Descriptive Writing Strategies

Descriptive writing can be fun for students.
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Teaching descriptive writing can help students make their writing more precise, incorporate new vocabulary and deepen their understanding of new material. When teaching descriptive writing, teachers can model good writing and teach students to identify and use descriptive and figurative language. Further, the use of creative and interesting writing prompts will help students improve their descriptive writing.

1 Modeling Writing

If students don't know what good descriptive writing looks like, it will be very hard for them to produce it. Share good examples of descriptive writing from literature, pointing out the techniques that make it effective. Ask students to identify ways the writer is descriptive. Before giving a descriptive writing assignment, choose a topic to write about together as a class, modeling your organization and word choice so that students get comfortable with the strategies.

2 Descriptive and Figurative Language

Good descriptive writing requires precise language. Help students to replace passive verbs and vague adjectives (such as nice or good) with more exact wording. Teach students how to incorporate the five senses in their description, explaining how the subject looks, sounds, feels, tastes, etc. Teach students to identify figurative language, such as similes, metaphors and analogies. Once students can recognize figurative language, they can begin incorporating it into their own writing.

3 Organization

Students will need to learn how to organize their descriptive writing. Some common organization frameworks for descriptive writing are chronological, spatial and by order of importance. For example, an essay describing a historical event could be organized chronologically. A place can be described using spatial organization. When writing about people, organizing by order of importance makes sense. Students should read examples of each method of organization and practice identifying which works best in various instances. You can then have students write descriptively using each organizational framework.

4 Writing Prompts

Ideas for descriptive writing prompts abound. Students can describe a room, a picture, a photograph or a piece of artwork. Or, they can write descriptive restaurant menus. For fun, younger students might enjoy describing an object in the room, reading their description to the class and having them guess what the object is. Students might enjoy describing their favorite place, researching and describing a place they'd like to visit, or describing their pet, a family member, a favorite celebrity or a hero. The more the prompt has personal relevance to students, the more likely they are to enjoy writing about it.

Jenny Lewis has been an educator since 1992 when she earned her masters in teaching. Since then she has taught Spanish, English Language Arts, Social Studies in the diverse schools across the country. She added a Special Education Endorsement in 2010 for her work as an instructional coach. She started blogging about education in 2010.