow up books for teaching similes are The Seashore Book by Charlotte Zolotow and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Both of these books contain lots of descriptive, poetic language and interesting similes.

Strong Verbs

A third easy way that students can add interest to their writing is by using strong verbs or actions words. I usually start this lesson by talking about the word walked. I say “The girl walked out of the room.” Then I ask students if they can tell me anything about how the girl was feeling or why she walked out of the room. Then I change it to “The girl stomped out of the room.” Now they tell me that she is mad or angry. What if she tiptoed out of the room? I continue to change the verb (skipped, stumbled, hurried) and we talk about how changing that one word can change the meaning of the sentence and can really show you what is happening. Then we talk about how using strong words makes writing better and more interesting. Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes is good for this lesson. You can talk about how Kitten raced, sprang, and tumbled.

These mini-lessons for writing will really help your students start using some elaboration strategies to add details and interest to their writing.