Lesson Eleven

descriptive paragraphs

A descriptive paragraph describes a thing, a person, or a place. Detailed information allows the reader to form an image in his or her imagination. The better the description, the clearer the image.

When teaching my students how to write a descriptive paragraph, I usually have them consider the five senses of touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight. Before writing the paragraph, make five columns and list words or ideas for the subject of the paragraph based on these five senses. Like this:

touch smell sound taste sight

The sense of sight is the one that most writers consider first, but try to work on that one last. Let’s take, for example, a description of a place. What do you feel when you go there? What do you feel on your skin. Is it hot or cold? Is it wet or dry? What do you smell? Is there food? Are the smells good or bad? What do the smells remind you of? What do you hear? Is it quiet or noisy? Are there cars moving about? Are people talking? What about the sounds of nature? Are they present? Even a soft wind makes a sound. Taste is a difficult sense to describe, and the degree to which you pay this any attention depends on the subject matter. Sight comes last. Here you can describe color, size, depth, height, width, etc.

Here’s an example. I want to write a paragraph that describes a lake:

touch smell sound taste sight






hot dogs

food trucks

sun block







the sun







 Lake Harriet is a great place to to swim and relax. In the summer, the water is warm and clean, and the beaches attract people seeking relief from a midsummer scorcher. In addition to swimming, visitors to the lake can go canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, or fishing. The blue water is a refreshing, tempting sight. The sweet scent of sun block wafts through the air from sunbathers lying on the beach. Children laugh and splash in the water, and nearby volleyball games stir passionate shouts in the heat of competition. Meanwhile lifeguards sit atop their towers and make sure everyone is safe. In the distance, sail boats catch the soft breezes that ripple Lake Harriet’s surface, and canoeists glide quietly past. This is what summer is all about!

In this simple description, the reader should get a good sense of what it’s like to be in this place. The prewriting exercise of listing different aspects of the experience as it relates to the five senses is helpful when coming up with something to write.

In the next lesson, you’ll learn about narrative paragraphs.

Next: Lesson Twelve


(last update to this lesson: October 10, 2018)