As I write on this sunny Saturday morning, I am torn because I have so many things to write about, but today is the day that I write about an ELA lesson, so I’m staying on task and writing about a descriptive writing lesson. Descriptive writing is difficult for sixth grade writers because it requires providing more details to sentences, which is difficult for 11(12)-year-olds to do. In fact, descriptive writing can be difficult for writers of all ages (I know that I struggle with being descriptive in my own writing).
My favorite descriptive writing lesson (lasts a few class periods):
I start by asking my students if they know the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving. Some of the students know the differences, but others struggle, so I first show them pictures of the equipment, and then, I show a short video about each. We discuss that the snorkeler sees the beauty of sea life from the surface. I love when the kids compare this to writing in third person. Then, we discuss that the scuba diver emerges to the depths of the sea and witnesses sea life as part of the setting (with the sea life). Additionally, I love when the kids compare this writing to first person perspective. Finally, I ask the students which writer (the writer that snorkels or the writer that scuba dives) will have an easier time showing their story. We make the connection to the advice that many authors that we Skype with give us, “It is easier to write from experience, so get out and experience things.”
It is time to put the SCUBA Descriptive Writing poster on the whiteboard and on the other three walls that surround the classroom. The poster states:
Show the reader the story
Conventions – be careful with spelling, punctuation, and capitalization
Use sensory details
Be organized – sentences and paragraphs should flow
Authentic voice – your own writing style
Now, the students are ready to practice, so I place two different examples on the monitor screen. The first is the snorkeling example:
The kitchen smelled like turkey. The dinner was enjoyable. The relatives told stories about the past and it was funny. We ate salads, turkey, and mashed potatoes. Everything was good.
The second is the SCUBA example:
Laughter and the sleepy smell of turkey filled the air as twenty members of my family ate Thanksgiving dinner together. Stories of past holidays and other memories were shared from table to table. At the same time, mouth-watering salads, creamy-smooth mashed potatoes with hot gravy, and moist slices of delicious turkey were passed from plate to plate.
The kids need to identify the sensory details from the second (SCUBA) example, and then, they compare the two examples. We discuss what makes the second example more descriptive and vivid. We also discuss that the reader (of the second example) feels like she or he is part of the story. Then, we create a list of other descriptive words that we could use to describe the dinner. Finally, the kids are ready to practice by writing about their own Thanksgiving (or celebration) dinner.
Of course, I would love to read how others teach descriptive writing in their own classroom. It is such an important skill for a writer (of any level). Please respond and let me know.