The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader's mind. Capturing an event through descriptive writing involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses. Teaching students to write more descriptively will improve their writing by making it more interesting and engaging to read.
Why teach descriptive writing?
- It will help your students' writing be more interesting and full of details
- It encourages students to use new vocabulary words
- It can help students clarify their understanding of new subject matter material
|How to use:||Individually||With small groups||Whole class setting|
How to teach descriptive writing
- Develop descriptive writing skill through modeling and the sharing of quality literature full of descriptive writing.
- Include lessons such as the ones listed below throughout the year.
- Call students' attention to interesting, descriptive word choices in classroom writing.
- Good descriptive writing includes many vivid sensory details that paint a picture and appeals to all of the reader's senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste when appropriate. Descriptive writing may also paint pictures of the feelings the person, place or thing invokes in the writer.
- Good descriptive writing often makes use of figurative language such as analogies, similes and metaphors to help paint the picture in the reader's mind.
- Good descriptive writing uses precise language. General adjectives, nouns, and passive verbs do not have a place in good descriptive writing. Use specific adjectives and nouns and strong action verbs to give life to the picture you are painting in the reader's mind.
- Good descriptive writing is organized. Some ways to organize descriptive writing include: chronological (time), spatial (location), and order of importance. When describing a person, you might begin with a physical description, followed by how that person thinks, feels and acts.
The Show-Me Sentences lesson plan from Read Write Think was created for students in grades 6-12. However, elementary teachers can modify the Show-Me sentences to make them interesting for younger students.
The Writing Fix provides a lesson plan for using Roald Dahl's The Twits as a mentor text to teach descriptive writing.
Project GRAD offers a method for using photographs to encourage descriptive writing. Initially created for older students, many of the same prompts could be used for younger students as well.
Writer's Workshop connects great children's literature with children's own writing experiences. In this video clip from our Launching Young Readers PBS series, Lynn Reichle's second graders practice their use of descriptive writing.
This resource from Greenville County Schools in South Carolina provides several ideas for writing in math class. Writing and mathematics are similar in that they both require gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. Writing can assist math instruction by helping children make sense of mathematics and by helping teachers understand what children are learning.
Writing in science gives students an opportunity to describe observations and scientific phenomena, and can help them comprehend new material by having to explain it in their own words. Fazio and Gallagher propose two instructional strategies to assist teachers and student when writing in science: a mnemonic acronym (POWER) and an editing checklist.
In social studies, descriptive writing can help students describe an important historical figure or event more clearly. Writing rich in detail will create vivid depictions of people and places and help make history come alive.
The RAFT strategy encourages descriptive writing by encouraging students to think through the writer's Role, the Audience, the Format, and the Topic. The Writing Fix offers guidance for building a RAFT writing prompt that challenges students to think deeply about history.
Children's books to use with this strategy
Jack and the Beanstalk
Full-color photographs (which have been altered in Photoshop) recast the traditional tale in a contemporary setting. Closely examine the illustrations and retell the story to make it come alive through your words only.
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza)
In this spin-off off from the traditional tale, the indomitable bread-making Little Red Hen makes pizza. Describe why her friends wouldn't help her and in the order they refused her request. Make the pizza, its maker, and the ingredients irresistible in your description. Compare it to a time-honored version.
Louis' tadpole from Scotland grows into an enormous (but friendly) creature in this humorous yarn. Write a prequel to the book, telling how Louis' uncle found the tadpole, how he got it home to the United States, and what the creature's family looks like.
Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme
A prolific (and popular) poet, Prelutsky provides poem starters for slightly older children. Young poets can either finish the "poemstarts" suggested here or create their own original poem.
Squids Will Be Squids
Fables are short and usually presented with an explicit moral. These offbeat fables, however, are sure to inspire expansion or even additional vibrant, rib-tickling offshoots.
Young children can count with Benny as he spends his money to please his family. In what order does Benny spend his money? How can that be shown in words and using numbers? Older children may want to allow Benny to expend a bigger allowance.
Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book
Counting is fun especially in this sophisticated but accessible and handsomely illustrated book. Various situations are introduced in straightforward sentences followed by questions that are answered by counting. Describe each situation in the order presented.
On a cold snowy day, a girl and her mother buy the ingredients for a warm vegetable soup. It's ready by dinnertime when the dad arrives home. Describe the process of gathering and making the vegetables or the ingredients themselves, as well as sequencing the ingredients from smallest to largest amounts used.
Ten Minutes till Bedtime
A boy and his pet hamster — and the hamster's 10 offspring — spend the time during the countdown to bedtime in recognizable routines. Describe the action in the lively illustration while indicating the time or the number of hamsters in the activity.
The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth
His passion and perseverance fueled Philo Farnsworth's curiosity which led to the invention of the television. His life and some of the influences on him are presented in this engaging picture book biography.
A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder
Arresting photographs of water in various states not only introduces water but also weather, solids and liquids, and more. The sophisticated text further encourages experimentation and observation, although is not necessary to use the entire book with younger children.
I Face the Wind
Children are encouraged to observe as experiment as they learn about wind and air as well as practice science writing by describing their findings.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Though Apollo 11 was in space more than 40 years ago, its journey has been effectively chronicled in dramatic illustrations and straightforward text. Readers and budding scientists may want to combine technical information with the wonders of space travel.
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella
Cinderella stories are found around the world; here, they have been fused into one tale with special characteristics in text and illustrations that reflect the different origins. Expand parts of the story to echo the traditions of the culture and its history from which it comes. It may be possible to develop a map of tales (e.g., ancient vs. modern countries, or as a visual as to where it is/was told).
If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States
How the United States compares to other countries is presented in a fascinating and understandable way. This global look at how America compares to other places and countries is more than math — also geography and an introduction to other countries and cultures.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Quotes from MLK, Jr. and a basic text combine with rich visual images to present the civil rights leader. Children can research and describe in their own words the history of the person and the period.
No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season
In 1941, Boston Red Sox slugger did what few others had: got enough hits to make a .400 season. Describe how Williams became so determined and why he wouldn't give up. Find out more about the times in which he played baseball and what he did after that baseball season.
for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners
- Use dictation as a way to help capture students thoughts and ideas
- Provide budding writers with experiences that give them something to write about. Trips to the park, post office, and grocery store provide real-life experiences that can be recorded by a new writer.
- Encourage students to work with a buddy or in a small group to develop first drafts of documents
- Provide a word bank of interesting and descriptive words for students to incorporate into their writing.
See the research that supports this strategy
Akerson, V. L., & Young, T.A. (2005). Science the 'write' way. Science and Children, 43(3), 38-41.
Miller, R.G., & Calfee, R.C. (2004). Making thinking visible: A method to encourage science writing in upper elementary grades. Science and Children, (42)3, 20-25.
Mitchell, D. (1996). Writing to learn across the curriculum and the English teacher. English Journal, 85, 93-97.
Santa, C., & Havens, L. (1995). Creating independence through student-owned strategies: Project CRISS. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.