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Teacher Tips and Answers

Finding Supporting Details

Each controlling sentence in a text is supported with different types of details. Note how the following thesis statement is supported by different details.

Thesis statement: Music speaks directly to us, saying things that words cannot say, and the reason is in part because music is older than language.

Supporting Details


Facts are ideas that can be proven true or false.

Prior to the development of speech, humans communicated orally through sighs, calls, moans, and other sounds with pitch and rhythm.

Statistics are ideas expressed in numbers.

For 1 million years, Homo habilis communicated, coordinating the efforts of over a dozen individuals to create elaborate home sites, but Homo sapiens did not develop the full apparatus for modern speech until about 50,000 years ago.

Definitions tell what a word means.

The larynx, the structure that holds the vocal folds, migrated downward in the human throat to make speech possible, though humans could produce other sounds before.

Examples show how an idea works in specific situations.

Other animals that communicate aurally do so with song, including all manner of birds, whales, and insects.

Descriptions tell what something looks, feels, smells, tastes, or sounds like.

The human vocal apparatus is a Rube-Goldberg-like machine including flexible lips, an acrobatic tongue, a reedlike set of vocal folds, and a diaphragm that can control breath like the ever-pressing arm of a bagpiper.

Anecdotes are stories that illustrate a point.

Vicki the chimpanzee learned to verbally speak four words—"mama," "papa," "cup," and "up"—but Koko the gorilla learned to nonverbally speak using 250 words in American Sign Language.

Quotations provide the exact words of someone.

The great American composer Leonard Bernstein speculated that the origin of the word "mama" was the musical hum of hunger, "mmmmm," combined with the sung "aaaaa" of longing: "What we seem to be getting to is a hypothesis that would confirm a cliche—namely, Music is Heightened Speech." Indeed, music is the mother of speech.

Different types of details provide different types of support. Using a variety of details lets you fully elaborate an idea, answering the reader's many questions about it.

  • Facts ground a point in reality by providing verifiable evidence.
  • Statistics quantify a claim, telling how much, how often, or to what extent.
  • Definitions clarify terms, helping readers gain the vocabulary they need to fully grasp the concept.
  • Examples provide specific instances of a general concept, showing how an idea works in reality.
  • Descriptions allow readers to experience an idea through sensory details—sights, sounds, scents, pressure, temperature, texture, and so on.
  • Anecdotes illustrate a point using one of the most potent strategies for making meaning—stories.
  • Quotations allow readers to hear directly from experts and others involved in the topic.

Find supporting details.

Read the following excerpt. Write down one supporting detail for each type listed below the excerpt. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

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