I found that this works really well the more imaginative the teacher gets.
Things needed: Bag full of ‘goodies’: a squishy tomato that has been kept really cold and cut in half, a paper clip, a hair clip, a rotten egg that has been broken (or any other item that gives out a strong odour). The teacher would also need a blindfold.
Tell the class that they are going to learn how to write descriptive essays using all their senses. Solicit the senses from students and write them on the board, i.e. smell & taste, touch, sound and sight.
Explain that to make a descriptive essay interesting, we have to add detail, and we do this by adding information that the senses provide.
Divide the class into the sense categories. Blindfold one person in each group and put them in a separate area where it is unlikely for them to hear their colleagues’ comments. Show an object and get them to describe it using their senses, e.g. for a tomato, they would write red and round under the “sight” column; under “touch”, they may put soft and smooth etc. When one group has finished with an item, pass it to the next group until the whole class has finished describing all the items in the bag. Monitor the groups to see if they understand the instructions.
Then explain that the four blindfolded students are going to guess the items without seeing them. Get the students to describe the objects they have just seen, but they are not to mention the object itself or its uses. For example, with the tomato, they cannot say this is used for cooking, and they can’t say it is a fruit or a vegetable. When the blindfolded student is unable to guess (and this would depend on the objects the teacher chooses to place in the bag), actually give the blindfolded student the object. For example, give the student the squishy tomato. Let him feel it, encourage him to smell it, taste it (if it is edible) and make notes of his comments on the board. When the students have finished all the objects, see if their observation matched those of the students who were not blindfolded. I found that the students really liked it when I stuck the fingers of the blindfolded student right into the squishy tomato.
Then once the class has settled down again, explain the importance of adding detail in essays. Give them a sample paragraph that uses most, if not all, of the senses and one that writes on the same topic but without using sense details. Get them to compare / contrast and note the differences. Ask them which one is better.
As a final round-up on this topic, I usually take my students to the school canteen or the food court in a shopping mall. Before we leave the class, I divide them into groups – each group being one sense. Their job is to write down as much as they can on their sense at the canteen. When they return to class, information is swapped (this is good practice in asking and receiving information) until they have at least two to three details from each sense group. I then give them 30 minutes to come up with the first draft paragraph.
Notes: Teachers are encouraged to vary this idea. I find that sometimes it takes too long for students to pass around all the objects, so just divide them into groups and then get them to choose a leader. The leader is blindfolded and has to describe the objects handed to him by the teacher while the rest of the class makes notes on his comment. It is possible to vary the level of difficulty as well by the items that are placed in the goody bag!!
Have fun. My class really loved this exercise, and I hope yours will too.