Eyewitness accounts: Descriptive writing

Kazuko Namba, Aoyama Gakuin University


Quick guide

  • Keywords: Paragraph writing, group composition, descriptive vocabulary, employing specific parts of speech
  • Learner English level: High beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity level: High school, university
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes (One class period)
  • Materials: Three sheets of paper (A4 or B5) for each group


In this activity, students write a descriptive paragraph about a drawing of a thief. The objective of this activity is to learn how to describe a person accurately. For that purpose, students focus on the person’s physical characteristics, clothing, possessions, etc. To determine the accuracy of their written descriptions, they pass their paragraph on to other students who redraw the thief based on the description. Then they compare the two drawings and decide whether their description is accurate.



Make student copies of personal description vocabulary and a sample descriptive paragraph of a person. (See Appendix A.) Give these to students. Explain that they will use the vocabulary to write similar paragraphs based on drawings, and go over essential paragraph features that you expect students to produce. (Among other resources, a Google search of descriptive vocabulary or describing people will produce lists of these words, e.g., speakingenglish.co.uk/vocab/describing_people.)



Step 1: Divide the class into groups of four to five students and assign a number to each group.

Step 2: Pass out three sheets of paper to each group.

Step 3: Tell each group to draw a picture of an imaginary thief on the first sheet of paper and put their names and group number above it. While they are working, walk around to make sure the drawings are suitable for descriptive paragraphs, that is, they are neither too simple nor too complicated.

Step 4: Have each group write on the second sheet of paper a paragraph in which they describe the imaginary thief they have drawn. They should use at least 10 specific words from the vocabulary list and write their names and group number above the paragraph.

Step 5: Collect and keep the group drawings and then circulate the group paragraphs so that each group has a paragraph other than its own.

Step 6: Ask each group to draw the thief on the third sheet of paper, basing it on the description in the paragraph they have received. Above the new drawing, they should write their names and the original group’s number plus an asterisk (e.g., 1*, 2*).

Step 7: Collect the paragraphs and the new drawings.

Step 8: Put up the original drawings and the new drawings in pairs on the blackboard (e.g., 1 and 1*, 2 and 2*).

Step 9: Have each group discuss the drawings and decide, as a group, which paired drawings resemble each other the most. (We assume that, the closer the resemblance, the more accurately the paragraph was written. Therefore, the winner should be the group whose paragraph inspired the most accurate drawing.)

Step 10: Return the paragraphs and paired drawings to the original groups (e.g., paragraph 1, drawings 1 and 1* to Group 1; paragraph 2, drawings 2 and 2* to Group 2) and have each group discuss how well they have described the imaginary thief. Then have them rewrite the paragraphs to make them more accurate.



Alternatives to an imaginary thief include student descriptions of their neighborhood and map drawings and descriptions and drawings of a coffee shop. 



This is a fun activity. Many students say this group work is the best in the course. Even the students with weak English writing ability are able to contribute some interesting ideas. There is always a lot of laughter as well as open exchanges of opinions. Thus working together, students are able to improve their writing as well as communicative skills. 



The Appendix is available below...