Students begin working with descriptive language during their elementary years, so high school activities dealing with descriptions must demand a higher level of thought. Instead of relying on simple adjectives that only describe the obvious senses, students must identify and write complex descriptions that incorporate all five senses. Work with familiar objects and events to help your students relate to and analyze the subject more easily.
Give each student a piece of chocolate or other small morsel of food, instructing your class not to eat the food yet. Guide your students in describing the sample using all five senses, beginning with sight before working up to taste. Students may include a few simple adjectives but should also describe the food in more complex ways. For example, students might draw comparisons between the sample and unrelated objects. For sound, students must describe how the food sounds when being unwrapped, broken or otherwise handled. Students must describe taste last, at which point they can eat the food.
Pass a photograph or other picture around the class. Choose a picture with a subject that most students can relate to, such as a family gathering or school event. Instruct students to describe the setting of the photograph using all five senses. At the high school level, students must use complex descriptions instead of simple adjectives. For instance, instead of saying that a person in the photograph sitting near a fireplace feels "hot," students might describe the sensation of the sweat likely beading on the individual's skin.
Help students understand the difference between weak and strong descriptive language through identification. Pass out samples of prose containing multiple examples of sensory descriptions. Instruct students to read through the samples several times, underlining or highlighting descriptions that use one of the five senses as they go along. Afterward, ask students to take several examples from the text and identify whether the language is simple and weak or vivid and strong.
Identifying Objects by Description
Promote the importance of strong descriptive language by challenging your high school students to identify an unknown object based entirely on its description. Give students two descriptions of the same object. One description should use very little detail, only relying on basic adjectives to describe the object. The second example should use vivid, complex descriptions that make use of all five senses. Ideally, students will identify the object more easily from the second description than the first.
One Sense at a Time
Focus your lesson on descriptive language by instructing students to practice writing about the senses one at a time. Instruct students to write a short poem or block of prose describing the sights involved with a memorable event, such as a favorite family vacation. After they complete that assignment, instruct students to describe the same event by describing the sounds involved. Continuing assigning writing exercises based on the same event until students finish writing about a smell, taste and touch associated with the event, as well.
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