We all know how wild our 3rd grade students’ imaginations can be. They come up with ideas that are out of this world—things we wouldn’t dream up in a million years—on a daily basis. Robots who do children’s chores? Mind-reading dogs? A giant cupcake making machine that can fold up to fit in your pocket? There’s no telling what they’ll come up with next.
Of course, thinking creatively is one thing—writing creatively is a different story altogether. That’s where you come in. These four descriptive writing prompts and projects for 3rd grade students will help you show your kids how to put all their wonderful ideas into words, one adjective at a time!
Prompt #1: “Write a scene, then draw someone else’s.”
This prompt is an excellent way to show how important detail is when writing a descriptive paragraph. Ask your students to write a brief description of a simple scene, including as many details as possible. Once they’re finished, have them swap papers with a fellow classmate and ask them to draw an illustration based on the description they’ve received, matching their drawing to the writing as closely as possible. When they’re done, have them switch back so that the original author has both their own description and their classmate’s illustration. Ask them to compare the two to see how their reader’s interpretation is different from the scene they imagined!
Prompt #2: “Bring in an item for show and tell—but let someone else do the telling.”
This descriptive writing prompt is sure to get a giggle or two from your 3rd graders. Ask your students to bring in an unusual object for show and tell. Instead of the usual showing and telling, however, ask them to switch items with another student without explaining what it is or does. Provide them with a clear and simple writing strategy, such as a framed paragraph or two, and ask them to fill in the blanks with descriptors such as the size, shape, color or texture of the object. Invite them to present the object along with their description, and then ask them to guess what it’s for or what it does. Finally, allow the owner of the object to join in and explain what it really is, and why they chose it for show and tell. The stranger and more unique the object, the better!
Prompt #3: “Realistically describe a fictional vacation destination.”
Summer vacation is standard writing fare in elementary school—so instead, try asking your students to travel out of this world to a fictional vacation destination of their choosing. Ask them to imagine what it would be like to spend summer nights “under the sea” with a mermaid, or while away winter break holed up in Hogwarts. Then, ask them to describe that place as if speaking to someone who has never heard of it before, much less gone for a visit. The more concrete details they include, the clearer a picture it will paint for their imaginary reader!
Prompt #4: “Describe an illustration using jumbled adjectives.”
This writing prompt involves a little reading first. Enjoy an illustrated book together as a class, such as Charlotte’s Web by EB White or The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Ask your students to choose one illustration from the book and create a list of adjectives that go with that illustration, writing each word as clearly as possible on a separate small slip of paper. Then, have them jumble up the adjectives and rearrange them in a random order. Finally, ask them to write a paragraph or two describing the illustration they chose, using the adjectives they wrote in the new order they’ve arranged them in. It’s a fun and simple exercise in both descriptive writing and quick critical thinking—one that can lead to some very interesting responses!
Communicating Through Descriptive Writing
Descriptive writing isn’t only about building up a strong vocabulary or exploring figurative language—it’s about communicating effectively, a skill whose value extends far beyond the classroom walls. With descriptive writing prompts that push your 3rd grade writers to consider both how to describe something and to whom they are describing it, you can help them improve and refine their writing and communication skills while allowing their minds to do what kids love best—play.
You can expand on this lesson even further by publishing your students’ work, giving them the opportunity to both celebrate their progress as writers and enjoy one another’s writing by reading it in a beautiful hardbound classbook. And, if you host a publishing party and ask your students to read their work aloud, you open up yet another opportunity to learn an important communication skill—namely, public speaking!