4 Ways to Teach Descriptive Writing to Your Students

Writing descriptively doesn’t just happen… it is a writing behavior that has to be learned and taught. I love descriptive writing and often post about it on Instagram and this topic of discussion ends up being one of my most popular posts! In a moment, we will take a deep dive into descriptive writing and I will be giving you 4 ways to include this within your school day and interactions with students. This will be helpful in giving them the necessary exposure which will transfer over into their writing!

1. Use It

Writing descriptively is hard enough so this is something that has to be practiced. An easy way to get this daily practice in is to use it. Try adding it to your everyday language and follow it up by asking students what your words meant. To do this, you can:

  • be intentional with the words you use; try to use figurative language and give opportunities for kids to experience those phrases with you
  • encourage students to use it as well; if they say something that can lend itself to being said in a more descriptive way, help them with that – replace their sentence with the new language
  • utilize class videos; listen for when people are using the expressions and pause the video to talk about it – take any moment where someone is speaking and using descriptive words and language to show kids they can use it, too

Let me give you some examples of what encouraging students to use it could sound like:

“I heard you say you were tired; did it feel like you haven’t slept in a month?”

“I heard you say you were hungry; does it feel like you could eat an entire elephant right now?”

“I heard you say you were happy; does it feel like your smile is stretching a mile wide?”

2. Show It

This is actually a very engaging way to teach language. The easiest way to incorporate this into your class is to give students an emotion and let them play charades; you can draw attention to their facial expressions and body movements putting words to those actions. Like all things, you will want to model this at first and then you can allow them to have a try.

  • Simply write an emotion or feeling on a piece of paper, sticky note, or index card and allow them to begin acting out. This does not need to be fancy. For example, you would hand out the word “embarrassed” and have a child act it out. When someone guesses, they will share how they came to that conclusion… was it the hand gestures being made, the eyes looking down, being bashful, legs moving inward… get your students using the language to explain!
  • You can have all kids act out the word you say and call out what you see kids doing. This will help to plant the language that could turn into descriptors when they are writing. This is also great to help them generate any words and phrases to support the 5 senses: what are you seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting?
  • You, yourself, can act it out. Don’t use any words and act out how you are feeling. Have kids explain what they saw. Write it down on chart paper. Ask them, “How is Miss Polk feeling? “How do you know?” This is a powerful modeled approach.

3. Find It

Be intentional with your read aloud and mentor texts that you are using in your teaching instruction. You will want to focus on highlighting the descriptive words seen or adding the phrase to a classroom poster that kids can refer back to. The practice and action of finding where this language exists in text is key!

I want to be upfront and admit – this requires planning. If you want to be intentional, you will have to scan your texts ahead of time to find these examples within the words you are reading. Look for those opportunities where kids can see what authors have written and discuss why it was written that way.

Another common place to find this language is in your guided reading texts. Use texts that children are already going to be exploring and add on the descriptive language component.

You may find that going on a hunt will be exciting for your students. A figurative language hunt is a great idea because figurative language IS descriptive writing! Have kids add what they find to a sticky note and keep a chart somewhere. This exposure is purposeful and also helps in assisting with reading comprehension, too!

4. Give It

Give your students anchor charts or resources that can scaffold their practice with descriptive writing skills. This is going to help tremendously when you are wanting students to produce descriptive writing on their own – they need to be shown scaffolds and examples that they can borrow or draw from. Try:

  • Adding charts to a descriptive writing wall; you can print charts mini and add a binder ring to allow them to move portably around the room
  • Adding a descriptive language binder to your writing center resources – fill it with actual student examples in writing, examples found in mentor texts, read alouds, and guided reading texts, or heard from people or videos
  • Giving students their own mini version of these supports to keep in their notebooks; kids can reference them at any time and kids can be held accountable versus asking you

The 4 ways you can teach descriptive writing to your students are to use it in your everyday language and encourage them to use it; show it with your actions and let kids act it out as well, find it in texts that you read and places where kids will interact with words and language, and the final way is to give it to your students by way of reference charts for quick access – this can be anchor charts – printing mini so students have access at their fingertips.

If you need additional support for descriptive writing techniques like show dont tell, figurative language, better word choice synonyms for common words, or creative ways to begin and end your writing (writing hooks and conclusions), I have a bundle you may want to check out! It will support you and your students when it comes to writing.

Writing Made Simple

Writing Made Simple words with a composition book and writing utensils

If you are looking for engaging and creative writing opportunities to incorporate into your classroon, Writing Made Simple is for you! These writing routines can be done in 10 minutes or less and will have your students eagerly wanting to write and always wanting to know what’s coming next! You can learn more about Writing Made Simple HERE.

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Hey, I'm Megan!

I am a literacy specialist and curriculum designer who loves sharing tips and ideas to help students thrive in literacy! It brings me joy to await those a-ha moments and to see light bulbs turn on!

I have a huge passion for reading and writing and love to co-mingle the two any chance I get! You can expect to learn new strategies and ways to keep your students engaged during your literacy block! I am so glad you’re here!

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