first-grade-descriptive-writingDescriptive writing does more than just create an unseen picture for readers, it promotes the use of vocabulary words as well as gives context those vocabulary words to help students understand the definition.

Encouraging students to develop their descriptive writing skills ranks as one of the best ways to improve your first-grade students’ writing. Show your students an example, like the one below of descriptive writing so they know how descriptive writing paints a picture for readers.

Anthony jumps up, and he grabs his Spider-Man backpack as the school bell rings. He couldn’t wait to buckle up in his mom’s blue minivan, even if his little brother dropped his sticky fruit snacks on Anthony’s seat AGAIN.

Note: You could even try a whole wipe board or projected slide on your smart board that gathers several examples and shows a non-descriptive version next to a descriptive one. Taking first-grade students through each example slowly and giving a lot of commentary on why one is better than the other should help, too.

First Grade Writing: How to Introduce Descriptive Writing to Students

A teaching technique that should be an easy concept about descriptive writing for your first-grade students to grasp is this simple rule: show, don’t tell.”

Show, Don’t Tell

Start the lesson by giving your students an example of how the “show, don’t tell” technique works. Tell the students you’re going to describe your mother. Paint a picture for your students of who your mom is by describing what she looks like, how she speaks and what she likes to do. Make sure to include details such as how tall she is and what her hair color is.

Then ask your students to tell you about your mom—see what details they picked up—and then show them an actual picture to see how close they got.

Next, ask your students to engage in the exercise of describing something to a classmate that the other student can’t see—whether it’s an object at home, a sibling or a pet. Go over the results to gather more examples that demonstrate how words help provide a picture in their heads.



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It’s time to take the pen to paper and see if your class understands the idea of descriptive writing. Give your students the following the prompt: Describe an invention that you think would help the world. What does the invention look like? How does it work? Have students write several sentences explaining their invention. Be sure to include in the assignment a drawing where the student depicts their helpful invention. Combine the students writing and illustrations about their inventions and publish a classbook from their work.  The 2-page spread they create in the book allows for an opportunity for the reader to hide the drawing, read the description and see if what they imagine looks like the actual picture.

We’re sure that the imaginative inventions that the students dream up will definitely be interesting to see!

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Using the Five Senses

Here’s another way to aid students in understanding how descriptive words provide a way to “show” readers what they should be seeing. Using a flip chart, write the following:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Smell
  • Feel
  • Taste

Then ask your students to categorize words that describe a recent school event or field trip that they all attended. Be sure to encourage dialogue about what words better describe the event than others.



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Ask your students to describe a pet that they currently have or want. What kind of animal is it? What color? How big is it? Encourage your students to practice describing their pet using the 5 sense they learned about. Of course, it’s important to have your class make an illustration of the pets and the students together, doing something they love to do together. Take the writing and illustrations that your students complete and create a classbook from the projects. It will be a great way to not only capture this moment for your class, but the parents will love to read the book, too!


Spelling List

Another great technique to teach descriptive writing is utilizing cross-curricular lesson plans. In planning out your spelling word list, pick words that will fit with your writing prompt that you will use to have students practice their descriptive writing.

For example, if you wanted the students to write about superheroes, you might pick such spelling words as fast, tough, brave, secret and fly. While your students practice the words all week, boost their practice by making sure at least a worksheet or two revolve around placing the words in a sentence. It should help the students better understand how to apply the words in context.

When Friday (or your preferred test day) comes along, take the test as usual. Afterwards, rather than moving on to a completely new topic, ask your students to get a piece of paper and use the spelling words to describe their favorite superhero.



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Another cross-curricular idea using spelling words is to plan a social studies/history lesson along with the writing project. Doing a fun, multi-class period program over several weeks, such as giving everyone a fake passport and taking them around to interesting places in the U.S. and all over the world. Give your students spelling words like trees, lake, and grass to help them describe the different areas they visit.

The unique writing that your students come up with to describe their chosen place, especially with the use of their spelling words, makes an excellent opportunity to create a classbook. The writing exercise would pair perfectly with an illustration of the students in their chosen place.


Additional resources for you

Looking for more ways to help your students with writing? Check out our online teacher’s lounge, where you’ll find helpful ideas and more.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive a free classbook publishing kit. You and your class will be thrilled when you see the final published classbook. Sign up and create a special moment for your students!