Lesson plan

Paint a Word Picture

Students become word artists as they use ordinary pictures to practice creating detailed descriptions. This technique helps your class learn how to paint a picture with words.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
  • Students will be able to use their five senses in writing to paint a picture by showing readers, not just telling.
(10 minutes)
  • Introduce show don't tell writing to your students by telling them how using descriptive, or detailed, language can help the reader create a vivid picture in their mind.
  • Ask the class why they think this might be important for a reader. Answers should be along the lines of: It keeps the story interesting. It makes the story more lifelike. It makes the reader want to keep reading.
  • After your brief discussion, display one of your chosen images to the class. For example, it could be a picture of the beach.
  • Describe the picture poorly. Example: I went to the beach this weekend.
  • Ask students whether or not they were able to paint a picture in their head.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that authors use the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound) in order to show readers what they want them to see. This is called painting a picture in the reader’s mind. When an author "tells" readers something, instead of using the five senses to "show" them, it makes the writing boring.
  • Display a copy of the Paint a Picture graphic organizer somewhere it can be seen by the whole class.
  • Bring the picture of the beach, or other scene, to the class' attention again.
  • Think aloud using the picture to fill in the graphic organizer.
  • Write a description using as many of the words in your graphic organizer as possible. For example: As I set my feet on the white, warm, grainy sand, I could not help but run into the cool, crisp water. As I entered the deep blue sea, I smelled the pleasant aroma of the salty ocean. Smiling widely, I felt the splashing waves crash into me, and heard the rhythmic chant of seagulls. Without thinking about it, I dived in and began to swim, taking in the tranquility of the beach.
  • Read the "boring" sentence aloud again so that students may hear it once more.
  • Ask the students to share the differences between the first sentence and the second paragraph.
  • Discuss how the paragraph paints more of a vivid picture.
(10 minutes)
  • Display another one of your chosen images.
  • Create a sentence to go with the image. For example, if the image shows a happy family at a picnic, you could write: I like our family picnic.
  • Display another copy of the Paint a Picture graphic organizer on a piece of chart paper or draw it on the whiteboard.
  • With the help of the class, use the second image to fill in the chart.
  • Using the words your students contributed, ask for a volunteer to write a "showing" paragraph.
  • Read the showing description aloud and ask the class if they think it is thorough enough. Take comments on how to edit the paragraph and make the changes.
  • Ask students if they have any questions.
  • Convey to students that they won’t be able to use all of their senses all of the time to show the reader what they want to say. They should aim to use as many as they can.
  • Split your class into partners or groups of three and have students work together to create a showing sentence or sentences of an image you give them.
(15 minutes)
  • Pass out an image and worksheet to each group.
  • Advise students that they will have about ten minutes to come up with two to three sentences that describe the telling sentence displayed in the picture.
  • As students work in collaborative groups, walk around to assist and monitor student understanding of the "show don't tell" technique.
  • Enrichment: Have students who need a greater challenge write "showing" paragraphs that tell a story rather than just a sentence or two.
  • Support: Give students who need support a list of adjectives that will help them create their showing sentences.
(10 minutes)
  • Collected student work can be used to check for mastery of the "show don't tell" technique.
  • Alternatively, assess student mastery by having students work independently and create sentences that "show" rather than "tell" using images.
  • Students that are having a hard time grasping the concept of "show don't tell" should be assessed with the Sensory Words worksheet.
(10 minutes)
  • Call students together as a group to share their writing. Answer any questions they may have about the lesson if needed.
  • Remind students that knowing how to "show" and not "tell" is important in order to bring their writing to life.

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