Writing Curriculum:
Descriptive Writing Workshop
Charleston Middle School
August 16, 2010
Denise E. Reid
Eastern Illinois University
Reintroduce yourselves after the
summer break.
Briefly share the most interesting
experience you had this summer.
The Writer’s Notebook
A writer’s notebook gives you a place to write down what makes you
angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don’t
want to forget. A writer’s notebook gives you a place to live like a
writer. (Ralph Fletcher, 2003)
A writer’s notebook should include: descriptions of experiences, lists,
details, stories, wonderings, notes, wonderful words, mind pictures,
drawings, quick writes, etc.
A writer’s notebook should be on hand during writing block.
“Words and language are a way of trying out and understanding something.”
(Harlen, 2001)
Getting Started
Leave first 2-3 pages blank for a Table of Contents.
Number and date the pages as you add items to your
writer’s notebook.
What type of notebook will you use?
What will you use as an initial introduction to the
writer’s notebook?
Quick Write
What concerns do you have about
writing instruction?
What do you do at the beginning
of the school year to get to know
your students and to help them
get to know and understand each
My Writing Territories
 In
your writer’s notebook label the next
page “My Writing Territories”
 Include
three sections: ideas, audience,
 Work
on your writing territories for the
next five to ten minutes.
(Nancie Atwell, 1998)
Topic Selection
Think of things you have done.
Think of things that could happen.
Think of things that you want to do.
Think of places you have been.
Think of things you want to know more about.
Write about something that you know how to do.
What problems need solving in your life (the world)?
Who might have solutions?
What’s a kind of writing that you would like to try?
A minilesson is …
a forum for sharing the things that will help writers grow and deepen
their understanding of good writing.
an avenue to provide students with a repertoire of strategies
a forum for students to share what they know.
the forum for bringing your class together as a community.
an interactive time between teacher and students.
based on students’ needs.
a short lesson (5-10 minutes).
Using “My Writing Territories”
as a Minilesson
Post your “Writing Territories” to share with your
Give a brief explanation of several of the items
included on your writing territories list to model
your thinking.
“Now it’s your turn to create a list of your territories.”
Share your ideas with a partner.
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 1: Sensory Activity
Select one of the ideas from your list.
Use your five senses to explore the idea.
What do you see?
What smells and tastes surround the event?
What textures can you feel?
What sounds do you hear?
Use this brainstorming activity to write about the event.
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 2: Character Description
This a guided writing activity. Help your students learn the art of
visualizing as you walk them through several practices. This activity
works well with character and setting development.
Brainstorm a list of colorful characters with personality. Ex. world’s
most perfect teenager, cowboy, pirate, vampire, clown, astronaut,
bully, brownnoser, etc.
Choose one of these characters from your list. Close your eyes.
Picture the character standing still.
Jot down descriptions as I walk you through this activity.
Do several of these over the next couple of weeks.
Character Description
Visualize your character standing still
-begin at the feet
-what type of shoe is he/she wearing
-how would you describe the shoe?
-move up to the ankle—do you see socks, a cuff, slender bones, etc.
-glance at the hip area—is he/she wearing slacks, shorts, anything in the
pockets, or hanging from the pockets
-what do you notice about the waist area—thin, thick, belted, shirt hanging
-what do you notice about the arms and hands—what do the fingernails look
like? Is he/she holding anything?
-how would you describe the clothing?
-check out his/her posture.
-what type of hairstyle does this character have? color—length—hat
-look at the face—what do you notice about the expression (brows, lips, eyes)
Picture your character doing something.
Use your character visualization to describe the character
as he/she is engaged in this activity. You do not need to
use every part of your visualization.
Draw a picture to accompany your writing.
Using Metaphors/Similes
Crazy like a Fox: A Simile Story by Loreen Leedy
My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits by
Hanock Piven
Muddy as a Duck Puddle: And Other American Similes by Laurie Lawlor &
Ethen Long
There’s a Frog in My Throat: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me by
Loreen Leedy & Pat Street
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 3: Your Simile Story
Make a list of similes that you know.
OR create your own similes.
As slimy as …
As useless as …
Messy like …
Silly like …
As soft as …
Select your favorites.
Can you fit them together to tell a story.
Using Similes and Metaphors:
Character Description Revised
Reread your character descriptive piece.
