Encouraging students to add details

This past week, I worked with a sixth grader who wrote an essay on the Superbowl.  This student has a vivid imagination, but his essay lacked the sparkle of his personality.  So I asked question after question, eliciting wonderful details, details he had neglected to put in his essay. 

boy writing on a window bench

For example, in his original essay he implied he watched the game on TV with his family.  But when I prodded, he told me he had prepared a party-like atmosphere.  How, I asked him.  He wrote, “Before the game started, I  prepared snacks and drinks, including Cheetos, Doritos, Sprite, Mentos, very cheesy popcorn, Lays chips, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, Chinese popcorn (for my picky parents), and Black Forest gummy bears (for me).”

Originally, he talked about the Chiefs losing because they accumulated many penalties.  Name some, I suggested.  He wrote, “For example, the Chiefs got an interception, but they committed a foul which means that the interception didn’t count, and the Buccaneers moved up ten yards. Another example is that it was fourth down and five yards to go, and the Buccaneers were going to make a field goal, but a foul by the Chiefs caused the Buccaneers to get a whole new set of downs. Because of the foul, the Buccaneers got a touchdown.”

He and his brother bet on the game, with the loser (his brother) needing to buy the winner (my student) a soft drink.  How did it feel to drink that soft drink, I asked him.  He wrote, “I guzzled it in front of him, sloshing down and slurping that tasty Fanta that he thought he should have won.”

You didn’t mention the final score, I told him.  Oops!  He wrote, “The final score was 31-9 Buccaneers with the Chiefs not scoring a single touchdown.”

I find that this experience is typical of my work as a tutor.  I wheedle out details and encourage students to write them down.  If I don’t ask, the details don’t appear, and the essay stays mediocre.  If I prod, wonderful details spew forth and the essay, like my student, sparkles. 

[Other concepts we worked on during revision:  adding humor, using consistent verb tenses, adding suspense by not telling who won the bet in the introduction, connecting the introduction and conclusion, adding direct quotes, using more specific, descriptive verbs].

Here is the completed essay:

On February 7th, 2021, my brother and I bet on who would win the Super Bowl. The Kansas City Chiefs were playing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  My brother picked the Chiefs.  He always wins and boasts about winning. But I was not deterred by his boasting.  I still picked the Buccaneers. Our bet was on.

Before the game started, I  prepared snacks and drinks, including Cheetos, Doritos, Sprite, Mentos, very cheesy popcorn, Lays chips, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, Chinese popcorn (for my picky parents), and Blackforest gummy bears (for me). I also grabbed 54 sports stuffed animals and laid them out on a Buccaneers’ blanket to watch the game with my family. My brother said, “Whoever wins has to buy the other person a Fanta.”  We shook on it, and he added, “No turning back.”   I researched to see who would win but after an hour of searching, I gave up because all the Internet said was that the Chiefs would win. The Chiefs had a higher percentage rate of winning compared to the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers chances were very slim with a 20.6% chance of winning the Super Bowl.  I knew that one dollar for a Fanta was going to come out of my pocket.

The Chiefs scored first with a three point field goal. My brother laughed his guts out. During the first quarter the Chiefs scored six points which is ok considering the fact that this is a Super Bowl. On the other hand, the Buccaneers scored two touchdowns during the first quarter so I was laughing my guts out. Since the Chiefs were down by two touchdowns, they got aggressive and started to make penalties. Meanwhile the Buccaneers were getting touchdowns play after play which made the Chiefs even more angry and more penalties.For example, the Chiefs got an interception, but they committed a foul which means that the interception didn’t count, and the Buccaneers moved up ten yards. Another example is that it was fourth down and five yards to go, and the Buccaneers were going to make a field goal, but a foul by the Chiefs caused the Buccaneers to get a whole new set of downs. Because of the foul, the Buccaneers got a touchdown.  The final score was 31-9 Buccaneers with the Chiefs not scoring a single touchdown. 

As the game ended, I  grinned my face off.   My brother grumbled.  “I should have won.”  He bought me a Fanta from the vending machine  grudgingly. I guzzled it in front of him, sloshing down and slurping that tasty Fanta that he thought he should have won.  Afterwards, I realized that predictions from many sources do not guarantee a win. I also realized that I had never felt better after beating my brother. 

 

 

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