One of the hardest parts of writing is perfecting the art of description—the thing that really brings a scene, image, character, or feeling alive within a piece of writing.
While younger children often love using descriptive language, many struggle to find appropriate, engaging words to put down on paper. A great way to engage students in descriptive and imaginative language is through their five senses.
Try this fun and simple lesson to help them experiment with descriptive language that’s unique and full of life and movement.
[links to Amazon are affiliate links]
Discuss the Senses
It is through our five senses that we experience the world around us. Discuss with your children what the senses are and how they work. List the five senses. Then, invite them to come up with examples of descriptive language (concrete, specific words) within each sense category.
- Talk about sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
- Collect words from your students that fall within each category. They will likely suggest that something can look pretty or ugly, sound loud or quiet, feel hard or soft, smell good or bad, taste yummy or nasty.
- This is a great way to help them identify weak, unimaginative descriptions.
Talk about why it is difficult to come up with sensory words in this manner. As you share, help them grasp that writing with your senses means taking time to see, hear, feel, smell, or taste what you’re trying to write about.
If you can’t experience the subject at hand with all your senses when you are writing about it, then your readers certainly won’t be able to either.
Experience the Senses
This is where the lesson gets interesting and fun. Gather objects your students can experience with each of their senses:
- Sweet, salty, sour, or bitter foods for them to taste
- Objects that are interesting to touch
- Noise-making items to listen to
- Fragrant or aromatic things to smell
- Objects that are colorful and interesting to look at
For example, let’s say you gathered some Silly Putty, a fork, and a sharp rock to help them experience their sense of touch. Hide the items in a bag or box. Let children take turns closing their eyes, reaching into the bag, and feeling an item. Remind them to focus only on the sense of touch.
Emphasize describing ONLY how the object feels (hard, sharp, cold, smooth), not what it’s used for (
stabbing food). Because this helps to focus their senses on the subject, it narrows their descriptive language to really pinpoint the attributes of that item.
Next, hide a bell, rattle, squeaky cat toy, or other noise-making items in a box or bag. Have students close their eyes as you produce one of the sounds. Then, make a list together of specific words to describe it. Try this again with the other noise-making objects.
Now that you’ve experimented with touch and sound, repeat this exercise to explore more senses. Using the other items you’ve collected, help them really zero in on each sense, one at a time. You will all be surprised and excited by the descriptive language they come up with for each of the senses! Words such as fluffy, tinkling, jagged, sparkly, leathery, chocolaty, or spicy tell so much more about each object, don’t they?
Use Descriptive Language in Writing
Once you’ve recorded their sensory words, have them compare this list with the list they made at the very beginning.
Next, open up a conversation about why the second collection of words contains stronger, more descriptive language. The kids will surely explain that they could actually feel, see, or smell the thing they were writing about! That made it easier to come up with more concrete, specific words like downy or silky instead of just plain soft.
This is the lesson: If you can’t picture what you are describing in your writing, neither can your reader.
Now that your kids have a collection of interesting, concrete words to draw from, invite them to create a poem or story containing descriptive language. What a fun and engaging way to help students “feel” their writing to create more illuminating poetry or prose!
Thanks to Alvina Lopez for joining us as a guest blogger. Alvina is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She welcomes your comments by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.