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
Posted October 22, 1998 on
the Daedalus Website.
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- 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