11 Excellent Descriptive Writing Activities

If you teach descriptive writing and want students to practice writing vividly and with lots of details, descriptive writing activities come in handy.

Descriptive writing is a genre in which the writer uses the five senses, figurative language, adjectives, strong verbs, and lots of details to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.

Not only does this type of writing develop vocabulary, but it also stretches the mind because it causes the writer to actively consider context while writing so that the reader can clearly visualize what he or she is trying to say.

Essentially, the writer must “show, not tell”.

Even though descriptive writing activities serve all types of students well, they are especially beneficial to ESL students.

Here you will find a collection of helpful descriptive writing activities and prompts that will help students develop the skill of showing and not telling.

These exercises prompt them to write clearly, vividly, and precisely so that the reader has little doubt as to what he or she is trying to convey.

Descriptive Writing Activities

1. Describe a Beautiful Nature Scene.

We’ve all seen beautiful images of nature.

Ask students to reflect upon a beautiful nature scene etched in their memory.

It could be a scene from their travels, from their city, state, or country, from a TV show, or from a book.

Students must clearly describe the scene so the reader visualizes it.

2. Describe An Object. 

Take a few different objects, and have students describe each of them.

An apple’s color is obvious, but what other descriptions can students use to describe it?

What about its taste? What does it feel like? What does it look like inside?

Encourage students to think about the small details. This requires a bit more brain power but is a great writing exercise.

3. Describe Your Favorite Food.

Describe this activity into three parts.

For the first part, students as a whole group describe a type of food. Everyone contributes a description.

During the second part, students work in pairs or individually to describe another food item. They may compare their descriptions to other student pair descriptions.

Finally, students work independently to describe a favorite food item. This one you may want to informally assess.

4. Describe a Birthday Cake. 

What’s the coolest birthday cake you have ever seen? What cake do you dream of eating?

For this activity, students will describe a birthday cake in detail using the five senses.

Related Content:

ESL Writing Prompts

5. Describe Yourself. 

One of the best descriptive writing activities is for students to describe themselves.


Because individuals tend to know themselves better than anything else.

Tell students to describe themselves not just physically but also their personality, likes, dislikes, and preferences.

As an extension, have students describe each other and compare notes.

6. Write a Story That Describes Cold. 

This descriptive writing activity encourages critical thinking.

Students must write a story that describes “cold” without actually telling the reader that the word is “cold”.

The writer has to think about which phrases, words, figurative language, examples, and context to give the reader so that he or she is able to infer what he’s conveying.

7. Describe a Bumper Sticker.

For this cool descriptive writing activity, ask students to describe a bumper sticker.

To activate prior knowledge, discuss the purpose of bumper stickers and ask students where they may have seen them.

8. Describe a Menu.

Ask students to describe in detail a menu from a sit-down or fast-food restaurant. As an extension, have students compare and contrast two different menus.

9. Respond to Picture Writing Prompts.

Make responding to picture writing prompts one of your descriptive writing activities.

Picture writing prompts are not only engaging, but they are great for students who struggle with generating writing ideas.

To use, show students a picture prompt and then have them respond in their writing notebooks.

10. Describe a Restaurant.

Students will describe their favorite restaurant. Students may use the 5W + H to help generate questions.

Example questions to ask oneself…

  • What does the restaurant look like?
  • What does it feel like?
  • How does it smell?
  • Who’s there?
  • What type of food is served?
  • When is it open?
  • How is the customer service?

11. Practice Show, Not Tell Writing Exercises.

You really want to include this powerful exercise in your collection of descriptive writing activities.

The goal is to teach students how to “show and not tell.” To start, provide students with a sentence that tells.

For example, “The boy is angry.” This sentence TELLS.

To make it SHOW, students could say,

  • “The boy’s face turned tomato red.”
  • “The boy slammed his backpack on the ground.”
  • “He yelled at someone who was trying to help.”

Download a Show, Not Tell practice worksheet.

Final Thoughts: Descriptive Writing Activities

Develop precise writers using these wonderful descriptive writing activities for students of all ages.

Make these activities part of your writer’s workshop lessons.