Writing with the Senses
Background Information & Activities

Writing with the senses is an important part of writing well. Adjectives bring writing to life and pull the reader into the text and help activate his or her imagination. Sensory details help the reader feel like he or she was there and create a more intimate connection to the narrator or writer and a greater understanding of the text. Adjectives help set mood and tone in the text and help establish a strong voice.

Encourage your child to think about how and why adjectives can improve his or her writing. By focusing on what your child feels, hears, sees, tastes, and smells, your child will be able to add these details into their writing and create strong sentences. Your child should understand that good writing appeals to more than one sense. For example, a strong paragraph about a trip to the zoo will include not only details about what animals the narrator saw, but also details about what the narrator smelled, felt, heard, and touched. These details help transport the reader to the zoo and establish a deeper connection with the writer.

Sometimes writers choose to focus on one sense and develop details related to that sense fully. For example, a descriptive paragraph about a busy city could include mostly details that deal with sounds. This allows the reader to focus on a sense and experience a familiar setting in a different way. We recommend watching the Writing a Paragraph movie together as a review.

During the prewriting process, encourage your child to think of adjectives and sensory details that he or she could use in her writing. Teach your child how to create charts and take notes in order to organize his or her sensory details that will liven up their writing.

Writing with the Senses Teacher Activities – Click Here!

Writing with the Senses Family Activities – Click Here!

Writing with the Senses Teacher Activities

What’s that smell?

Bring in different things for your students to smell and describe. Items can include a vanilla bean or extract, rose petals, lemon wedge, cinnamon, apple slice, sprigs of mint or mint candy, chocolate, and vinegar. Students can be blindfolded and name each item by their scents or you can put each item in a dark film container and poke holes through the lid. Encourage your students to think of where they have smelled the scent before.

As an extension, have your students bring in a scent and repeat the activity in small groups. If students have a difficult time guessing the scent, have the student give hints about where the item could be found or how it is used.

What’s inside?

Cut two holes on the side of a shoebox or other small box with a lid. Then drop a secret item into the box. Students can stick their hands through the holes to feel the item and name it. What clues did they use to identify the item? How does the item feel? Some secret items can include a teddy bear, toy car, pencil, flower, eraser, crumpled up paper, or pieces of Velcro.

To extend the activity, have students make collages or sculptures using different textures and put them in the mystery box. Students can guess what materials were used to make the item.

Garden of Scents

Start an herb garden with your students. Plant different herbs and have students record how each plant grows. Then students can classify the herbs in different ways according to scent, feel, taste, or look, such as the number of leaves. Students can smell, touch, or taste each herb and describe them. For example, herbs such as peppermint and spearmint smell sweet and rosemary has thick, sharp leaves.

Sensory Shadow Box

Have students create shadow boxes that display items that represent the five senses. Encourage students to find creative ways to represent each sense. For example, some students may want to play a recording of a bird chirping, whistle, clock alarm, or music. Other students may want to stick to a theme for their shadow boxes, for example, displaying items from a garden. Have students share their boxes and describe each item and display the boxes so students can learn from each other’s works.

Writing with the Senses Family Activities

Getting a Sense of the Senses

Have your child take notes on two different places using his or her senses. Try to go to two very different locations, such as a bustling part of a city and a park or quiet wooded area. Encourage your child to write details about what she or he sees, feels, hears, smells, and, if possible, tastes. Your child may want to close his or her eyes in order to concentrate on what she or he senses. Then help your child brainstorm adjectives that she or he could use to describe the two places. How are the places alike? How are they different? Finally, help your child write short sentences that describe each place.

Appreciating the Senses

Expose your child to new sensory experiences. For example, watch a silent movie with your child and discuss the similarities and differences to movies with sound. You can also listen to an opera or classical music and discuss the different instruments and sounds you and your child hear. Together with your child, taste new or exotic fruits and vegetables and describe them. Go to a fabric store and feel different textures from rough wool to smooth silk. You can also go to a bakery or a restaurant and describe the smells there or go to a flower shop and compare the scents of different plants.

The Search for Senses

Create sensory riddles that describe a specific item in your home. For example, you might write “I am soft, fuzzy, and blue and keep you warm at night” to describe a blanket. Have your child find the item which can then have another clue that leads to a different item and so on. To extend the activity, your child can write riddles for you to find.