Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A New Way to Teach Descriptive Writing

Some of my lower level English students struggle with understanding the impact of descriptive writing. They understand what an adjective does and what its function is in a sentence, but translating that to a larger scale and applying that concept to descriptive writing in a story is very difficult for them to do. After trying a couple of techniques to increase their ability to identify descriptive writing and becoming frustrated, I decided to have the students "DO" instead of just "LISTEN."

I only had four students in this class on this day and I could really take the time to show them what they were missing and where they needed to go. I placed them at different points around the school and had them look at the scene in front of them. I told them to write down all of the adjectives that they could think of to describe what they were looking at in 1 minute.

I timed them and once they were finished with that scene, they rotated clockwise to the next scene. Once they were finished with all of the scenes, I had them come back to the classroom where I drew a table on the board and wrote their names across the top and the title of each scene along the side. Each student recited the adjectives they thought of to describe each scene and I wrote them on the board. We discussed the different adjectives and I asked them if they saw any trends in the adjectives they chose.

The #1 trend they noticed was that almost all of the adjectives they chose were colors but there wasn't anything to describe the temperature, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the change in texture, sunlight, or perspective. I wrote a list of the five senses on the board and asked them to re-do one scene from outside using their five senses, and find adjectives to describe the scene that addressed each sense.

Once more, we went back inside after the minute was up and I wrote their new adjectives on the board next to their previous choices. It became obvious that these new adjectives made a huge difference in describing what they saw and to further make this point, I gave each student a different student's list and asked them to write a paragraph using the new adjectives.

One student only came up with two new adjectives and to the student who had to write a paragraph using only two adjectives, it soon became apparent that in order to write a paragraph, you needed more than two adjectives to describe a scene.

This exercise not just TOLD them but SHOWED them how important descriptions were to the development of the setting. In a story, instead of only reading the words, I want them to be more aware of how the author is creating the setting by accessing their five senses to create a comprehensive experience for the reader. I want them to to be able to identify when descriptive writing is being used and how it affects the development of the story.

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