Certain words seem to pop up repeatedly in student writing -- nice, good and fun are examples. You can conduct a writing workshop in class to help students increase vocabulary and become descriptive writers. A few simple lessons can rev up the creativity and even provide references that students can return to anytime they are writing.
Retired Word Wall
Tell students it's time to retire the overused words they read and hear, and create a retired word wall. Students should brainstorm a list of overused words and write each one on the front of a folded piece of paper. Attach the folded pieces of paper to an easily accessible part of the wall so that the flap can be lifted up and students can write alternative words. Students can then refer to the wall when they are writing to spice up their descriptions. For example, one paper might have the word "said," and the synonyms inside could include "gasped" or "muttered."
Create a graphic organizer, preferably in the notebook where the students write so they can access it easily. Students should create a grid with six columns. In the first column, they should put topics they would like to write about. The other five columns should be for the senses. For example, if a student wants to write about the beach, she should describe what she would see there in the second column, smell in the third column and complete the rest with feel, hear and taste. When she is writing, she can refer back to the organizer for ideas.
Sometimes it is easier to describe an object if it is tangible. Bring items to class that are unique in appearance, texture or smell, such as seashells or dry fall leaves. Place them around the room so that students have the opportunity to change stations and observe each object. Encourage them to explore the items with their hands and look at them closely for tiny details. Have them write their findings in their notebook and compare in small groups to see who came up with the most interesting descriptions. Students can choose one object and write a descriptive paragraph using their notes.
Work of Art
Sharing a favorite work of art with students is another opportunity to build descriptive writing skills. Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" or Edvard Munch's "The Scream" are colorful examples that might appeal to younger students. Students should record descriptive phrases in their notebooks and share with the class. In addition to describing what it looks like, tell students to imagine they are in the picture. What do they hear? What do they smell? Is "Starry Night" chilly? What can you hear "The Scream" saying?
- Writing Mini-Lessons for First Grade: The Four-Blocks Model (Four-Blocks Literacy Model): Dorothy P. Hall, Patricia M. Cunningham: 2002
- Writing Mini-Lessons for Third Grade: The Four-Blocks Model: Cheryl Mahaffey Sigmon and Sylvia M. Ford: 2002
Rebecca Gaunt earned a Bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a Masters in education from Oglethorpe University. She has been published in "The Red & Black," "The Athens Observer" and the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gaunt also taught elementary school for seven years.