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Simple lesson starters, x5, that really help with descriptive work and using the correct language. English and maths.

Updated on October 19, 2013

English should be a creative subject!

I don't like it when I see children just working from textbooks and always sitting in their seats and not allowed to move and use resources around the room.

In any reception class we encourage children to use everything and anything within the classroom and to explore and learn through this exploration. However, once they reach the national curriculum why should this stop?

Children should be encouraged to get out of their seats and use the resources available. In maths lessons why can't they get up and go and fetch a number square or something to aid their work? In literacy why can't they get up and look at the word wall to gather ideas for their writing, or go and fetch a word mat they know will have a word on it that will make their writing better.

Encourage children to do this and you will have more independent learners who will help themselves instead of the child who relies on you far too much.

What is this hub about?

There are lots of ways in which you can get a child to practice writing using descriptive devices. Whether this be writing a description from a picture, writing a description from a video or just writing from imagination, children can practice using adjectives, similes or more powerful descriptive techniques like personification and metaphors.

I do believe however, that we should make these activities more fun for children. This could be as simple as using a cartoon character that they love - maybe you have spongebob fans in your class when you are looking at a topic of under the sea, maybe you could use super heroes if you are looking at natural disasters and they could save the day.

There are other ways in which we can make it more fun and therefore, which is just as important, get a lot out of these children and help them improve on their writing skills.

It may be a little scary but get them out of their seats and use the space around them, use the outdoor classroom and let them touch and explore instead of giving them worksheets or exercise books to work from. The work produced will benefit a lot from this and they will also retain this sort of knowledge and skills for future use.

Take a look through this hub at a few ideas of how you can use fun activities to inspire children to write better work:

1. The first idea that really works - use your own modelled writing

This is an idea that really works and is great fun for the children. Basically you have some text which they need to draw what they picture in their heads.

To help you work out what I am talking about I have used one of the resources I used while teaching a topic on the Tudors -

'Describing a plague victim'


Here is are the resources I used for this simple lesson starter.


  • First copy and paste the five parts of information below onto five separate pieces of A4 paper. The reason being is that the text will be big enough for the children to read it at a distance.
  • Next explain to the children what they must do.
  • Tell them that they need to get out of their seats and go and read the information on the sheets. Tell them it would be best to do this in order so they understand the order of symptoms that effected people once they were bitten by the rats.
  • The children should know that it is ok to ask if they do not understand a description or words used in the text - that this is a good thing. (Also this can be used in class discussion that it is always good to ask and what they would have used to describe it themselves and why it might be better to use these new words/phrases they have learnt today.)
  • Once they have read it, they should think about what the description is telling them, think about what they can picture in their heads when they read the text.
  • Then they should draw what ever they can picture on the blank outline of a person.

A quick discussion about why they have drawn such things on their outline and what they used in the description to help them should be done next.

1. On the first sheet of A4, copy and paste this:

The first sign of the plague was that swellings appeared in the groin or the armpits. Some of the swellings became as large as an apple, sometimes they were the size of an egg. The deadly swellings then began to spread in all directions over the body.

2. On the second sheet of A4, copy and paste this:

After these swellings the disease changed. Black or red spots broke out, sometimes on the thigh or arm. These spots were large in some cases; in other they were almost like a rash.

3. On the third A4 sheet of paper, copy and paste this:

A few days after they developed this rash, there was pain all over the body. The victim began to feel tired and exhausted however the pain made it difficult to sleep. Their temperature increased and they suffered from a fever. It also became difficult to talk too.

4. On the forth A4 sheet of paper, copy and paste this:

As the disease took more of a hold, the victim took on the physical appearance of a drunk because they stumbled when they walked.

5. On the last piece of A4 paper, copy and paste this:

In the later stages of the disease, highly painful swellings in the groin, neck and armpit areas of the body caused bleeding underneath the skin, which turned the skin blue/purple.

(Bleeding under the skin is what causes bruising)

Children are given a copy of an outline of a person:

This should be a very simple version of a person and just the outline because they will have to draw what is described on this template.

Next they are to read those five descriptive sheets.

Get the children to get out of their seats and go and read the different sheets. With the plague victim it would be best to read this in order. When they have read the description they then should transfer what they can picture from reading this text to their paper by drawing it.

Compare the drawings

Then you should compare the drawings and ask the children why they drew it like that.

This idea can be used for anything you want the children to describe:

I have included an example of the text you could use to help the children describe a plague victim if you were teaching Tudors for example but this idea can be used for anything you want the children to describe:

  • A good character in a story
  • A bad character in a story
  • An Egyption in tradition dress
  • A Victorian chimney sweep
  • A Roman soldier

But this isn't restricted to describing a character:

  • A forest scene
  • A Medieval village
  • A witches cave
  • A pirate ship
  • Even another planet.

