“Descriptive writing is an art form. It’s painting a word picture so that the reader ‘sees’ exactly what you are describing.”
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What’s the big deal about writing descriptively? For one thing, it’s much more than page-filling fluff. Descriptive writing imprints images into the reader’s mind, making you feel as though you’re “right there.” It‘s all about engaging the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to transport the reader and stir emotion. By choosing vivid details and colorful words, good writers bring objects, people, places, and events to life. Instead of merely telling you what they see, they use their words to show you.
Writers use this powerful method to make their pieces memorable—even brilliant—rather than dry and boring. In many ways, description is the most important kind of writing you can teach your children. Why? Because it supports other reasons for writing such as storytelling, informative reports, or persuasion.
Even if your child never aspires to write stories or poetry, description is a wonderful skill to develop. Without it, all other writing falls flat.
Describing a Place
Vivid writing is especially important when describing a place — whether to describe a vista for a travel guide or flesh out a scene in a novel.
Master storyteller Charles Dickens was also a master of using description to create a mood.
It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. ~Charles Dickens, Hard Times
But your child doesn’t have to be a Dickens to add color, depth, and interest to his writing. Here, a ninth grader draws on all five senses to describe a place and create a mood.
Moist and salty, a chilly breeze blows in across the swells, bringing with it the pungent smells of seaweed and fish and making me pull my jacket a little closer. Sea spray transforms into fiery prisms as the waves splash against the shore, catch the last golden rays of sun, and toss them up like liquid crystals.
With a few tips and tools, your child can effectively describe a place too.
Suppose he’s planning to write about a desert. He’ll need to describe basic desert features, of course: sand, rock, hills, and dunes. But deserts aren’t all alike, so his word choices will need to reflect the kind of desert he wants to write about. For example, if he chooses a desert in the southwestern United States, he’ll probably describe plants such as sagebrush, Joshua trees, yuccas, or saguaro cacti.
But if he’s writing about an oasis in the Sahara Desert, where vegetation is much different, he would instead describe date palms, oleanders, acacia trees, succulents, and desert grasses. His description of either desert scene will spring to life as he tells about these places using rich and appropriate details.
Finding Vocabulary for Describing a Place
How do you help your child study his subject and choose strong words that make his writing sparkle? Whether he decides to write about a desert, city, rain forest, or pond, these ideas will help him find words that will form the foundation of his descriptive piece, narrative story, or report.
Using a Search Engine
Search engines such as Google make a great resource for inspiration. In addition to collecting general terms about the location’s flora and fauna (the desert, for example), he’ll also find concrete, specific nouns and adjectives that add color to his writing. Suggest that he begin his search by looking up terms like these:
- desert landscape
- desert features
- desert climate
- desert plants
- desert animals
- desert description
What if your child wants to describe a city instead of a desert? City words are trickier to find, and he may have to hunt more. Try some of these search terms:
- describe city sights
- describe Chicago, describe Pittsburgh, etc.
- “describe downtown” (use quotes)
Using Other Sources
While search engines can lead you to a wealth of information, don’t discount the value of print media such as magazines and books. Also consider digital media such as TV documentaries or DVDs about the subject.
When describing a place, visit in person, if possible. But if not, can you explore a spot with similar features? Many children are visual and tactile learners. If your child wants to describe what a sidewalk looks like, how about taking him outside to explore the sidewalk on your street? It will help him describe the texture, color, and appearance of a city sidewalk, even if you live in a suburb.
As your child searches the Internet, ask him to keep an eye out for adjectives that describe desert or city features (or whatever place he wants to write about). Encourage him to come up with words on his own, but also to watch for words he meets in articles or photo captions.
If he doesn’t understand some of the words, pull out the dictionary and make it a teaching moment! And show him how to use a thesaurus (we love The Synonym Finder[aff]) to find other words that say the same thing. Both of these exercises will help his vocabulary to grow.
Some Desert Adjectives
Desert:harsh, dry, arid, sparse, severe, hot
Rock:sharp, rough, jagged, angular
Grasses:windblown, bent, dry, pale green, brown
Sand:coarse, fine, glittering, shifting, rippling, sifting, white, golden
Sky:pale, intense, cloudless, azure, purple, crimson
Cactus:tall, short, squatty, spiny, prickly, thorny
Date palm:tall, bent, leather (leaves), frayed (leaves)
Some City Adjectives
City:active, bustling, noisy, busy, clean, dirty, windy
Traffic:loud, congested, snarled
Buildings:old, shabby, rundown, crumbling, modern, futuristic, sleek, towering, squat
Buildings (walls):brick, stone, marble, glass, steel, graffiti-covered
Monuments, statues:stone, copper, carved, ancient, moss-covered, faded, green, bronze
Sidewalk:concrete, cement, slick, cracked, tidy, littered, swept
Paint:fresh, weathered, peeling
Signs:neon, weathered, worn, bright, welcoming, flashing
Buses, cars, taxis:belching, crawling, speeding, honking, waiting, screeching
People:hurried, bundled, smiling, frowning, eager, rushed
Use these suggestions to encourage your child come up with ideas for describing a place of his own. You’ll both discover that hunting for words can become a favorite pre-writing game! And as your child dabbles more and more in descriptive writing, I’m confident his words will soon begin to “show” more and “tell” less.
