Paint a Picture


Writing Trait/Strategy:
Word Choice; Sentence Fluency

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse
The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow
Twilight Comes Twice by Ralph Fletcher
White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan
Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

To introduce this technique, select a picture of something from a catalog or magazine. Without showing it to the students, tell them that you have a picture of an “amazing car”, “a cute puppy,” “an awesome bicycle,” or whatever. Ask students to form a mental image of it and then draw a picture of it. If they ask for more details, give them adjectives like neat, great, fantastic, delicious. After giving them time to draw, show them the actual picture and compare. Students will realize that you did not give them enough specific details.

Next read aloud well-written descriptions from a mentor text to model how to describe a character, object, or place.

When ready to have students begin elaborating on a description, assign a topic sentence about a character, a setting, or object. Before they begin writing, ask them to “take a mental snapshot” and have them practice listing all the questions that a reader might ask about the subject. For example, if writing a description to follow the sentence, “I found an old box in the corner,” questions might include:

  • How big was the box?
  • Was it open or closed?
  • What room was it in?
  • To whom did it belong?
  • What did the outside of it look like?
  • Was there anything in it?
  • Did you open it?
  • What was it made out of?
  • What condition was it in? (Mariconda, 1999)

After they have listed and answered the questions, students can write their descriptions. This should first be modeled as a whole group mini-lesson, and then students should each write their own answers and descriptions.

When students are just getting started, it is helpful to give them a list of sentence starters so that their descriptions don’t end up being just a “grocery list” of adjectives or descriptive phrases. Some helpful sentence starters include:

  • I noticed…
  • It was evident that…
  • As I ran my hand down…
  • They were surprised to see…
  • He couldn’t help but notice…
  • My eye was drawn to…
  • She could make out the sound of…​

Student Sample:


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