Learn ESL Writing Skills: Descriptive Details

There is an old truth about good writing: show me, don’t tell me.

That means the writer should use words to recreate a scene or event for the reader, not just report what happened. If you are writing about a person who is sad, describe the sadness (e.g. talk about the tears, body posture, red eyes, etc). Don’t just say, “Oh, she was sad.”

Matter of Factly

Most ESL students are not familiar with a writing style that is evocative or descriptive. In my experience, EFL students tend to write matter of factly. Just the facts. The result is often grammatical correct text that is a bore to read.

Teaching EFL students how to write with descriptive text is a worthwhile effort. It expands their vocabulary and opens their eyes to wider horizons. It also helps them add a dash of style to their text.

A Writing Lesson About Style

  • Instructional objective: learn the principle show me, don’t tell me
  • Time: 20 minutes first draft

Student Instructions

In this guided writing exercise, the objective is to write a short story and add emotion. But, the students cannot say the name of the emotion.

Here is the scenario: A woman (or man) is sitting in a coffee shop. She is talking on the phone. Someone told her that her husband had just died in a car crash. Describe what she sees, what she hears, what she feels. How are the smells, the sounds? What does the coffee taste like?

Your job is describe how the person sees the world now that she has heard some very bad news. Basically, how does a new emotion change the way a person sees the world?

Do all this in one or two paragraphs.