What is elaborative sequencing?

In elaborative sequencing, students work on one topic, writing increasingly sophisticated arguments as the semester progresses.

What do students take away?

Elaborative sequencing teaches students a practical approach to writing papers that perhaps most closely mirrors the process of writing in the humanities.  Students learn research skills and tactics for developing complex ideas.

What types of courses does this work best for?
  • Elaborative sequencing works well in classes where students have enough familiarity with the subject matter to propose a complex argument fairly early in the semester. 
  • It is particularly well-suited to mid-level humanities, arts, and social-science courses.
What are some common major assignments?

An elaborative sequence of writing assignments might look something like this:

  • A short paper that makes an argument about a topic in your course.
  • A short paper that expands on one of the subclaims of the earlier paper, adding support from an outside source.
  • A longer paper that expands on the last draft, adding support from more outside sources.
  • A longer paper that expands even further on the previous draft, adding  more support and a counter-argument and an answer to that counterargument.
  • A final paper that is a revision and expansion of the last draft based on feedback from professor notes and peer review.
How do assignments increase in difficulty?

As students build context for their arguments, they add complexity.

Each revision requires further analysis of the topic and students’ own approach to it.

How do I scaffold around it?
  • Modeling complex writing can be particularly helpful for this type of sequencing. 
  • This sequence allows for a great deal of support helping students with research and revision.
  • Peer review can be particularly helpful at several stages of this sequence.
  • Elaborative sequencing lends itself well to mini-workshops and class discussions about ways to expand ideas.

For ideas on low-stakes writing activities you can use to scaffold around your major writing assignments, please see our page Teaching Writing in Your Classroom.

What are the benefits?
  • This sequence allows students to explore a single topic and teaches them how to build nuance in their writing.
  • It allows for guidance at several points in the writing process.
  • This sequence also teaches students tactics for expanding and complicating their ideas that can transfer well to other disciplines and courses.
What are the drawbacks?
  • As in accumulative sequencing, students are locked into a topic fairly early on (although there is more flexibility).
  • The elaborative process may be frustrating for students at times.
  • This process works best with significant feedback provided at each stage – it may require more grading and commenting than other sequences.
Where can I find examples of elaborative sequencing?

Here are two examples of elaborative sequencing, drawn from one of Dr. Renegar’s Communication Studies syllabi and one of Dr. Hajovsky’s Art History syllabi. Please note that these examples contain only the description of the major writing assignments that appear on the syllabi and are not a full account of the writing instruction that takes place in these classes.