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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Learning task 1: Strategies for description

Teacher Background Reading

Strategies for describing

Teacher models the following process:

  • Students choose a person they know well (discourage students selecting a personal friend), someone who is important to them with something colourful or interesting about them, eg. uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin or neighbour.
  • Discuss with the students that the words they use to describe the person they can "see in their mind's eye" are like the brush strokes that an artist uses to paint a portrait. The words are the images that "paint pictures in our mind".
  • Encourage students to think about why the person they chose is special or important to them.
  • Teacher models how these characteristics may be used to write a description (RTF 508KB) they have created. The description should include as many of the characteristics that have been developed as are necessary to paint a well rounded picture of the characters.
  • Students write down the name of the person they chose and mind map or brainstorm things they know and remember about that person, eg. appearance, sayings, actions, stories, feelings.
  • Review similes and metaphors from Exploring Language and how these can be used to enrich character descriptions, eg. smells like musty old hay and apples.
  • Using the ideas from the mind map/brainstorm, the teacher models how they can be written as similes or metaphors, eg. face brown, cracked like dried out puddles.
  • Model writing a character_sketch (RTF 6KB) using their mind map/brainstorm.

    The language_features (RTF 22KB) of the teacher's writing should be discussed and students encouraged to make suggestions for ways to improve the sketch.

  • Students character_plan (RTF 798KB) and write a draft character sketch. Students will share their draft writing with a partner giving and receiving feedback. Focus questions: What do you still need to know about my character? How do you think I could improve my description?
  • Teacher models recrafting (editing) and proofreading.
  • Students edit and proofread, and conference with teacher to identify and suggest strategies to improve the character sketch. A conference is the interactions between the teacher and the student with regard to the student's work. They can be individual, peer, and small group conferences. There should be a range of questions asked during the conference which will: open the conference, follow the writer's information, deal with basic structures, deal with process and explore the content. Teachers should expect the student to be able to describe their purposes for writing. Who are you writing this for? Who is going to want to read this? Often the writer has not expressed all that is necessary to communicate what they wish to say about a topic. It is important for them to realise that the reader has only the words on the page. Teacher's specific questions, (who, what, where, when, which, how, why) may help the student to clarify sequence through talking ideas over with the teacher.
  • Following the above process students develop another character (this could be an imaginary character). The students will need to write several character sketches (vignettes) before they combine their vignettes into a more comprehensive piece of writing. This will depend on the purpose of the writing and the age and experience of the writers.
  • Students role-play 2 characters meeting and questioning each other about their actions, eg. Why did you...? What did you mean by...? How did you feel when...? How did you react to...? Are you proud of...?
  • Teacher reads and discusses excerpts from parts of texts where characters meet each other. Discuss and identify the clues the author gives as to the personality of the characters, eg. appearance, behaviour, speech, character interaction, their thoughts/actions. Discuss how the author demonstrates Show Don't Tell.
  • Teacher models writing the interaction of the characters. This involves the planning for setting the scene (how/when characters come together).

Assessment task:

  • Students discuss their characters with a partner and orally "set the scene".
  • Students plan and write the events that take place when their characters meet/interact.
  • Students in small groups read and share their writing. Encourage constructive feedback.

Published on: 07 Apr 2009