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For many educators, teaching descriptive language to your students can be a unique kind of challenge.

Helping your class to learn how to write descriptively is key in providing them with new and exciting ways to express themselves, tell stories, and even create a description story that fulfills curriculum and state requirements. Read on to discover descriptive writing, how it can be applied in the classroom, and the best way to keep your students engaged in the language arts. These descriptive writing tips & strategies can help you succeed as a teacher while keeping your class enthusiastic about the subject matter – the best of both worlds.

We take a closer look at why descriptive writing is so important, as well as some descriptive writing examples and activities to get you started. Your class will soon be experts at this skill, provided you offer that same level of input, enthusiasm, and dedication to your subject matter.

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Why should I teach descriptive writing?

There are many reasons why descriptive writing should be a part of your classroom curriculum. Whether used as a whole-class activity, individually, or in groups, descriptive writing is a vital skill for students to develop. It enables students to improve their writing – and often their enjoyment of writing – and provides them with the confidence and tools to succeed in more complex writing tasks.

Some of the main advantages of investing time in description language are:

  • Provide your students with an expanded and more engaging vocabulary for speech and writing to engage the listener or reader.
  • Helping students to develop a more distinctive and detailed writing style, complete with interesting details and more advanced concepts.
  • Enabling students to understand better new passages, texts, and stories that are read as part of the more comprehensive curriculum.

While all these advantages form a basis for why descriptive writing is so vital in the classroom, teaching this skill can also be a way to inspire and encourage students. For natural storytellers, the ability to elaborate on and improve tales can be an excellent way to engage. For those struggling to get their message across in writing or speech, learning descriptive writing can provide vital tools to make that process more comfortable and productive.

Teaching descriptive writing

Now you’ve better understood why description writing is so important. That insight can be applied to your classroom through lesson planning. While the average teacher is swamped with lesson planning and carrying out classes, these tips and tricks may give you the edge you need to make an impact on your students. Teaching descriptive writing doesn’t have to be intimidating when you’ve got the knowledge and well-prepared materials on your side. Here are just a few of the examples you can use to make teaching descriptive writing easier and more effective:

Start by helping students understand what descriptive writing is

If your students don’t have a firm grasp of what descriptive writing is, they’re unlikely to be able to use it in their work. There are countless great examples of descriptive text out there to pick from. Opt for something from popular literature, or browse Just Add Student’s selection of historical fiction titles to find something suitable. There’s plenty out there if you know where to look.

Go through the text of your choice sentence by sentence with your class, and encourage them to weed out or annotate any descriptive language. Anything that focuses on vivid imagery, specific senses, or descriptions that you can ‘feel’ is a prime focus. One way to utilize this lesson plan further is to encourage students to source their description text with words that ‘show, not tell.’ The concept of ‘snow not tell’ is important in descriptive writing, which should be made clear from the start.

Once you feel your students have a firm grasp on what descriptive writing is in existing text, you can then move on to activities that get their brains working a little more. Consider taking several key descriptors from the text you’ve just read, and encourage students to design their own descriptions using those key concepts. You’ll likely have many different, imaginative answers to choose from. For students struggling with higher-level writing, consider providing less intimidating descriptions from books designed for a lower grade to get them started.

Ask students to create their own short descriptive writing pieces

Now they’ve got the idea of descriptive writing down, it’s time to get your students to develop their own flair for description in their stories and tales. One classic challenge is asking students to create descriptive paragraphs on any subject they’d like. The stipulation is that they cannot use any ‘to be’ verbs – encouraging students to branch out into other verbs beyond the ones they typically go for. Once your students can create short paragraphs on one subject, ask them to repeat it with another – or even swap themes with the student sitting next to them.

Reading Rockets suggests that excellent descriptive writing is as vivid and sensory as possible. As such, encourage your students to each of the senses in a repeated sentence, such as ‘When Sally opened the door, she….’. Answers could include ‘smelt a horrible smell’ or ‘saw a deep blackness inside.’ Encourage your students to find new ways to work with the same materials, and they’ll be well on their way to creating engaging, descriptive writing of their own.

Encourage your students also to pay attention to the order of their work. Typically, descriptive writing activities and examples are ordered in some way, whether it’s location, time, or importance. For example, when describing a person, you would start with their appearance, followed by their actions, thoughts, and feelings. Ask students to write about a person in a descriptive way to establish how this could look.

Ask students to create a descriptive paragraph for a single image – then compare each

Want to add a bit of joy to your descriptive writing session? If you want your students to be challenged and engaged in their work, the one image / one description technique is an excellent strategy to apply. Place a single image prominently in the classroom and ask students to create a descriptive story based on it. The image could be a house, a graveyard, a tropical island, or anything else in-between. After fifteen minutes of writing, ask each student to stand up in turn and read out the first three sentences of their descriptive story.

Both you and your students will be amused by the vast differences between different class members’ stories and will quickly be able to notice any common themes and concepts. Once this task is complete, you can encourage students to create a piece of descriptive writing that is the opposite of the image in their opinion. You’re likely to get even more wildly different answers and a lot of enjoyment from the process as a whole. In this task, students should be encouraged to use all five senses within the first five sentences for bonus points, even more so if advanced skills such as metaphors, similes, or analogies are used.

For a follow-up lesson, students could be encouraged to bring in their own small images. These can then be placed in a hat and picked randomly, providing each student with their unique world to describe. Encourage students to choose images of locations, landscapes, or buildings for the best results, but you could also do sessions where animals are used. In these lessons, students should then describe the creature without actually naming it. The other students must then guess the animal they’re talking about — the more accurate the description, the better.

Testing descriptive writing: some descriptive essay examples to try

Ready to test your students on their descriptive writing skills? These descriptive essay topics are sure to be a fantastic way to sprout some seriously descriptive language from your budding students. The more creative, the better – especially when it comes to inspiring students to produce funny, exciting, or emotionally-led writing that connects with the audience:

  • Describe what your ideal home would be like
  • Describe a fantasy destination where you’d like to go on your next vacation
  • Describe a person that you love
  • An alien has asked you to describe what an average human is like. Can you describe one?
  • Describe in detail a fantastic animal that you have invented
  • Can you describe the most important object to you in the world?
  • Describe what your favorite toy was when you were younger

There are plenty of essay topics to help your students flex their creative muscles, from more grounded and everyday descriptions to wild and imaginative options they’re sure to enjoy. A good mix of both can give your students more exceptional skills in descriptive writing, from everyday objects to made-up creatures and places they know well to unfamiliar fantasy locations. Excellent descriptive skills can be incredibly valuable to students when creating stories that feel real and immersive, as opposed to those that fall flat.

For students that already enjoy writing, descriptive skills can take their stories to the next level. For those that struggle with simple writing tasks, the ability to add description and depth to their work can make a real difference. With descriptive skills in place, those far-off worlds seem a whole lot closer.

How do you teach descriptive writing in your classroom? Do you think this skill is as valuable as others when it comes to providing students with a comprehensive education?