. . . . .
Do you struggle with teaching and grading writing? Does your child’s writing need a boost? Consider adding WriteShop to your curriculum choices for this school year!
The first seven lessons of WriteShop I specifically teach your teen descriptive writing. This important skill is then practiced in the remaining informative and narrative writing lessons. In addition, WriteShop teaches—and offers practice in using—a wide array of sentence variations that help to enhance a student’s paper with fresh style and vigor. When combined with strong, dynamic word choices, sentence variations give dull writing new life.
For younger children, WriteShop Primary introduces K-3rd graders to activities that widen their writing vocabulary. Book C contains three specific descriptive writing lessons. WriteShop Junior, for upper elementary, also provides many opportunities for students to incorporate description.
Learn more here.
Photos: Alice, Dietmar Temps, & Phillip Capper, courtesy of Creative Commons
I had a really hard time doing this :(
Edit it, give me suggestions, anything please! Thank you.
Hundreds of different stores. Teenagers walking around texting on their blackberries. Overpriced T-shirts. Waiting in line. I go to this place very often; the mall. As I hop off of the bus, I casually stroll along, enjoying the glamorous surroundings leading up to the grand entrance. When I approach the transparent doors, I wait for them to automatically slide open for me, almost as if they were like magnets, pulling me closer and closer. The graceful doors glide open, and I take my first step into the mall. As I enter Modells, the first store of the mall, a familiar, cool breeze strokes my face. I hear the generic theme song replaying the same few lines over and over again, "Gotta go to Mo's!" Even though Modells is not my favorite store, entering it symbolizes that I have entered into a realm of my own, a serene world where I am in charge. The mall distracts me from all of the disappointments in my life. That stressful day of school does not seem as stressful. That harsh breakup no longer seems like the end of the world. Apart from the dwindling size of my wallet, there are no problems when I shop. Everyone at the mall has one motive: to shop. Whether it is to shop for the perfect prom dress or something flattering, we, as shoppers, are all united by our purpose for going to the mall.
When I walk around in the gigantic enveloping walls of the mall, I feel as if a brand new adventure has just opened up for me. What new shirts are in style this fall season? Are ripped jeans out already? The best thing about shopping is that I am in control of everything. If I see a shirt that I adore, I am the one who decides if I want to buy it or not. There is no pressure in making a choice, unlike the decision of whether or not one should study in school. If one does not study in school, there will be severe consequences such as not getting into college or dropping out of high school. However, if one does not buy that shirt, there will not be negative consequences. That is the beauty of shopping. One has an abundant number of choices.
As I stroll into my favorite shop, Urban Outfitters, I see many different salespeople walking around. Some quietly fold the clothes into a neat rectangular shape while others eagerly immerse with the customers. The best thing I like about this store is the range in selection of the types of clothing it sells. The store does not center around a specific style. Take Hollister, for example, all it sells are t-shirts and sweatshirts with the words Hollister Co written all over them, and let us not forget the overrated seagull logo. Everything about Urban Outfitters is fashion, from the shredded t-shirts with witty sayings to the four inch vintage oxford heels. As I brush the pale blue fabric of a denim jacket, I search for something that appeals to me. The black leather jacket is cute, but it is too heavy looking. Those pair of shorts is quite chic, but wearing that in the minus degrees weather will cause me to freeze to death. Clothing should be, at the same time, fashionable and comfortable. As I poke around every little corner of the store, I search for that one special item that will brighten my day.
While it seems like all hope is lost, a bright green sign with the words "New arrivals." catches my attention. My feet, with a mind of their own, pull me over to where the new stacks of clothes lay. During my meticulous rummaging session into the endless heaps of clothing, splattered all over the table like paint, I see a bright flowery dress that is absolutely flawless looking. The colors were a bright yellow and grey, and the fabric felt like a soft silk, practically melting in my hands. The moment that I laid eyes on that dress, I knew it was the one. I rush over into the fitting room to try on the beautiful yellow dress. As I was pulling it over my head, a tag hits me in the face. I rub the spot where I was hit and look for what had caused it. My eyes fixate on the dark bold numbers, $69.99. A whole seventy bucks for a dress? Unbelievably expensive I thought to myself. However, I knew I had to have it. Pouring out all the cash in my wallet onto the counter, I reluctantly handed over my last four bills. I walk out of the store with a sense of fulfillment; my mission was complete, for today at least.
Everything about the mall just makes me happy, I enjoy window shopping past the LV store, I enjoy fighting for that last shirt on sale, and last but not least, I enjoy how the mall is an escape from the worries of life. As I stride out of Modells, I once again hear the familiar four words "Gotta go to Mo's!" Before I reach the transparent gliding doors, I take one last look and quietly whisper under my breath, See you next week, mall.
Everything about the mall just makes me happy, I enjoy window shopping past the LV store, I enjoy fighting for tthe last shirt on sale, and the last but not least, I enjoy the feeling of shoping ,free from the serious choice . As I stride out of Modells, I once again hear the familiar four words "Gotta go to Mo's!" Before I reach the transparent gliding doors, I tookthe last glance and quietly whisper under my breath, See you next week,the mall .