Help reluctant writers describe food, people, and places

by | Nov 11, 2008 | Homeschooling, Reluctant or Struggling Writers, Teaching Homeschool Writing

Stop and smell the flowers

Narration is a wonderful tool for coaxing stories, descriptions, and letters from a young writer, especially a more reluctant one. Previously (Tip #1), I talked about using a tape recorder to encourage verbal storytelling. Sometimes, though, a child is still not ready or eager to tell entire stories. That’s OK! Just break it down into smaller pieces. Ask your child to describe what she can readily observe without the pressure of turning it into a published piece.

Let’s describe!

Take a closer look. Your child is just learning to describe. Begin to prepare her for a lifetime of observation by helping her describe familiar objects and foods. The key? Ask lots of questions about:

  • Color, shape, and size
  • Texture (how it looks and how it feels to the touch)
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • For a food, also add questions about its taste and feel when eaten

Suppose you’re enjoying cinnamon rolls for breakfast. As your child eats her treat, keep a pad and pen nearby and write down her observations. Ask her questions to prompt her. “Tell me some words to describe your cinnamon roll. What color is the bun? Is it soft and squishy or dry and stale? What smells and flavors do you notice? Take a bite and tell me how it tastes and feels. Does the roll have frosting? Is it a hard glaze or is it soft and creamy? Any raisins or nuts? What textures do they add?”

Describe a person. Suggest that your youngster describe family members, friends, and pets. If she tells you that Grandpa has gray hair, ask, “Is it gray, or is it closer to silver or white?” Have her tell you about his hair length and texture, too. Next, ask her to tell you about his face, eyes, and smile. What about his clothes? His personality? His posture? With younger children, it helps to describe people and pets they can observe firsthand. But a photo also works well to draw responses.

Study your world. It’s so much fun to describe a place with a young child. Even now, as I type with the window open, I can see grass, trees, bushes, and flowers; mountains topped in low clouds; my neighbors’ houses and cars; and fences, rocks, and telephone poles. In addition, I can hear birds chirping, a dog barking, a car horn honking, a lawn mower humming in the distance. Since it rained recently, the air has a fresh, sweet smell.

If you’re doing this exercise with your child, wander out into the front or back yard so he can touch the roughness of tree bark, the smooth finish of the car in the driveway, the prickle of a thorny plant, and the moist, dewy lawn. Let him crush leaves to release their scent, smell flowers, and observe insects and birds.

In the city, sit on a bench and pay attention to traffic sounds, horns, voices, and other city noises. Look at the buildings. Are they old? New? Made of brick? Concrete? Glass? Do any of the buildings have interesting features? Do you see traffic signals or road signs? Trees or flowers? How about shops, stores, or other businesses? What’s in the windows?

Next, people-watch! You’ll see old and young, tall and short, serious and smiling. Are they walking or hurrying? Talking on cell phones? Alone or with a friend? What colors are they wearing? Are they carrying packages, bags, brief cases, or purses? Wearing backpacks? What kinds of shoes can you see?

Finally, notice the smells. Is that garlic wafting from an Italian restaurant? Do you smell fresh bread from the bakery on the corner? How about fumes from the bus that just pulled away from the curb? The whiff of someone’s perfume as she rushes past?

As your child makes observations, write down what she says in a small spiral notebook.

No composition required

Make learning to describe a fun experience for your child as you give her a chance to become a keen observer of her expanding world. Sure, there will be times when you’ll want her to develop her observations into a paragraph or story. But for now, focus more on the process of gathering and writing down ideas. The value comes from teaching your child that she really does have a great deal to say about different topics!


  1. Ricky

    I must say this is the most organised, systematic and yet interesting, active and interactive way of arousing the interest and mind of the learners !

  2. Sheheryar Khan

    Kim, I must say that your Blog is really helpful. I am a student of 10C and next year its my CIE. Your blog has really helped me, in improving my descriptive writing and English grades. Thank You very much! 🙂

    • Kim Kautzer

      How kind of you to say, Sheheryar. Thank you … and best of luck with your examinations.

  3. Kim

    Lilah! Your suggestion is worth its weight in gold. Even now, I think about some of the amazing things my grandkids say—descriptive, colorful, humorous—and often using vocabulary that would seem beyond them, had I not heard it with my own ears. What a great idea to jot some of this stuff down in order to remind them of it later!

  4. Lilah

    When a couple of my children complained that they couldn’t find the right words to describe things, I began surreptitiously writing down some of their more descriptive comments for several days. This helped us both – it allowed me to pinpoint the things that interested them enough to observe well and describe accurately, and it enabled the children to hear some of their own (sometimes quite amazing!) descriptive statements.

  5. Kim

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Jacque. Your son sounds much like mine at that age! Even if I couldn’t get him to write, I could ALWAYS get him to talk. LOL

  6. Jacque

    Thank you for submitting your article to the 150th COH.
    I remember when I finally realized that my son’s (annoying) habit of re-telling me every single detail about every story he was reading at age 10 was just him using narration! It was a very freeing moment, not only in his learning and my teaching, but also in our relationship.

    Thank you for this valuable information!


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