Vivid Detail

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Teachers are constantly telling their students to include vivid sensory images in their writing.  However, many students find this a difficult task, not least because we rarely use such language in our everyday conversations.[divider]

Del Nero (2017) suggests three strategies for helping student construct vivid imagery.

Use ‘Mentor Texts’

  • Find books, poems or songs that provide excellent examples of the type of imagery you would like your students to use.
  • Help students identify the words or phrases that help create the imagery.
  • Discuss the senses that are being engaged by these words or phrases.
  • Encourage your students to use a similar technique to describe an event or familiar setting in their life. Hint: Focus on something small, common place or event as great writers ‘make the ordinary extraordinary’.

Use an ‘Observation Chart’

  • Construct an observational chart similar to the one illustrated above.
  • Model filling in the chart, followed by completing the chart as a group, before expecting students to complete the chart independently.
  • Initially, students should complete the chart in a real setting or while viewing a picture (or video clip) before expecting them to transfer the technique to a remembered or imaginary event.

Use ‘Paper Bag Similes and Metaphors’

  • Two commonly used techniques to write vivid imagery are similes (a comparison of two items using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ – his eyes shone like diamonds) and metaphors (a comparison not using ‘like’ or ‘as’ – his diamond eyes).
  • Fill paper bags with common objects (one object in each bag) that you have readily to hand (e.g., cutlery, stapler, dice, counter, pen, tape, toys, etc).
  • Students look at the object in the bag and think of something else that has some similarity to the object in the bag. For example, the open stapler looks like a crocodile’s jaw.
  • Record students’ observations as similes.
  • Once you have compiled a list of similes, together, change the similes to metaphors. For example, the crocodile jaws of the stapler…
  • Note: Similes can usually stand alone as a sentence whereas metaphors are just a phrase within a sentence.

The next step is to encourage students to incorporate the imagery created in these stand-alone activities into their writing.

Check out the Writing Creatively book for more ideas on teaching students to write descriptively.


Del Nero, J.R. (2017). Fun While Showing, Not Telling: Crafting Vivid Detail in Writing. The Reading Teacher. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1575