Descriptive Writing Activities for High School

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Descriptive writing is a great skill for high-school students to practice. Use these activities to help your students practice descriptive writing and think about how to use language.

Descriptive Writing

One of the basic rules of compelling writing is: show, don't tell. This means that students will need to be able to master descriptive writing. These activities will give them opportunities to practice using language to create vivid imagery in their writing. These activities can be completed as they are presented, or you can expand on them by adding conditions (i.e. you must use 100 words or less, or you cannot use any conjugations of the verb 'to be').

Descriptive Writing Activities

Dystopian World

It is likely that many of your students have had experience with dystopian fiction, a popular young-adult genre. One thing that many of these novels excel at is using descriptive language to set the scene and paint a picture of the bleak world. Start by letting students plan out their dystopian setting. Ask them to pick a location, imagine what life is like there, and create a very basic backstory to explain how the world ended up like this. You can also consider printing out several prompts that provide this information, and asking students to draw them at random from a hat. After students have had time to imagine their dystopian world, ask them to write the opening paragraph to the story, which is used to orient the reader and show (not tell) what this world is like in vivid detail.

  • Materials: Writing supplies, prompts if desired

Describe and Match

Ask students to bring three similar, but distinct and different, pictures to class or provide these for them. Each student will pick one photo, and will attempt to describe it using descriptive language and vivid imagery. They cannot state directly what this is a picture of, but must try and describe the details of the photograph.

Once they are done, divide the class into partners. The first student will display all three photos, and then give their writing to their partner. The partner will read it and attempt to discern which photo is being described. Partners will then switch roles. Give students a chance to edit their writing, and then ask them to repeat this guessing game with a new partner.

  • Materials: Photographs, writing supplies

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