Tips for Descriptive Writing

The Best Way to Get Students to Use Descriptive Language in Their Writing

As a classroom teacher, it was so hard to get my students to use descriptive language in their writing.  No matter how many times we revised a piece of writing it still lacked descriptive language.  No matter how many times we revised specifically for descriptive language it either didn’t make sense, have a natural flow, or they thought one descriptive word was enough.  

After all my years teaching I found that poetry was the best way to teach students how to use descriptive language.  

There are so many different types of poetry and they all teach students wonderful writing skills to use in the rest of their work.  One of my favorites for teaching descriptive language is haikus.


If you don’t recall a haiku is a poem that originated in Japan.  It is three lines.  It follows the syllable pattern of 5-7-5.  It does not need to rhyme.  

A haiku focuses on a single moment in time.  Traditionally this would be a moment about nature, but modern haikus are about anything.

Teaching students how to use descriptive language is a tall order for such a short poem.  If you are ready to start haikus in your classroom take a look at this easy-to-implement bundle.

 5 Ways Haikus Help Students Use Descriptive Language

 5 Ways Haikus Help Students Use Descriptive Language

  1. Focuses on a single moment

    Haikus focus on one single moment in time.  This is very different from most of the stories your students write.  Even though we try to peel back the layers and focus the story on more specific moments, it’s hard in a longer piece of writing.  
    I start students off by writing about nature, where haiku poetry originated.  We write about trees of a specific season and by the end of the school year they have a haiku about each season.
    For our fall tree poem, we sit outside and students make notes about what they see in nature.  They can focus on just those couple of minutes of seeing leaves rustle and fall, the wind blowing, how different trees look different, how the trees stand, and more.
    They take their observations to turn into their poem.

  2. Syllable limitations make every word count

    Haikus have a syllable limitation of 5-7-5.  This means that to tell the whole story of their observation time outside they need to use very few, but very specific words.
    Every word of their poems counts toward painting a picture for the reader.  It’s hard to write something so short that brings their vision to life.
    Time and time again I have seen students do this successfully.  Beautifully written poems are produced from these restrictions.

  3. Forces students to expand their vocabulary choices

    Students have to think about each word in a haiku so much more.  Is it saying what they want, in the syllables they have available?
    I encourage students to look up synonyms to find a word that works.  They are not looking up tons of words for a long piece of writing, but just a few words that will help them complete their haiku poem.
    It may not seem like a lot, but they are learning the process of looking up better vocabulary to improve their haiku. Sometimes I let them use technology, and sometimes I make them use a dictionary or thesaurus.  
    They also learn this process is not difficult.  I like to help them learn this skill in a way that’s not intimidating.  It’s a skill that can transfer to longer pieces of writing once they see the benefits of it.

  4. Practice the writing process in a short assignment

    When I teach poetry I always use the writing process.  And I love to teach the writing process in this way.
    When we teach the writing process in a long assignment the steps get lost.  It’s so long from one step to the next that students don’t see the pattern. We specifically point it out to them, but they still don’t notice the steps are the same, remember the steps, or initiate them on their own.
    Poems, especially haikus, are short writing assignments, which makes it easier for students to see the steps in order. They can see each step successfully completed.  
    As they go through many poetry assignments during the year they get better and better at the writing process. 

  5. Students feel successful in writing

    I find that one of the struggles students have in writing is that they don’t feel successful.  There are so many errors they lose points for that lower their grades and their confidence. I hate that part of teaching writing
    I have seen students who hate writing find so much success and confidence in poetry.  It’s a wonderful form of writing that really boosts my students’ confidence in their writing ability. 

I worked with one student who hated all writing, but the haikus he wrote were beautifully descriptive pieces. He wrote these amazing haikus for each season.  When I complimented he glowed.  It was the kind of glow that teachers live to see on their students’ faces.

Haikus are wonderful for helping your students learn to use descriptive language in their writing.  Poetry is often thrown in as filler work, but it has too many benefits for our students for us to continue to use like that. Use poetry with a purpose.  
If you need help using haiku poems in your classroom check out my haiku poetry lessons.

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