Describe That Picture!

Describe That Picture! Free Digital Activity
Describe It! Free Poster

While Mr. Potato Head may be the most popular descriptive writing activity I do with my students, he is far from the only one. The second most popular lesson is probably Describe That Picture! I think the reason the students like this one so much is because they don’t have to do all the thinking on their own. The brainstorming part of the assignment is a group effort. Allow me to explain further…

The set up of this activity is slightly more involved than Mr. Potato Head, but not much, and the storage is a lot easier! You will need 4-6 pictures (depending on how many students you want in a group) of different subjects. I have a set of about 12 that I’ve found over the years, printed on full-size sheets of paper, and laminated. I found most of them by looking at the results of various Google image searches and saving what caught my eye. Since I wasn’t selling or distributing them in any way I wasn’t too concerned about copyright (I told students the images weren’t mine), but if you’re looking to find royalty free images that are marked for reuse, Pixaby is always my go-to option. I’ve also used postcards at times, but find they are a little smaller than students like, and more difficult to see. You will also need several large sheets of paper, one for each image in each group. In the past I’ve varied between using pieces of bulletin board paper taped to the wall, and sheets of ledger size paper placed on tables. I think easel pads would also work well, but never had one to try it out. The final thing you’ll need is a different color marker for each student in the group. Once you have your supplies, create your stations by placing a large piece of paper and an image at various locations around the room. You want to give students enough room to work, but not spread out too much because you’ll have more than one group working at a time. 

Students complete the activity by choosing a marker and a photo to start with. A timer is set (I always used one on my smart board or my phone) and students are given 60 seconds to write down as many descriptive words and phrases as possible for their photos. Once time is called, students all move one photo over (taking their markers with them), and start again. For the second, and all following rounds, I give students 90 seconds because they first have to read what those before them wrote. They are told to not repeat what other students have said. I encourage students to try to write at least 3-5 things for each photo. We continue rotating and writing until students have viewed and wrote notes about each photo.

Students then return to their original photo and read over the descriptive words and phrases their classmates wrote. If there are any questions, or words they don’t know/can’t read, they are given time to consult with their group members. They then use the words and phrases from the brainstorming paper to help them compose a descriptive paragraph for the photo. I tell students that they don’t have to use all of the suggestions, but to try and use as many as possible. I also encourage them to make inferences about the events of, before, and after the picture in order to create a descriptive narrative, rather than just a paragraph about what they can see.

Since remote learning and social distancing have become the norm for this year, I needed to tweak this activity. I chose to make it digital by creating a Google Slides deck for each group. I chose Slides because it is familiar to my students, but I can easily see this working with Jamboard, Padlet, and a host of other apps as well. The first slide of the deck has directions for the students (basically the same as described above, but I give 90 seconds for all rounds to keep things even and give students time to remember how to work the digital components). Slides 2-6 are the brainstorming slides. On each slide is a photo (most from Pixaby), “infinite” piles of digital sticky notes in five different colors, a 90 second timer (YouTube video), and a button that links to the paragraph slide for later. To make the “infinite” piles I used the shape tool to draw my sticky note, changed its color, formatted the text, copied and pasted it about 30 times, selected all of the shapes, aligned them to the middle, and then aligned them to the center. I then dragged the entire pile to the location I wanted it, copied and pasted the entire pile, changed the color of the new pile, and dragged it to where I wanted the second pile to be. I continued pasting, changing the color, and dragging the piles until I had five. Slides 7-11 have the pictures repeated, a text box for the paragraphs, and a button that links back to the corresponding brainstorming page. The hyperlinked “Paragraph” and “Notes” buttons allow students to quickly jump between the brainstorming and corresponding paragraph slides as they write. 

Once I had my slides set up, all that was left to do was share it with the students. I made a copy for each group, and shared the appropriate copy with all group members receiving editing rights. Students were then able to complete the activity in real time from wherever they were. I can also assign them the activity in stages, giving brainstorming an earlier due date than the paragraph, for asynchronous learning.

Describe That Picture! really is a fun activity, and I always enjoy seeing what the students come up with! You can get the Google Slides deck for free by using one of the links in this blog, or the button below. You can also get the free five senses poster I hang in my classroom, and more descriptive writing activity ideas via the same methods. Happy teaching, everyone!