Brainstorming With the Five Senses

Annelise Marshall, Tokyo International University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Descriptive writing, brainstorming
  • Learner English level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity: University level
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Activity time: 45 minutes
  • Materials: Presentation slides, whiteboard, worksheets (see Appendix)

In this activity, students prepare for descriptive writing using a brainstorm activity based on the five senses. By building a strong foundation of sense-related vocabulary, students are able to write rich and evocative paragraphs describing a location. This exercise encourages students to enjoy writing, while teaching them to incorporate creativity and detail into their work.



Step 1: Prepare presentation slides for the beginning of the lesson. Slides should introduce the words for the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.  For each sense, provide a sample of vocabulary words suitable for the class level that relate to that sense. For example, words related to smell might include sweet or grass. The slides should also include an image of a place to be used for the practice description. This could be a location around campus, or a famous place that students would be familiar with. Ueno Park or Tokyo Disneyland are examples that work well for students in the Tokyo area.

Step 2: Prepare worksheets with columns for making notes of sense-related vocabulary, and space to write a descriptive paragraph (see Appendix for an example you can print or adapt). Print enough worksheets to have one for each group in class and one for each student for homework.   



Step 1: Using the presentation slides, introduce the vocabulary for the five senses. Provide level-appropriate examples of vocabulary words related to each sense.

Step 2: Show students the image of the place to be used for the example activity. Ask if they are familiar with the place, and elicit answers about where it is and what can be done there. 

Step 3: On the board, create five columns. Elicit the names of the senses from the students, writing one at the top of each column. 

Step 4: Tell students to close their eyes and imagine they are at the chosen place. Ask students to focus on sight, and imagine what they can see there. After 30 seconds, let students open their eyes, and ask what they imagined seeing. Write the answers on the board.

Step 5: Repeat with hearing, touch, smell, and taste, filling in the table on the board.

Step 6: Put students in groups of three or four and give each group one worksheet. Tell groups to choose a place that is familiar to all members. Then, ask them to brainstorm and complete one worksheet per group with notes of what they can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste at that place. 

Step 7: After brainstorming time is over, tell groups to work together to write a paragraph describing their place. Paragraphs should include at least one idea from each of the five senses, but should not include the place’s name.

Step 8: Have groups share their paragraphs, either by joining two groups together, or having each group read their paragraph to the whole class. After a group has read their paragraph, other students will guess what place it describes.

Step 9: For homework, students will individually complete a fresh worksheet about a place of their choice by filling out the brainstorm columns and writing a descriptive paragraph. 



After participating in this activity, students will be able to write a descriptive paragraph about a location with confidence. Students can enjoy working collaboratively, while learning new ways to improve their descriptive writing. Furthermore, they will be encouraged to include rich detail in future writing activities.



The appendix is available below: