How to Teach Kids to Use Descriptive Language in Their Writing

Updated on November 10, 2016

Teaching Children Adjectives, Similes, Metaphors, and Describing Words

Let's face it, kids don't want to learn by sitting in their seat and copying work down. They certainly don't learn much from worksheet after worksheet after worksheet. There is obviously a time and a place for this kind of learning; however, I believe children learn best by having fun with their education. They should be free to get out of their seat and take control of what they are doing.

Surely, having independent children within our classrooms is everything a teacher wants!

In this article, I will give you a few ideas that I have come up with to do exactly that and much more; independent learning, teamwork, resourcefulness, persistance, confidence, and empathy for others are life skills these children also enhance during these activities. Win, win - yes?

Idea 1 : Describing from a picture.

This is an idea I have used in every year I have taught. And I have taught from Reception all the way to year 9 now. It is a nice activity which is easy to set up and the kids enjoy it:

To get started you will need a picture of something related to the work you are covering within your literacy lessons. The complexity of the picture will be defined by the ability of the group and their ages.

  • Higher ability will get a more complex picture so they can practice more complex descriptive sentences.
  • The pictures can and should give the children to use the language of choice within your literacy lessons, i.e. in year 1 a simple picture (cartoon) with blocks of colours which are light or dark. Then further up the school it could be a picture of someone crying so they could use similes or metaphores of this tear running down his/her face.

To start the lesson I always model the idea first. I read out a text to the children of a picture only I have seen and their job is to draw it. Draw what they can picture in their heads from my description. This description will always follow the same language I want the children to speak/write in so it is tailored for their age range and ability (always aiming for the top ability within your class to push them on - the rest will follow).

Once they have drawn their picture (this could be done on whiteboards on the carpet at the front for lower years or with pencil and scrap paper for older children) then I would show them my picture on the interactive whiteboard. A discussion about what was good about my desription would then follow - this allows them to see what I expect from their descriptions.

Then students are given these instructions:

  1. You need to be sitting with a partner. Number yourself 1 and 2.
  2. Number 2 will go first and they are the only ones who are to leave their chair. They will be allowed to go and look at the picture I have placed in the room and they are allowed to get up and look as many times as they need to.
  3. Their job is to describe the picture to their partner, who is going to draw it (this would be best in pencil with scrap paper because they always make mistakes which is pointed out by their partner. This is to be encouraged though so both can see how description work is hard and yet so important to the reader.)
  4. You are to be given 5-10 minutes to draw this picture to the best of your ability. Don't worry this is not an art lesson, so if you don't like drawing then it's ok because that is not the idea. The idea of this lesson is to see what is good descriptive language and then maybe pinch (magpie) this for your own work in the future.
  5. After you have completed that we will swap over so every has a go at each activity.
  6. Remember you can look at the picture as many times as you want, remember that you need to try to describe everything in as much detail as you can so your partner can picture it in their head and remember to have fun!
  7. Any questions?

Warning: A few teachers do not like this type of lesson because the children are not in their seats and it does not look organised. However, Ofsted will like this type of lesson due to the children taking ownership of their own learning. Be brave and take risks with learning and you will reep the rewards within your class (behaviour management in this lesson is simple as they are all enjoying their work) and also you will see the language being placed within their writing so levels will rise. Again, win, win.


  1. The children should talk about their learning -
  • what good descriptions did you hear?
  • What descriptive sentences do you think you could steal (magpie) for your own work?
  • When you were picturing the scene (drawing it from your partners description) how did your partner help you to do that?
  • When you were picturing the scene (drawing it from your partners description) how did your partner hinder or not help you to do that?
  • So what have you learnt from this lesson?

And the last thing to remember is that this lesson is fun and the children can gain SO much from it.

Idea 2 : Drawing from a description.

I have used this plenty of times as a starter to my lessons. It is a great way to show children how they should use descriptive sentences within their work.

  • To set it up you will have to produce a few paragraphs of writing on something you want to describe. This should fit into the theme you are using within your literacy lessons (I recently was teaching about the Tudor period and so the descriptive writing was that of a plague doctor and a plague victim.) The more fun or related to the children's interests the more effective lessons like this will be.
  • Each paragraph was blown up onto its own separate A4 piece of paper. The writing on these pages was typically around 20 characters - this enables the students to read it easily.
  • These pieces of paper are then placed around the room. Each paragraph is placed after each other to make it easier to find and read. Numerous copies of it must be done so the groups around each description isn't too big (this depends on the size of your class.)
  • Each group's description can be differentiated towards their ability to help push them on. Lower ability or younger children could be given a template to help them draw this description, i.e. I gave my lower ability plague victim tempates - just an outline of a person which they could then use to draw around to make it look like it.

After a quick set of instructions, which could go as follows:

  1. You are to go around the room and read your groups descriptive story. (Point out where each group need to do this)
  2. From this you are to draw whatever you can picture in your head from that description.
  3. Please don't worry about what other people in your group are doing as nobody generates the same picture from any one description.
  4. Any questions?

Allow enough time for them to get a good likeness from the descriptions. A mini plenary should follow this -

  • What was difficult about the task?
  • What language did you like or help you to picture what the scene was about?
  • What words/phrases could you pinch/magpie for your own writing?

From this starter you could:

  1. Get the children to write their own description of a scene from a picture.
  2. Get the children to write their own descriptive starter to a story you have been looking at in your lessons.
  3. Get the children to write their own descriptive starter after watching a film clip, which is related to what ever you have been looking at in your lessons.
  4. Get the children to write down their own descriptive starter for their partner to draw.
  5. With a group do a guided writing session doing one of the activities above.

No doubt!

There is no doubt that the two above ideas show children how difficult it is to picture a scene when you read or listen to others. From this realisation they should gain more awareness of the reader and will therefore enhance their own writing to help them.

These ideas are fun and the students take responsibility for their won learning during this time. Apart from setting it up then you don't actually teach much apart from the odd suggestion here and there (unless you are guiding a group of course).

Have fun with your teaching and I hope this helps a little.

Take a look at this book for other ideas.

Talk for Writing across the Curriculum: How to teach non-fiction writing 5-12 years
Talk for Writing across the Curriculum: How to teach non-fiction writing 5-12 years
Other great ideas can be found in this great book. Talk for writing has great ideas of how you can use talking within lessons to enhance the written work your students do.


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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. When I raised my son, my friend who works as a writer at, advised me a lot of good articles on how to correctly teach a child to write grammatically, one of these articles I can highlight: Perhaps someone it will also be useful. I want to thank you for sharing such useful articles for children and their parents.

    • Veronica Hunt profile image

      Veronica Hunt 

      2 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      As a former teacher, I can recommend a set of exercises that are both instructive and engaging and can be completed in a single class lesson.

      1. Showing examples

      2. Being specific

      3. Describing an experience

      4. Involving emotions

      Also, here are nice guides on descriptive writing:

      I advise using these exercises/guides to encourage your child or student come up with ideas for describing a place of his own.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

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