Fourth Grade Writing is All in the Details
A primary developmental focus in fourth grade writing is encouraging students to show, not tell, through their writing. “I want them to use details and descriptive language to help the reader build the image that is in the writer’s mind,” says fourth grade teacher Ward Russell. This month, fourth graders explored this critical skill by creating their own illustrations for Patricia MacLachlan’s book All the Places to Love. The book pairs lush descriptive language with beautiful illustrations. Ward decided to read the book to his students without showing them the pictures, and he asked them to close their eyes as they listened so that they could focus more intently on the imagery evoked by the language. He assigned each student one paragraph from the story, and their assignment was to “show, not tell” by creating an illustration to go with the language in their passage.
This work builds off the fourth grade focus on the five traits of writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. Detail is an essential component in not only the writing quality but in choosing ideas to write about. “We talk about how if you are having trouble coming up with details, then it might not be a great idea to write about,” says Ward. “Details are super important because it is the writer’s responsibility to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.” MacLachlan’s book is an excellent example of the power of vivid language:
“My grandfather’s barn is sweet-smelling and dark and cool: leather harnesses hang like paintings against the old wood, and hay dust floats like gold in the air.”
Ward’s students spent time trying to understand what is happening in their section of text and making sure they understood the language and imagery. Then they took an 81/2 x 11-inch piece of paper and used colored pencils or crayons to create their image. As a surprise for his students, Ward has taken the illustrations from each class and bound them into a special edition of MacLachlan’s book that pairs the students’ images with their text. This week, each student received a special care package at home with a copy of their class book and a personal note from Mr. Russell. “It’s been so much fun to look at the illustrations and see how each student interpreted the same text in a completely different way,” says Ward. “I think they learned a lot about the importance of showing, not telling, and will have fun reading it with their parents and seeing all their classmate’s work.”