Sunday, January 24, 2010

It Like Figures...

Teaching students to write more descriptively is a huge challenge (at least for me). I have had some success with using five senses graphic organizers, but practically speaking a lot of descriptive writing needs to be primarily visual what things feel like, smell like, and taste like are only important in limited contexts. I really believe that the key to helping kids write descriptively is the mastery of of using figurative language. Below is a lesson I've developed over the last three years to help kids experiment with the use of figurative language. It's really more of an exercise and I recommend doing it several times to make a lasting impact.

I introduce the lesson by showing the kids some detailed pictures from a picture book. (I use the book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant because I use that story to teach personal narratives as well and my kids are familiar with it.) I show them pictures and each student writes similes or metaphors based on the pictures. For the first few, I give them the first half of a simile and let them fill in the blank (ie The realtives were as crowded as ______________________). For the final picture, I give them five minutes to write as many similes and metaphors as they can think of describing the picture.

Then I either give the students a topic sentence for a descriptive paragraph or I have the students write their own topic sentence (my instruction to them is "write a sentence that describes the whole picture"). Then I have the kids use at least three of the similes/metaphors they wrote and add a concluding sentence. I and the kids have been amazed at the level of writing this produces. After doing this activity a couple of times, I start to require the kids to put one simile or metaphor in assignments that I know that would be appropriate for.

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