Improve your writing using figurative language such
as similes or metaphors to make comparisons
It feels like …
It looks like …
It tastes like …
It sounds like …
It smells like …
It reminds me of …
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 4: Color Poem
Think of a color.
Brainstorm as many ideas as you can think of related to that
Organize the ideas into a poem.
Share your poem with a peer.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill
Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
It sounds so ordinary!
Artists use many shades of brown:
Brown – (“Tuppeny” the Guinea pig – Fuzzy)
Sepia – (Forest floor silent and damp)
bittersweet (bitter sweet! crackly)
Mahogany (cello – Deep and gleaming)
Raw Umber (“Charley” Furry, tangly)
Burnt Umber (pine tree bark)
Burnt Sienna (hamburgers on the grill)
Burnt Orange (“Baron” – silkey, shiney and flaming)
Tan (Saddle Leather – smells good)
Find them all if you can.
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 5: Descriptive Parts of Speech
Avoid using things and ways!
Look at your character description.
Are your nouns and verbs descriptive or specific?
There are many words or phrases that can be used to describe
an object.
Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black & Kevin Hawkes
Use a dictionary or thesaurus.
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 6: Real Author’s Words
Locate descriptive language used by
Record ideas in your writer’s
Share with others.
Descriptive Writing Unit
Activity # 6: Punctuation
Dear John letter …
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do
Make a Difference! By Lynne Truss and Bonnie
Refer back to your character description. Have
you used commas and other punctuation
marks effectively?
Essential Components of
Writing Block
Independent reading/writing
Essential Characteristics of
Writing Block
Choices about content (choices within the required
Time for writing
High expectations and safety (know your students)
Structured management (record keeping &
classroom organization)
Publication rituals
Independent Writing
Sustained independent writing.
Brainstorm a list of topics.
Reread current writing piece.
Write on current piece.
Revise writing piece.
Proofread piece of writing and edit.
Look through drafts of old pieces of writing.
Research a topic.
Copy or type a final draft.
Make illustration for a final draft.
Write in writer’s notebook.
Where do you get ideas
for minilessons?
Student work
Conferences with students
Teacher observations
Real authors
Curriculum and Standards
Types of writing minilessons
Minilessons include …
procedures for writers’ workshop.
sharing information about literary craft.
about “what authors do” using real
information about different genres.
about conventions of writing.
Conferences …
should be natural.
require good listening.
require honest reactions.
require modeling.
require guiding.
Writing Conferences
“If you can keep only one thing in mind, and I
fail at this half the time, it is that we are
teaching the writer and not the writing. If the
piece of writing gets better, but the writer has
learned nothing that will help him or her
another day on another piece, then the
conference was a waste of everyone’s time. It
may have done more harm than good, for
such conferences teach students to be
dependent on us.”
Lucy McCormick
Types of Conferences
Teacher-Student Conference
Group Conferences
-Members of the group provide the author of the
piece as to how they were effected by the piece
Peer Conferences
-Ask the author questions about the piece of
writing. Ask author to clarify ideas.
Self Conferences
-Goal: Become an independent reflective writer.
Teacher Conferences
CONTENT: Questions extend and develop the writing adding details.
FORM: Questions encourage experimentation with the design, genre,
sequence, or emphasis.
PROCESS: Questions focus on the writer about how the writer writes.
EVALUATION: Questions analyze strengths and weaknesses of the
Asking Questions about Writing
“It is easy to list questions in a book and harder to ask them in real
classrooms. The questions put the spotlight on the writer, and too often as
teachers we hesitate to give away control. We look at a student’s rough draft
and have the urge to take it over, to make it match our expressions.”
Lucy McCormick Calkins
Response Types for Group &
Peer Conferences
Pointing: Providing positive, specific feedback
-What part jumps out at you?
-What parts do you like?
-Could you picture any parts in your mind?
-Ask questions always using “I”.
-Was there a place where you had just a sketchy mental picture
and wanted more?
Peers never evaluate a piece of writing, but give the writers “feedback”.
Peer Conference FrameworkWriting Workshop
The writer reads out loud.
Listeners focus on the content.
Listeners ask questions to learn more.
The writer teaches the listener about the subject.
The writer makes decisions about what to do next.
Sharing—Writing Workshop
The author’s chair (when published)
Share with group of peers.
Publish a newsletter.
Publish in real magazines or journals.
Publish online.
Share with elementary school aged partners.
Post on bulletin board.
Create class anthology.
Writing as Process

Writing Curriculum Workshop