All you would have to do with any of these suggestions is to come up with a text that they children can read (so aimed at their level) and they have to draw what they can picture.

They gain so much from this activity because you are modelling the language they should be using and they see what works as descriptive devices.

Remember this is not an art lesson:

Although it is good to get an accurate picture remember this is not an art lesson, emphasis should be placed on what they children can picture from the descriptions and the reasons why they have drawn the pictures like they have.

There is one of these books per year if you are interested

2. Describing a picture for their learning partner to draw:

I have include this on another hub about describing work and this could easily take all lesson to complete instead of just a starter so I won't describe it too much here.

  • Basically you would have a few pictures around the room which the children can't see.
  • Then they would pick a partner.
  • One of them would get out of their chair and have a look at the picture. They were allowed to look at this picture as many times as they wanted but they had to describe what they saw to their partner who would draw it from their description.
  • Then they would swap over and describe/draw a different picture.

It would always be best to model the sort of language you wanted to hear when they are describing a picture - probably you describing a picture for them to draw and then revealing what you were describing.

This can be done in groups too:

  • Take a picture and fold it into quarters. Then places so only one of these quarters could be seen.
  • The children should number themselves 1-4 in the group.
  • Then each one in turn comes out and looks at a quarter of the picture before going back to describe it to the group.
  • After a given time the picture would be moved so a different quarter could be seen and then the next person comes and describes what they can see to the group.
  • The drawer should be someone different this time.
  • Repeat until all four quarters have been drawn.
  • See what each group have come up with.

That is good for team work and good descriptive abilities because the picture continues on from the previous description of the picture.


3. A simple idea but it does help - outdoor classroom

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about using the outdoor classroom. I totally agree with this. Take your children outside and use this great resource to help with their learning. This can be as simple as using the space for a drama activity, a PE lesson which is related to maths or learning french or it could even be something simple like this:

A nice easy lesson starter for english could be to take the children outside and get them to close their eyes. From their ask a few students:

  • What can you hear?
  • What can you feel? (Good for cold, hot or windy days)
  • What can you smell? (Children might find this one hard but if you pick a time when the school dinners are being prepared ... )

Taste is a difficult one, but you can even get this in by giving incentives - tell the children that the best descriptive answers will get a reward, you could even say that you want to hear a simile in their descriptions or just good adjectives in their descriptions. Once you get a few really good examples then you could ask them to open their mouths (with their eyes still closed) and give them a little chocolate or crips or sweets and then ask:

  • What can you taste?

You can get even move inventive with this type of lesson starter. Feelings can take a massive part of the readers journey when enjoying a text. They want to know what the characters feel emotionally and physically. Where emotions can be done by using music etc (as described below) physically is what can come into it's own outdoors:

  • Children are to take their shoes off and walk in the grass and describe what they feel.
  • They could also do this on the concrete of the school playground.
  • You can give some children objects and ask them to describe them to the rest of the class while their eyes are still closed - the rest of the class have to guess what they have. (This can be done inside to be fair, but maybe if you have a tree or something in your school grounds then why not get a child to describe the textures of the bark etc.)

4. A simple idea that children relate to - use music

I have wrote more in depth about this idea on my hub about using music to help with lessons so I won't go on about it now. But I strongly believe that music really can change a person's mood and it is used to great effect in the movies - scary music for horror etc.

Children should learn about this fact and use it to help them in their writing. A few questions that you could use to help them think about this while they are writing could be as simple as:

  • A simple question could be what kind of music would you play if you were to film this story at this point?
  • So how would the characters feel?
  • What shows me in your writing they would feel this way?

5. Describe objects for children to go and fetch for you

I have used this to teach maths and shape a lot. Using the properties of shape to describe them and then the children go and find an object that would match that description.

Why not use this to describe small objects that they could fetch for you to help them with their literacy skills though. If you want to you could easily print some pictures off and place these around the class and the children can go and stand next to them if they think they fit the description.

I used this idea in year 3 when we were learning about pirates:

  • I described a sword without using the word sword.
  • I then asked someone to go and fetch what I had described - the other children were allowed to shout out what they thought it was until that child sat back down in their place with the object.
  • It wored well because we had a roleplay area of a pirate ship so there was a lot of objects that I could describe that fitted into the topic. (I have included another hub about displays and roleplay areas that would help make your class look the part.)
  • They loved this - aloud to shout in class! and allowed to get up and get something instead of just sitting on the carpet.

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