K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

Important Announcement about Online Courses and LEARN NC.

Important Message about LEARN NC

LEARN NC is evaluating its role in the current online education environment as it relates directly to the mission of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education (UNC-CH SOE). We plan to look at our ability to facilitate the transmission of the best research coming out of UNC-CH SOE and other campus partners to support classroom teachers across North Carolina. We will begin by evaluating our existing faculty and student involvement with various NC public schools to determine what might be useful to share with you.

Don’t worry! The lesson plans, articles, and textbooks you use and love aren’t going away. They are simply being moved into the new LEARN NC Digital Archive. While we are moving away from a focus on publishing, we know it’s important that educators have access to these kinds of resources. These resources will be preserved on our website for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re directing our resources into our newest efforts, so we won’t be adding to the archive or updating its contents. This means that as the North Carolina Standard Course of Study changes in the future, we won’t be re-aligning resources. Our full-text and tag searches should make it possible for you to find exactly what you need, regardless of standards alignment.

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Related pages

  • "I Spy": Using adjectives and descriptive phrases: Students will review definitions for adjectives, learn and practice sensory adjectives and imagery, and use adjectives and descriptive phrases in writing a paragraph and/or story.
  • Action chains: Students learn to elaborate on an event in a narrative by expanding their sentences into action chains. Expanding single actions into an action chain provides the reader with a more detailed picture of an event in a narrative.
  • Jazzy sentences: This is an interesting activity to help students jazz up or make their sentences more interesting by adding adjectives, adverbs, more vibrant verbs, and descriptive nouns.

Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • learn to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant details
  • learn to add only details that support the main idea/focus of their narratives

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

45 minutes


Technology resources

Overhead projector or some other projection device



  1. Say: “Today I want you to meet a friend of mine. Please be nice to her though because she is very shy.”
  2. Take two transparencies (both should have identical stick figures drawn on them so that they match and look alike) and place them on the overhead. Teachers can use the stick figure attachment as a guide. Introduce students to “Plain Polly.”
  3. Say: “My friend Plain Polly has a problem. Can you tell what that problem might be?” (Expect two varieties of responses.) Then say: “Yes she is plain and she is just a stick person, but she is on a mission. She has a goal. That goal is the main reason that she is here today with us.” Write on the bottom of the transparency: Plain Polly wants to become more magnificent (or interesting, or special, or fancy). Ask: “How can we make her more magnificent? The focus of this lesson is to make Polly more magnificent. What can we do for Plain Polly?” Respond with “Give her details.”
  4. The next step is to ask students what is the key word in Polly’s request sentence: Plain Polly wants to be more magnificent. Students should suggest the word “magnificent.” Underline the word “magnificent” and remind students frequently that all details added should support Polly’s main goal: To be more “magnificent.”
  5. Have students volunteer to come up to the overhead projector and add a detail (with the colored pens) to Polly. Students add make up, jewelry, clothes, shoes, etc. with the colored pens. Polly transforms into a “magnificent” girl right before students’ eyes.
  6. Frequently question students about whether the detail about to be added will make Polly more magnificent.
  7. When Polly is complete, ask students for a new name for the new Polly. (Most groups enjoy calling her “Magnificent Molly.”)
  8. At last pull up the top (now detailed) Magnificent Molly to reveal that there is still a stick Plain Polly on the first transparency. Make the connection between a Plain Polly and a magnificent Polly by putting the first stick figure on top and moving it back and forth. Ask students if they prefer Plain Polly or Magnificent Molly. Connect this idea to the importance of adding details that move a story along by focusing on the main idea.
  9. On an ongoing basis, ask students to look at their stories and their details. “Is your story a Plain Polly or a Magnificent Molly? Do the details move your story along toward the main idea. Is it complete and fully supported?”

Guided Practice

  1. Have students draw another stick figure named Plain Polly or Plain Paul. Have students choose another goal (focus) to give to their stick figure:
    • He/She wants to become a soccer player.
    • He/She wants to become a police officer.
    • He/she wants to become a firefighter.
    • He/she wants to become a clown.
    • He/She wants to become a cowboy/cowgirl.

    Have students add details to this stick figure. Remind them that the details for their stick figure should be focused toward making that main idea come to life.

  2. Have students write a paragraph giving their stick figures new names and describing the details in their picture. Have students read their paragraphs to a partner and check that all the details match their main idea/focus.
  3. Classes (or groups of students) can make larger art versions of the figure and write stories about that figure.


  • Can students add relevant details to their stick figures that support their focus?
  • Can students write a paragraph with relevant details that support their topic sentence?

Supplemental information

Other Resources:

  • Features: Support & Elaboration, Focus
  • Writing Process Stage: Revising
  • Writing Environment: Expressive
  • Writing Genre: Narrative

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Writing

        • Grade 3
          • 3.W.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
        • Grade 4
          • 4.W.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 3

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.08: Focus reflection and revision (with assistance) on target elements by:
      • clarifying ideas.
      • adding descriptive words and phrases.
      • sequencing events and ideas.
      • combining short, related sentences.
      • strengthening word choice.
  • Goal 5: The learner will apply grammar and language conventions to communicate effectively.
    • Objective 5.04: Compose two or more paragraphs with:
      • topic sentences.
      • supporting details.
      • appropriate, logical sequence.
      • sufficient elaboration.

Grade 4

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.08: Focus revision on a specific element such as:
      • word choice.
      • sequence of events and ideas.
      • transitional words.
      • sentence patterns.
  • Goal 5: The learner will apply grammar and language conventions to communicate effectively.
    • Objective 5.04: Compose multiple paragraphs with:
      • topic sentences.
      • specific, relevant details.
      • logical progression and movement of ideas.
      • coherence.
      • elaboration.
      • concluding statement related to the topic.