Sample Lesson Plan Descriptive Essay

Student Objectives

Instruction and Activities


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Revise sentences to incorporate imagery and sensory detail

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Instruction and Activities

  1. Discuss with the class the idea of “showing” rather than “telling” in writing. For example, in a casual conversation, a student might say, “I was in an automobile accident yesterday,” but such a statement gives little information. Was he or anyone else hurt? Did the accident involve another car or a tree? Was he alone in the car? Where did the accident happen?

  2. Read aloud the sentence on the board (see Preparation, Step 2), noting that it “tells” what happened rather than “shows” what happened.

  3. Ask the class to help rewrite the sentence so that the description comes alive.

    “The car lands awkwardly, causing it to roll.”

    • Ask, “What does lands awkwardly look like? Think of an image in your mind and let’s capture it in words.”

    • Ask, “Is the car driving itself? Does the driver matter?”

    • Ask, “Is enough detail provided to visualize what happened?”
  4. In this manner, actively solicit sensory details (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory descriptions) from students. Write the new “show” sentence next to the original “tell” sentence. Based upon this prompt, a ninth-grade student wrote:

    “The car blasted through the guardrail, went into a free-fall, then spun around in the air and landed sideways, causing the weight to shift. Freddy felt the momentum pulling the car forward. The car kept rolling, and with each flip, Freddy felt more and more helpless.”

  5. Refer students to the Show-Me Sentences Handout, and have them review the first example, first reading the “telling” sentence and then reading the “showing” sentence.

  6. Ask students if they could improve even more on the “showing” sentence. Allow students to provide suggestions and point out when their suggestions improve the descriptive quality of the sentence.

  7. Ask students to recreate the remaining “telling” sentences on the handout by incorporating visual and sensory details to more explicitly show the reader the scene.

  8. After students have worked through the sentences on the handout, ask for volunteers to read their revisions aloud. Point out effective uses of imagery and sensory details.

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Use this lesson early in the year so you can refer to it later when students are working on other writing assignments.

For example, after having students write a descriptive narrative and engage in a peer-review session, ask them to select three single, significant sentences from different parts of their narrative. Have students transform each sentence into a “showing” sentence as learned in this lesson. Each “showing” sentence can then be reinserted into the narrative as part of the revision process.

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All students can demonstrate mastery of descriptive writing. However, it is not unusual to suggest that a student “add more description” to an initial reworking of a sentence. Witnessing how good peer writers reinvigorate sentences is especially helpful.

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Students will
  • Learn how descriptive words make stories clearer and more interesting.
  • Write stories using descriptive words



  1. Have your students close their eyes and listen as you describe a familiar object in the classroom. Ask students to raise their hands if they think they know what the object is. Ask students to list the descriptive words that helped them identify the object. Would they have known the object if you had not used those words?
  2. Discuss the importance of using descriptive words in written stories. Have students watch Writing Strategies. Then ask them to share other descriptive words they would use to identify elephants or the dog breeds shown in the program. Share some examples of how descriptive words make stories clearer and more interesting.
  3. List the names of common household or classroom items on the board or on a piece of chart paper where students can see it. As a class, brainstorm words that describe the items. Write these descriptive words on the board or chart paper and talk about them. Which words are more descriptive than others? Which words are less descriptive? Which words can be used to describe more than one item in the list? Which words help clearly identify an item?
  4. Ask students to think of other common items and keep their ideas to themselves. Tell them that they will write a descriptive paragraph about one item without writing the name of it. Each paragraph should be at least five sentences and describe such details as the item's appearance, how heavy it is, what it is used for, its color, and where it is found; students should not reveal the name of the item in their paragraphs. Explain that students will read other students' finished paragraphs to see if they can figure out the items based on the descriptive words.
  5. Give students time in class to write their paragraphs. Remind them to use as many descriptive words as they can, without naming the item. Discuss the importance of using clear, complete sentences and following the basic rules of writing.
  6. When students have finished writing their paragraphs, have them switch them with a partner. Have the partners read the paragraphs and try to identify the items described. What descriptive words did students use? What words or phrases clearly described the items?
  7. Ask volunteers who had trouble identifying an item to share the paragraph with the rest of the class. Talk about ways these paragraphs could be improved. What descriptive words or phrases could be used to more clearly identify the item?
  8. Once the paragraphs have been read and discussed, have the class summarize what they have learned about descriptive words. Ask students to talk about the important role descriptive words play in making stories and other writing clearer and more interesting to readers.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:  Students were highly engaged in class discussions and partner readings; demonstrated a clear understanding of the importance of using descriptive words in writing; and wrote creative, unique, and descriptive paragraphs that contained no grammatical or spelling errors, and clearly identified a particular item without revealing its name.
  • Two points:  Students participated in class discussions and partner readings; demonstrated a general understanding of the importance of using descriptive words in writing; and wrote somewhat creative, unique, and descriptive paragraphs that contained few grammatical or spelling errors, and generally identified a particular item without revealing its name.
  • One point:  Students participated minimally in class discussions and partner readings; were unable to demonstrate a basic understanding of the importance of using descriptive words in writing; and wrote incomplete or inaccurate paragraphs that contained multiple grammatical or spelling errors and did not clearly identify a particular item or revealed the name of the item.

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Definition: Serving to convey an idea, image, or impression
Context: Descriptive words can make your writing clearer and more interesting.

Definition: A string of words satisfying the grammatical rule of a language; a grammatical unit that is syntactically independent
Context: Writers use different kinds of sentences when they write.

Definition: An account of events or series of events, either true or fictitious
Context: You have written a great story about your favorite foods.

Definition: A written work, especially a literary composition
Context: Good writers think a lot about their writing before they start to work.

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Academic Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Language Arts-Writing: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process; Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Language Arts-Viewing: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association have developed national standards to provide guidelines for teaching the English language arts. To view the standards online, go to
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Students use spoken, written and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

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