Writing a Description of the Scene for Middle Schoolers

Putting your thoughts down on paper is like catching a firefly at night. You can see it clearly, but when you reach for it…well…it does not turn out as you would have predicted. All the more true for Middle Schoolers who are just beginning to articulate themselves fully in writing. Here I want to explain a method to help young students write descriptions. The secret is to use your eyes instead of your hands.

First and foremost, I provide a picture of a scene. At a young age, visualizing everything in your mind distracts from trying to write. You ask for a lot of juggling. I like to use scenes from Disney films because they are very recognizable and the student already knows the story.

Secondly, I break down what I want to know. Over the course of several lessons, I would devote a lesson to each of these:
Actions: The literal actions that take place in the scene.

Standing, running, holding, laughing, looking, etc.

The people themselves and their appearance:

Woman or man? Young girl or teenage boy? What color is her hair? What type of shirt is he wearing? How big are her eyes?

Connecting everything:

Does her red hair connect with his red hair? Could they be related? Why is she looking at this? Does her expression explain how she feels about the painting?

Thirdly, I will ask them to make a list for each category. I am very serious about making a list. I do not want them to attempt to write a paragraph too soon. When we read young people’s writing, too often it resembles: “she looks sad. she is in a dress. It is sunny. she…. it….” This is because our brains naturally wants to just process the information. Young students (and many adults) cannot articulate themselves at the same moment they are digesting the information. Thus, I separate the steps.

Lastly, we write the paragraph! Since everything is processed and organized, the student writes with more confidence. Everything has come from the student; I have not fed them the lines. Moreover, they have arrived to it in a way that does not overload or pressure them.

The result, the paragraph itself, depends on the student. We may then talk about combining smaller pieces of information or about the order of ideas. The main outcome is that we have something to work with and we can keep our discussion firmly rooted in writing instead of juggling mental images and overwhelming number of ideas.

Here is an example.

description writing.005


  • An older woman stands at the door.
  • She is holding a key.
  • The young woman gasps.
  • She holds a scroll.
  • She turns around.
  • The women are looking at each other.


  • The older woman is the stepmother. (It is not wrong to add plot points taken from the film itself because the picture is just there to help stimulate the student.)
  • She has dark hair, probably grey.
  • Her whole appearance is cast in shadow.
  • She is wearing a dark magenta dress.
  • The magenta dress is very long. It goes up to the neck and down to the wrist and ankles.
  • The other woman is younger.
  • She is Cinderella.
  • She is very pretty.
  • Her hair is strawberry blonde and short.
  • Cinderella is wearing a dress, blue and brown, and an apron, white.
  • Her eyes are very large and blue.
  • He mouth is opened very wide.
  • The room itself is hardly seen.
  • There is a door, table, and mirror.
  • The mirror is large, but slightly broken.


  • Cinderella has big eyes and an open mouth because she sees her stepmother at the door.
  • Her big eyes and opened mouth show that she is shocked.
  • The step mother is holding a key because she wants to lock the door.
  • The scroll invites Cinderella to the Ball.

Summary paragraph: Cinderella is a beautiful young girl with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She is holding an invitation to the Ball. Her stepmother clutches the key ready to lock her into a room. Cinderella gasps at the sight of her stepmother because she is shocked.

No, this inevitably would not be what an 11 year old would write. I wrote it to demonstrate the concept. However, I have seen that, with this exercise, the student writes more than usual. He feels more comfortable. He does not feel as overwhelmed or pressured. With clear steps and a fixed image, the student is freer to write and I, as the teacher, can focus my time on productive comments about that writing.

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Remember What You Read: a technique to learn how to digest the important points of any reading

Reading comprehension is not automatic. Helping students with this vital skill, when they are first learning it, can only help them multifold in the future with writing and more difficult readings. When the student considers the information within a text to be meaningless, create a story connecting those facts!

Check out the video now:

In late elementary and early middle school, students learn the skill of comprehending what they have read. They are starting to ask themselves, “What are the main points? Which are the supporting facts versus the actual arguments?” Reading is the gateway to writing. While they compose their essays, they will ask themselves the same questions. Learning reading comprehension is an important step in any child’s education. Not every student can read well. Some students struggle to connect the details and myriad of facts they encounter. What do you do?

I am mesmerized by people with an excellent memory. One can demonstrate this asset through the memorizing of decks of cards. I cannot do this and never will, but it got me thinking. Cards themselves are basically meaningless pieces of information. If you can find a way to remember them, then you can carry that over onto other situations.

I gave my students random cards from a deck. I asked them to remember those cards for 30 seconds. They did so easily when I did not talk, but the second round I talked during those entire 30 seconds and they were unsuccessful. Then, when I showed them how to make the random cards into a story, the students were able to remember the cards for any length of time within the lesson.

Here is an example:in video slides.003
Jack = The jack
Loves = The heart suit
To ace = Ace
Irish = The clubs suit
5 = 5
Higher = the spades suit (it looks like an up arrow)

After this, I want to hone the skill of story telling, with that story lasting only a sentence or two. I give my students random facts and ask them to connect them into a story. We must concentrate on this, because a story that does not connect properly will be harder to remember. If I say, “A man runs down the street and sees a boy,” now I must remember him running and seeing the boy, which is more work. I can tweak the story somewhat…. “A man runs and almost trips over a boy sitting in the street.” Now I have a bond between the man and the boy. You cannot have the man tripping without the boy in the street. Many times I will give the students random pieces of information in order for them to practice making meaningful connections.

Here is an example:in video slides.005
I make the story and also reinforce items: an old man with an old and a $12 ring for a 12 year-old granddaughter.

Lastly, we need to apply this to an actual reading assignment. I will ask the students to read the passage to themselves and then ask me about any words they do not know. Then we will go over it together to make sure they understand the words and passage 100%. Now we employ the story-telling technique in order to keep track of: the main argument, something in parallel or conflicting, and one example.

Here is an example:in video slides.007A mother goes shopping with her teenage, ninja son. He says, “Mom, all my friends are wearing black! I want this shirt.” She responds, “We are just regular farmers. You should dress normally. I like this shirt more.” Though inauthentic it captures the main points in a funny and unexpected way. (text original source here)

Stories are more potent and useful when they are weird, funny, and unexpected. The goal of the story is to digest and install the information without making your mind work even harder to remember even more. As you move through a reading, you can employ this technique as you go. Instead of trying to remember what happened two paragraphs up, just review the story going on in your mind.

They are learning a skill with this, not merely a method. They are connecting facts over and over. With time, the inventive and strange stories slip away and what remains is the ability to keep track of and connect information within a reading.

Everyone will have different stories and they may see them as a movie in their mind or just more text. This is adaptable to all kinds of learners because it is completely individualized. Making the short story serves as a vehicle to remember and digest what the student has read. Try it today!

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