Take it from my experience, before you begin this lesson, review nouns....
To begin, jot down the definition of a noun on the board (a person, place, thing, or idea), and then spend a few minutes talking about nouns that are considered ideas.
I know that this concept is introduced in primary grades because my 2nd grader is learning about nouns that are ideas this week, however, it was blowing my sixth graders' minds this morning. (Not a good sign.)
Once I reviewed nouns, I divided up the students into groups of 5 or 6 and gave each person a blank paper. I asked each group member to write a different noun on the top of his or her paper. I asked that they not write down a person's name, but any other school appropriate noun was up for grabs!
I gave my example and modeled the process before hand.
On the board, I wrote my noun "cup", and listed the 5 senses next to it.
I wrote a phrase to describe the noun cup according to what I might see.
"a miniature floral tea cup"
I also wrote one according to what I might hear.
"hammering of red solo cups while students belt out "The Cup Song" in rhythm"
Once students have the concept down, they can begin. To start with have them write a descriptive phrase on their own noun. Once everyone in the group is finished, they will rotate their papers around the group. They will continue this process until everyone in the group has seen all of the nouns.
When they finish, take the papers and swap them with another group to repeat the process. My students could have continued doing this all day, but I generally let them go through two or 3 rotations.
Give students their original papers back and ask them to read through all of the phrases. Have them mark the ones that are the most vivid and descriptive.
Ask the students, "What makes these phrases so vivid?" "What makes them better than the other phrases?"
Start a list that you can save where you capture student comments on what makes writing descriptive.
Have them hang on to this paper for a later activity. While their minds are fresh on descriptive words, I want them to look at some writing samples.
I have this book left over from the "Six Traits" era that I still use to teach skills. It is called Write Traits, Student Trait Book and is published by Great Source.
This particular lesson is called "That's Pretty Sketchy, " and it deals with vague, over generalized writing. You don't necessarily need the book to do this lesson. You just need 3 short paragraphs with varying degrees of description.
The first paragraph I used was called "My Dog". It was pretty vague and used description like "We live in a big building in a large city." It also doesn't stay focused on the topic.
The second paragraph is a little better than the first. "All About My Brother" gives some description, "He has red hair, glasses, and a cast on his arm, " but doesn't go into any detail about how the cast got there or much else.
The third paragraph, "Secret Woods," / "Secret Woods" continued is the best. It uses precise nouns with strong verbs and adjectives. Many details are given about the topic, and the reader is left wondering what will happen next.
The students will read each paragraph with me and underline any parts that they can visualize due to the author's description. We will discuss what they marked and why they chose it. Then I will ask them to rate the paragraph as 1. little description 2. some description but could be better or 3. Vivid description that is easy to visualize.
Once we have gone though all 3 paragraphs, I will have the students rank them in order 1, 2, and 3. One being the best and 3 being the worst.
The students generally think the first paragraph, "My Dog" is the worst, but some dislike the second as well.
Ask the students questions like, "What made the last paragraph better than the first two?" and "What did the author not do in the first and second paragraphs?"
Add their responses to the list that you started in the first section so that you end up with several ways to increase detail in your writing. I have included a photo of what one of my classes came up with in the previous section.
The last step of this lesson is to have students choose one of the paragraphs that they saw as sketchy and revise it according to the list they just generated.
I had my students partner write for this so they could collaborate for ideas. I modeled the way that I would revise it on the document camera to get them started. I asked them to refer back to their list often to get ideas.
For example, if they had told me that descriptive writing needs to give details and examples, they need to make sure their revised paragraph has plenty.
Once the paragraphs were revised, I shared them on the document camera. We made note of strong verbs and descriptive phrases that were used in the writing as read them. My students are always so proud of their writing and so eager to share. I feel like this makes writing fun to them, so I try to let them share whenever possible.