The best remedy for this, of course, is for students to examine excellent writing. As students read exemplary passages, they need to ask:
- What's happening here that's not happening in my own writing?
- What choices has the author made?
- What has been included to provide me with a picture of what's happening?
- What has the author deliberately left out for the reader to piece together?
At other times, the details which are important and of interest to the reader simply aren't fleshed out. If you need a wonderful example for this skill of elaboration, I recommend Daniel Boone's Great Escape, written by Michael P. Spradlin and illustrated by Ard Hoyt. This book, filled with action and suspense, and described with strong verbs and vivid details, is inspired by just a single line in Boone's diary!
A great extension would have students choose historical events from their typically brief descriptions in textbooks and "blow them up." Will some imagination be involved? Yes. Will some "liberties be taken"? Yes. But I think if we resign ourselves to those concessions, and rightfully call our pieces historical fiction, we can then focus on the craft of elaboration.
Need a couple more books for ideas? Check out the extremely descriptive language of The Scarlet Stockings Spy, written by Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Robert Papp, or the humorous, fictional retellings of great lives in Lane Smith's John, Paul, George and Ben. Both books are described in a previous post on The American Revolution.
For upper elementary and middle school writers, see more suggestions for improving elaboration in my post Narrative Writing that Makes a Point.