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Lesson Plan: Using Evidence and Supporting Details in Writing

By Trent Lorcher

Being able to define supporting details and use them as evidence in a research paper or essay makes writing more effective and useful. This lesson plan explains the different types of supporting details and includes a quick exercise to help students learn the material.

What are Supporting Details: An Embarrassing Incident

I remember my first semester of college. I turned in a paper about the mating habits of South African snipe. I received an F. The teacher noted that no such animal existed and questioned the validity of my evidence. He mentioned also that even if the South African snipe did exist, I probably had no idea how to define supporting details, since nothing I wrote substantiated my claims. He ridiculed my essay in front of the class, claiming the writer could not tell what are supporting details, main ideas, or credible sources. I then told him my thesis statement, which argued against the South African snipe's right to birth octuplets, was clearly brought out by my evidence and supporting details. I then went home and asked my roommate to define supporting details and clarify how to use evidence in an essay. Here's what he told me:

Types of Evidence

Evidence consists of facts, expert opinions, quotable comments, clarifying examples, anecdotes, or illustrations that support your thesis statement. Many instructors use the term supporting details or concrete details instead of evidence.

1) Facts: The most frequent type of evidence in an essay is facts. Facts include names, dates, or specific events. When writing about literature, evidence takes the form of plot summaries or specific quotations.

2) Authoritative Opinions: Experts in the field about which you are writing provide supporting details and evidence for your thesis statement. The writer's opinion may also serve as an authoritative opinion if it is supported by facts.

3) Quotable Comments: quotable comments provide support for your argument but should not be overused. Be sure the quote emanates from an authoritative source and is not misleading.

4) Anecdotes: Anecdotes are humorous experiences that illustrate your point. In addition to supporting your argument, anecdotes can liven up an otherwise boring academic paper.

5) Clarifying Examples: Examples that clarify your points and support your thesis statement make great evidence.

Being able to define supporting details is not enough. Telling others what supporting details are is not enough. Being able to use supporting details effectively means discussing evidence that is relevant to the issues in your essay.

Lesson Plan Procedures

1) Discuss the above information.Best results occur when you compare their preconceived ideas of evidence (think lawyers, detectives, scientists.)

2) Instruct students to copy down the different types of evidence.

3) Write a thesis statement on the board.

4) Write 10-15 pieces of evidence on the board.

5) Have students identify the type of evidence.

6) You can use your own examples or mine (listed below).Using topics that interest your students is most effective

If you wish to use this lesson for a revision assignment, try these procedures:

1) Instruct students to highlight or underline 5-10 pieces of evidence they used in their essays and copy them onto a separate slice of paper.

2) Arrange students in groups of 2-4.

3) Instruct students to exchange papers and evaluate each piece of evidence by labeling it as one of the types already discussed. In addition, instruct students to identify whether or not the evidence has been used correctly.

4) It's better to get more than one opinion.

5) Allow students to replace or rewrite their evidence, if they choose to.


In an effort to make this lesson plan more user friendly, I've included example pieces of evidence.

Thesis statement: Lebron James is the best player in the NBA

1) Lebron James averages 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. (Fact)

2) NBA expert and columnist Bill Simmons asserts Lebron James has no ceiling. (Authoritative Opinion)

3) Lebron has taken a moribund 19-win franchise to a perennial NBA title contender. (Fact)

4) Lebron James leads all forwards in assists per game. (Fact)

5) Cavalier fans spewed venomous insults toward Brazilian power forward Anderson Varajao for an ill advised shot at the end of game six. Lebron's defense of Varajao calmed the fanatics. (Anecdote)

6) Lebron James went to Akron St. Vincent St. Mary's High School (Not Evidence)

7) My friend Tony says, "LeBron James is one bad mamma jamma." (Not Evidence; Bob is not an authoritative source)

8) Mark Stein of ESPN says, "James has become the best player in basketball, hands down." (Quotable Comment)

9) Lebron James rebounded the ball, dribbled from one end of the floor to another, and dunked over two players while being fouled by the third. (clarifying example)

10) Basketball aficionado, Trent Lapsodoo, calls James the best player since Wilt Chamberlain. (Authoritative source)