traci's lists of ten

Traci's 10th List of Ten:
Ten Prewriting Exercises for Descriptive Papers

These prewriting exercises can help students writing descriptive papers or writing descriptive passages in any paper. The exercises ask students to examine an object, person, or place from an unusual point of view. Most of the exercises can be broken up into a series of questions and presented as a worksheet for students to complete.  

  1. Five Senses. What do you see? What objects, plants, or animals are in the place? What colors do you see? What do you hear? What would a hidden microphone record in the place you're describing? What does the air smell like? Is it annoying? pleasant? What does it remind you of? Where does the smell come from -- are there blooming flowers? cooking food? cans of oil? What do you taste? Are you touching anything? (Skip any questions that don't make sense for the place you're describing.)

  2. Different Angles. Consider the object you're describing from different angles. What does the object look like from the top? What if you were underneath the object? What would you see or notice if you were looking at the object from the right side? What does it look like from the left side? Make the object the Earth. You become the moon, and orbit the object. What do you notice as you travel around it?

  3. Focus on the Iceberg. Only one-eighth of an iceberg is above the surface of the water. The majority of the iceberg is underwater, yet most people think only about the part that appears above the surface. There are two options for you to consider: choose the one that fits your object best. (1) Look only at the top eighth or so of the object. If you saw only the upper eighth, if the rest were submerged, what would you think about the object? What would you see? What would you make of the part that you couldn't see? (2) Think about your object creatively. What you see, there on the surface, is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. What is hidden below the surface? What might you think of the object based only on the surface appearance, and what is the significance of the parts of the object that cannot be seen?

  4. Tiny Ants. When you're in a tall building looking down at the ground, the people and objects moving around can look like tiny ants. Take a bird's-eye view of your object. Put it in the world of tiny ants. From far above, what would you see? What would seem important? What features would be noticeable?

  5. Technicalities. Write an technical description of your object. Look at the object as you might to describe it for a legal document or in a scientific report. Focus on the known facts, rather than opinions or impressions that you have of the object. Focus on an objective view.

  6. Create a cartoon version. The cartoon world is a bit different from the real world. If your object were in a cartoon world, what parts would be exaggerated for comic effect? What parts would probably be omitted from the cartoon drawing? What cartoon would the object probably appear in? How does thinking of your object as a cartoon influence what you see?

  7. Different days. How does the object or place change from one day to the next? Is it different on weekends? Take me through a week in the life of the object. If you were to peek in on it every day, what would change? What would stay the same?

  8. Longshot. Pretend it's twenty years in the future. Take a look at your object or place. What do you notice? How would you describe it twenty years from now? What characteristics would remain the same? What would change? What would you see? hear? smell? How could you tell that time had passed by just by looking at the object or place?

  9. 15 Minutes of Fame. According to Andy Warhol, everyone has 15 minutes of fame. What would your object's or place's 15 minutes be? Describe your object in a way that highlights the features that place it in the limelight. Add details that help me understand how your object or place gained its 15 minutes.

  10. Opposites. You can learn a great deal about an object or place by defining the things that it is not. Describe the things that your object or place is not. What features and characteristics would never apply to it? How are these characteristics and features important? Why is their absence important?


Originally Posted October 22, 1998 on the Daedalus Website.