Expansion blocks

One feature of strong writing is the skillful use of expansion—whether adding details, circumstances, clarification, or elaborating action.

When we want students to get a feel for the impact of expansions on a piece of text, we will use a specialised expansion highlighter as you can see in the two examples below (from Twilight and Dracula again):

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The street was lined on both sides by blank, doorless, windowless walls. I could see in the distance, two intersections down, streetlamps, cars, and more pedestrians, but they were all too far away. Because lounging against the western building, midway down the street, were the other two men from the group, both watching with excited smiles as I froze dead on the sidewalk. I realized then that I wasn't being followed.

I was being herded.

I paused for only a second, but it felt like a very long time. I turned then and darted to the other side of the road. I had a sinking feeling that it was a wasted attempt. The footsteps behind me were louder now.

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This time, after going to the far side of the Pass, he suddenly turned down a narrow roadway which ran sharply to the right. Soon we were hemmed in with trees, which in places arched right over the roadway till we passed as through a tunnel. And again great frowning rocks guarded us boldly on either side. Though we were in shelter, we could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the rocks, and the branches of the trees crashed together as we swept along. It grew colder and colder still, and fine, powdery snow began to fall, so that soon we and all around us were covered with a white blanket. The keen wind still carried the howling of the dogs, though this grew fainter as we went on our way. The baying of the wolves sounded nearer and nearer, as though they were closing round on us from every side. I grew dreadfully afraid, and the horses shared my fear.


You can quickly see that Dracula has many more expansions than Twilight.

It's also evident that without the expansions, Dracula and Twilight sound very similar—meaning a large part of the voice of Dracula is embedded in the expansions

If you were teaching a class you could ask some interesting questions:

  • What do the expansions add each time?
  • Is one approach better than the other?
  • Does Dracula work as well without the expansions?
  • Would Twilight be better with expansions?
  • And so on.

The point of all this

Highlighting, whether semantic, grammatical, or expansion, is a valuable analytical tool.

It can provide insight into how a text creates expressive impact and it can trigger valuable discussions with students.

However, keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of highlighting is to provide a scaffold to support student writing.