Sunday, August 18, 2013

Writing with the 5 Senses

One of my new favorite writing activities for the beginning of the school year is writing using the 5 senses.  One of my goals for my 5th graders is to really get them to find their creative side and get their writing to have more rich detail in it.  I find that when they get really excited about what they're writing, their writing improves drastically.

The first thing I do is bring them to our reading corner and tell them that I'm going to be telling them about a special place that I recently visited.  I draw a gigantic hand on chart paper, each finger representing one of the five senses.  I close my eyes, and go through each sense out loud in which I pretend that I'm back in that special place and describe in as much detail what I hear, see, taste, touch, and smell.  I record these on the chart paper.  This can be done in bullets and short phrases, or in sentences.
Once I finish with my brainstorming, I have my students go back to their desks where they have a brainstorming page with a hand drawn on it so that they can think of their own special place and brainstorm their own ideas.  This (my modeling and their brainstorming) usually takes an entire class period.

***One of the most important things that I tell my students as they begin their brainstorming is to remember that they shouldn't just tell me what they smell, but HOW it smells.  If it smells "good", what exactly does that "good" smell like?***

The next day, I model how to begin their story with a "bang" - a technique that is taught in the fabulous writing program we use called Empowering Writers.  They can either begin with a sound, a thought or question, dialogue or exclamation, or an action.  I model an example beginning sentence and have my students guess which beginning I used.  I then begin a short story about when I arrived in my special place (Lake Como, Italy)  I make sure that I use lots of description and adjectives.  I try to avoid using boring words or phrases such as "nice" or "it tasted good".  Once I write a few sentences (I don't write the entire thing right away), I send my students to begin their story.  Even though they are describing the place they went to, they should still tell it like a story - begin by getting off the plane or train or getting out of the car, and describing which sense impacts them first.  Then move through the day and slowly bring in each of the 5 senses as they explore their surroundings.

The most important thing that will get your students to improve their story is to bring out the specific details from their memory.  I tell my students to SHOW me, not TELL me what they saw, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled.  If they are writing vague sentences, I have them close their eyes and ask them to pretend they are eating whatever food they are writing about and tell me exactly how it tastes in their mouth.  When I do this, they typically begin to get more creative with their descriptions and their story improves.  They definitely get much more excited once they start seeing what they're capable of and they become more motivated to try and write even more creative sentences.
I hope you find this activity just as much fun as I do.  It's a great way to introduce narrative writing at the beginning of the year, because it isn't a lengthy assignment, but focuses on the content of their story.  I'd love to hear your comments or feedback if you end up using this idea in your own classroom.

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