Adding numbers enhances student writing

When I help students revise essays, we are always adding details. On their own, children rarely add enough details to their writing. They think that being general is adequate (“We flew up north” as opposed to “Mom, Dad, Lily and I flew to New York”). Sometimes the student is lazy and wants to get the writing done quickly. Sometimes the student is unwilling to hold a pencil and writes the shortest sentences possible. Sometimes the student is in a hurry to play with friends or to watch video games.  Students need to be taught that adding details is important because it makes writing far more interesting.

One kind of detail that is usually easy to add is numbers. But a  common problem with using numbers is that the child may not be sure of the exact number, so he says “some” or “a few” or “lots of.” Children want to be honest, and they think saying “twelve” students attended the party when maybe only “ten” did is dishonest. They need to be taught that it is more important to use an estimated number than it is to be absolutely accurate in student writing.

Here is a fourth grader’s description of a woven basket containing coasters. Notice how the numbers he uses add truth to the essay.

This short artistic cylinder is made from five rows connected by knots. The lid has a woven spiral with holes in between. It is 4 ½ inches tall with a diameter of 5 ½ inches. The circumference is 16.5 inches and the depth is 3.5 inches. The interesting lid is a woven spiral with five small, tan and orange shells in the middle. On the bottom of each smooth shell two rows of tiny rough teeth show. The teeth are also shiny, and the shape of the shell resembles a football.

Here is a sixth grader’s introduction to an essay about starting middle school. Notice the variety of ways this student uses numbers: to describe grades, to name a date, and to count buses, teachers and classmates.

Daniel and I have passed fifth grade and now we are starting sixth grade at Duluth Middle School which opened on August tenth, 2015, welcoming three loads of buses on a mild summer morning. On the first day I greeted my five teachers and hundreds of classmates and learned about my schedule.

Here is a first grader’s description of how to play hopscotch. She uses numbers to describe the hopscotch board.

You need chalk, pebbles, a driveway, and one kid or more for hopscotch. First, you draw a board with chalk on the driveway. It has ten boxes. The first box is a square by itself. It has the number 1 in the box. Next, the 2 and the 3 squares are right beside each other like partners. You keep repeating the boxes but the numbers go from 1 to 10. One kid goes first and throws the pebble anywhere on the hopscotch board. Then, the first player hops on one foot on the 1. And then the player hops on the 2 and the 3 at the same time. Then the player keeps going. But do not forget to pick up the pebble. When the player reaches 10 the player gets off the 10 and goes to the back of the line. Nobody wins but everybody has fun.

And lastly, here is the introduction to an essay in which a fifth grader describes himself. His bravura writing style attracts the reader, but notice how he uses numbers to enhance that style.

In 34 more days, I, Robert Sir Awesome the Third, am going to turn eleven. Bha ha ha! I will tell you about the life of a boy in the twenty-first century, or shall I say, about my life, including my sister, being the oldest child and school.

Don’t you agree that numbers increase reader interest in these student writings?

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