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STRATEGIES for WRITERS: Describe It, Expand It Lesson

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

A simple, easy, and quick writing activity for students to try is Describe It, Expand It. There are many different ways I use this activity in the classroom and tutoring. I have even used this strategy with my three-year-old daughter to expand her vocabulary and recall of information.

The majority of these activities are designed for students grades 3-5 but can easily simplify for younger children.

Writing Journal Lesson for: DESCRIBE IT, EXPAND IT

Materials Needed:

* Writing journal or lined paper

* Sticky notes or colored index cards

* Pencil

* Colored pens or pencils

* Hand out "Describe It!"

Here are the steps for using this activity in a student writing journal;

*Look at the above pictures for examples of these steps or have students watch the video lesson for this activity.

Instruct students to:

  1. Write down EVERYTHING and ANYTHING you know about your given topic for 2-3 minutes. What you write about is up to you to select. If you get stuck, write about elephants like the example.

  2. Pick your 2-3 favorite ideas about the topic- jot down extra notes about these details. Think about the 6 W +H (who, what, where, when, why, which, and how).

  3. Create a sentence about your topic from your ideas.

Then, have students EXPAND their thoughts about their topic. Instruct students to;

  1. Reread your sentence and notes from your journal.

  2. Pick two additional details to connect to the first sentence you just wrote to a new sentence you create next.

  3. Write another sentence about the topic, using those two additional descriptive notes.

* See my Describe It Bundle for the ENTIRE unit for DESCRIPTIVE WRITING.

DESCRIBE IT! - Four Corners Lesson

Materials Needed:

* Index cards/ scraps of colored paper

* Markers

* Pencil or pen

* Journal or writing paper

* Handout- “Describe It!“

Steps for the Lesson:

  1. Instruct students to brainstorm four different topics to write. If they get stuck, give them some ideas from the handout DESCRIBE IT. Show them the example topics for ideas.

  2. Ask students to think about each of these four topics and describe everything they can about them. I like to set a timer on this part to keep students moving forward. If they get stuck, again offer them ideas from the handout or presentation slides.

  3. After student(s) have finished writing down their ideas for each of the four topics, then it is time for them to pick one idea to ELABORATE.

  4. Instruct students to go back through their notes for the ONE topic they have selected to elaborate on for their writing. Ask students to pick two details they can use for an additional sentence. Have them highlight the ideas they will add into a sentence with a highlighter, colored pencil, or just a pencil if needed.

  5. Have them write a sentence about their topic using these highlighted details.

For extra practice, students can continue this pattern for the remaining three more topics. This part of the lesson is helpful for students that struggle to come up with ideas. Another idea is to give students the four categories and develop ideas together if they need further assistance. If they continue to struggle, I remind them how well they did the day before with their topics and give them some prompting from the handout to help as needed.

For students with special needs, this is an opportunity for you to be your student's scribe. I have done this activity many times with students that have processing problems and ADHD. Once the note cards have descriptions written down, students can take over and write their sentences.

If students need help to focus their writing on just ONE topic or use "off-topic" details, have them find and highlight words from their notecards to find any missing descriptions to add-in.

This activity is also helpful for students that struggle to stay on their given topic. If your student has a hard time with this skill, focus on reinforcing how well they used their keywords and topic word in their sentence. This way, when you switch to another subject, you can give positive reinforcement of how they used this skill in their new essay. If they struggle- remind them how well they did on this activity, so they can use these same steps to help them stay on topic for the new essay.


Now that I have started working with my daughter doing preschool-age activities, I love getting to see my same lesson for 8-10 years olds work for a three-year-old. My daughter is starting to form letters. Therefore, I write her sentence idea on a notecard for her. Then I ask her to mirror my writing or trace the letters. She draws pictures to go with her sentences.


  • colorful index cards (lined and unlined)

  • Marker

  • Highlighter

  • Crayons


  1. Ask your child- What are four things you like to play?

  2. Write down on four different index cards their response.

  3. Next, say to your child, “Now think about when you play with ____, what do you like about playing with _____?”

  4. Write down their responses as notes or as a single sentence if they can form a complete sentence.

  5. Have them help you and draw a picture to correlate with their responses.

  6. Use a highlighter and underline the topic (play/playing) and their keyword.

Preschool Journal-

Complete the same prompt question, but have students try and come up with a sentence about their favorite thing to play. Then ask them to draw a picture to relate to their ideas. You can then translate what their sentence says as you write their sentence below their writing in their journal.

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