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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin
Elaborating (PDF, 25 KB)

The purpose of the activity

In this activity, learners explore ways in which they can add precision, interest and clarity to their speech. The activity covers adding detail, combining words and phrases, and reformulating ideas for effect.

The teaching points

  • Speakers extend simple descriptions or explanations by adding details.
  • Speakers can extend communication by combining words and phrases.
  • Speakers can elaborate on ideas by adding relevant details.
  • Speakers select details that are appropriate and understand the ways in which details can change meaning.
  • Using these strategies will help make communication more precise and will be more interesting and engaging for the listener.


  • Tape recorder, blank tape and microphone (optional).

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Explain the purpose of the activity to the learners and give them an example of a sentence with and without details. For example:

  • “Buy me some bread.”
  • “While you’re out, could you buy me a loaf of white sandwich bread please.”

2. Discuss the differences between the two statements, prompting the learners to think about what the result could be if you used the first version in a real situation. How likely is it you’d get what you wanted with either version? How does the added detail make the listener feel?

3. In that example, there is detail that adds precision (white sandwich bread) and detail that softens the statement or makes it more polite or considerate (“While you’re out…” “Could you…”, “please”).

4. Have learners try this themselves, working in pairs. One person can make a basic statement, request or explanation then the other person adds detail to make it clearer, more friendly, or more interesting. Pairs can take turns then share with the whole group.

5. Introduce another kind of elaboration: joining words or phrases to make the communication longer, clearer or more interesting. For example, adding reasons or an explanation:

  • “I’m not going tonight.”
  • “I’m sorry I can’t come to the hui tonight. I have to mind the kids because Joe’s got footie practice. I’ll be able to get there next month though.”

6. Discuss the differences again. Which response would you prefer to hear if you’d asked your friend to go to a meeting? Why? What does the detail add to the impact of the statement?

7. Have learners try this out themselves, taking turns in pairs to elaborate a simple statement, request or explanation. You may need to have some examples ready for learners who can’t think of one themselves.

Follow-up activity

Model and encourage extended communications that add detail in your interactions with learners over the next days or weeks: when a learner communicates something in a way that could be more effective if it were elaborated, prompt them to do so and support efforts made.

Have learners role-play: some can be interviewers who use different kinds of questions with more or less detail. The respondents can use detail for different purposes as they answer the questions.

Discuss the importance of listening for detail: often the most important part of a message is in the detail. This may at times seem irrelevant but it will provide a context. If the context is not understood, the listener may take the wrong meaning from what they hear. Learners can talk about times when they misunderstood a speaker because they didn’t listen to the detail.

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