Descriptive  Writing

Students and parents,
Please use the following lessons, links, and notes to help you with our descriptive writing unit. This web page is a work in progress. I will continue to add pictures and lessons as we work on them in class. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at

Mrs. Farnum

We begin our unit with a power point presentation and class discussion exploring the purpose, craft and technique required of descriptive writing. Our class discussions also cause us to use real life examples of "perfect descriptive moments", authors who write descriptively and how past writing assignments could be improved by writing more descriptively.

Descriptive PowerPoint Presentation (used in class on 1/2 and 1/3)

Interactive Note Template for PowerPoint (placed in writer's handbook for notes)

Important lessons were learned through the powerpoint. Students learned that descriptive writing...
1. Uses sensory details - the five senses
2. Uses figurative language - metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, imagery, etc.
3. Uses dialogue
4. Uses facts along side expressive, creative writing
5. Requires observation
6. Create


Prior to Christmas break, the 6th graders used the following prompt to write a descriptive narrative during a one class period.
"Every day you pass a door. One day as you pass the door, it's open. You go inside. What do you see on the other side of the door
? Describe what you discover on the other side of the door."

After giving the prompt a try of their own, students were given several examples of other middle schoolers attempting the same prompt. Students used our own scoring system to evaluate and grade their assigned examples. The samples were given an overall score based on five categories: focus, organization, support/details, conventions (spelling, grammar and mechanics) and style/voice.

For lesson two, we took another look at each sample "door" essay and Mrs. Farnum revealed the actual score the essays received on the state assessment as well as notes written by the assessor.

The discussion of the prompt and examples led our class to some important discoveries:
1. It is important to address/answer the prompt given. One example was "unscoreable" because it did not respond to the prompt.
2. The importance of paying attention to key words in prompts. One example scored HIGH in four out of five categories and MEDIUM on one category (support/details) yet received an overall score of MEDIUM. We discovered that while there are five categories, certain ones are weighed more heavily depending on the type of prompt. In this case, the prompt asked students to DESCRIBE - therefore placing emphasis on the support/details category. In the end, students realized how important it is to look for key words in prompts.
3. Students discussed the benefits of using dialogue in descriptive writing. One student asked a very good question about the use of dialogue in writing..
     Scott: what if there is only one character or thing in the description?
     Mrs. Farnum: Well, class, what do you think? What can we do to take the place of writing dialogue when there is only one person involved in the description?
     Morgan: You can write about what the one person is thinking.
     Mrs. Farnum: HOW do you write about one person's thoughts? What kind of format do you use?
     Madison: You can write it in italics.
     Mrs. Farnum: YES!! Can characters also talk to themselves?
     Class: Yes!
     Mrs. Farnum: What do we call it when a character talks to him/her self? A dialogue is when two or more characters carry on a conversation. What do we call it when one person talks?
    Class: (a few fantastic guesses)
    JJ: Monologue?
    Mrs. Farnum:  YES!! Monologue reminds me of soap operas - when a character stands right in front of the camera and talks dramatically to her/him self. (Mrs. Farnum then proceeded to make a fool out of herself and do her best soap opera imitation). What is the purpose of writing about what a person would say or think to him/her self?
     Darby: You get to find out what they're thinking.
    Mrs. Farnum: Good!

4. One paper received a low score due to poor spelling. The evaluator made a comment about the spelling lowering the score in every category - not just conventions/spelling - because the words were unrecognizable and therefore took away from all aspects of the paper. We discussed how minor spelling errors can be figured out, but if you don't take the time to spell carefully, you could seriously lower your score.
5. Ryan brought up the fact that penmanship can often get in the way of being able to score writing. Good point, Ryan! Just like poor spelling, indecipherable (this is a word we discussed in class) writing can lower your score in several categories if it prevents the reader from understanding what you've written.
6. We noted that all well-written samples had a clear beginning, middle and end.

For this assignment, students were given the descriptive exercise #1 below, and we discussed the meaning of the word exposition and the example given on the page, taking a simple statement and using descriptions to create an image in the reader's mind. Students then picked three of exposition prompt choices given, and tried to write descriptions of their own. The descriptions they wrote were fantastic... and many of them were funny. Check back later this week for some examples published on this page.

Descriptive Exercise #1: Exposition to Description (classwork on

To get students thinking about their first official descriptive writing assignment, Mrs. Farnum explained that they would be writing about a thing, place, setting or event they associate with the recent holiday break. We then went over each set of directions for the descriptive prewriting assignment below.

