Understanding Expository Writing

The premise of expository writing is that the text will explain something. Explanatory writing can take on so many different forms that young writers are often confused by this mode of written discourse. When writers stop and think about how they explain something in oral language, they realize that all kinds of approaches are used. A simple conversation in the classroom can easily illustrate this practice.

For example, when people try to explain a new concept, they use familiar ideas to make connections.  Leading a full class discussion that asks students to describe some concept that is familar to them showcases students’ natural ability to use multiple approaches to explain their understanding of ideas.

Students naturally makes connections that assist others in comprehending a concept. A good explanation takes advantage of previous knowledge. By comparing and contrasting new with existing information a writer is clarifying ideas. Definitions of new terms are also an important part of helping a reader understand. Similarly, classifying parts of a concept can assist the reader in understand something new. These, along with other approaches to explanation, allow a reader to identify with new material in multiple ways. Each new connection increases the chances of full comprehension. Young people use all of these connections when they speak, and helping them develop strong expository writing skills can be just a matter of asking them to listen to their own oral language.

When we begin developing expository writing skills in young students, it is important for them to practice and fully understand how each one of the expository writing forms can be used effectively. Practice in each mode, in isolation, has helped my students fully develop that approach before trying to blend the modes together.  They develop a deep understanding of how to use each form, when each is effective and appropriate, and how to later blend forms together. This isolated practice draws out the purpose of each form of writing, leading to the students’ ability to appropriately apply the form in subsequent tasks.