Descriptive Prewriting Packet: Place/scene/object over the holidays (class and home work on 1/5)

Before students began their prewriting packets, Mrs. Farnum shared a descriptive rough draft she wrote after last year's holiday break. As she read the paragraph (displayed on the SMART board), students were asked to see if the paragraph used all of the elements reguired: metaphors, similes, personification, sensory details, imagery, strong verbs, detailed adjectives, etc.

"My Father's Church on Christmas Eve" short description written by Mrs. Farnum

For this lesson (1/9), students pasted three columned notes into their writer's handbooks. Mrs. Farnum explained that three columned notes are a great way to study for vocabulary tests in all subjects because it breaks down information in five different ways:
1. The first column asked students to identify the vocabulary word.
2. The first column also asks students to draw a symbol, picture or bubble words to show an image of the word or example of its meaning. Studies show that some students will not remember concepts they learn in class without this creative connection.
3. The second column asks students to define the vocabulary word. In the case of these interactive notes, Mrs. Farnum gave some definitions and required students to write other definitions on their own.
4. The third column requires students to give examples of the concept or the word being used in a meaningful sentence. Again, Mrs. Farnum gave some examples and asked students to come up with some examples of their own.
5. The overall graphic organizer created by three-columned notes is often preferred (and helps) mathematical/logical students as it visually categorizes notes.

Literary Devices PowerPoint used for notes/discussion

Literary Devices Three Columned Notes Chart (placed in the writer's handbooks on page 43)

They say that a picture can speak a thousand words, but why can't words show a thousand pictures? For this lesson, students begin with a class discussion about zooming into their subject for a clearer, more details "snapshot". Students viewed and discussed several examples of simple writing enhanced with "snapshots" and participated in a quick write lesson/ practice. Once students practiced snapshots with prompts, they were able to use their descriptive rough drafts, pick a sentence or two and really zoom in for their own "snapshots".


The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant is a short picture book that helps students understand personification. Personification in writing involves taking lifeless items or things and giving them human-like qualities. For instance, "My bed called to me to curl up for the night." Or..."The siren screamed its warning to all pedistrians in its way."

While discussing this book, we talk about some easy ways to create personification:
1. Use human pronouns - he she his her
2. Use verbs that describe human actions - scream run called pleaded
3. Use adjectives that normally are used to describe people - smart tired
4. See if you can replace your object or thing's name in the sentence with a name. If it makes sense, you've done it! For instance, if you replace the words " the couch" in the following sentence with "Johnny", it would still make sense:
The couch pleaded for mercy as the enormous man approached.


This activity asks students to work in groups and create a list of "sensational sensory words." Once groups have been given several minutes to brainstorm, Mrs. Farnum then plays a Boggle-style game with students while typing all un-duplicated words onto the SMARTboard. The end result is a student created list of sensory word choices. The final lists will be added to our "Art of Writing" wikispace/ writing reference tool.
Picture of Sensory Detail Words created by Mrs. Farnum's Language Arts Classes 2007(will be added next week)

The websites below are used as a review of figurative language AND introduction to two great classics - "The Highwayman" and "The Raven". Each website walks students through the work and helps students identify each author's use of figurative language.
"The Highwayman" interactive poem indentifying literary devic

"The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe interactive poem identifying literary devic

I, Mrs. Farnum, recently discovered that as much as 90% of an iceberg is
below sea level. The image we have of icebergs tends to be of  the 10%
we see. This reminded me so much of good descriptive writing - the obvious,
surface level details are important but only make up part of a good story.
It is through "going below the surface" that we come up with details to
make our writing and thoughts unique. I used that "AHA! moment" to create the following short assignment. Before we begin this assignment, students write an object with one or two general descriptors on an index card. Here are some examples created by students this year:
1. old, stinking shoes
2. an angry bumble bee
3. a crowded beach
4. a dusty lava lamp
5. a graceful ballerina
Students then add their ideas to our class collection. After I've discussed why the "iceberg theory" reminds me of descriptive writing, I have students pull a random, student-generated idea out of our collection "pot".

Once we've shared our selections, and I've demonstrated how to use the iceberg graphic organizer (Which I THANKFULLY did not have to draw as I found this nifty graphic organizer used by a teacher to teach about different cultures!! See credit on page.) works, students then start with the obvious details for their choices then dig below the surface for unique details. Each student, working at his or her own pace, then moves on to create a paragraph describing their object chosen.

Descriptive Exercise #3: The Iceberg (object essay prewr

Once we reach Chapter 6 in our books, we will begin tracking Sharon Creech's use of figurative language in Walk Two Moons. Creech provided a lot of rich examples of figurative language in this novel. Students will keep a log of their findings in their RRJs.