As children learn to become writers, one of the most difficult concepts for them to learn is to describe and add details. To help them develop this concept, it’s important for parents, teachers and friends to prompt kids in discussion to use more describing words.
The next time your child points to something and says, “What’s that?”, tell him you’re not sure what he’s referring to, even if you are. Likely, he’ll point again and say, “That! That thing… what is it?” Here’s the hard part: don’t tell him what it is. Tell him you still aren’t sure (perhaps your eyes are closed or there are a lot of things he could be pointing at, or you have incredible sun glare..) and that you need him to describe it using detailed words.
You might receive silence as a response. “Describe?” He’ll question. “But can’t you see it?” Perhaps he’ll have no problem telling you it’s large, greenish brownish and ugly.
Urge him on asking, “Ugly, what kind of ugly?”
“Well,” he might say, “it has brownish bumps all over it. And the brown bumps are kind of like circles, and then he has this skin that’s brown and white and green and tan. And it’s skin is kind of bumpy, too, but not big bumps like the brown bumps.”
Keep him going and say “really?” or just stay quiet and wait for more.
“Yeah. And he has two big eyes that are golden and green and almost glowing and he’s just staring at me with them. He’s barely moving but maybe his belly is moving in and out a little bit.”
“Interesting…,” you’ll reply. “You said he’s large? Large how? Like as big as our house?”
“No! He just seems big. Like… bigger than the ant that just crawled by. Maybe bigger than my hand. Oh! And his hands have 4 skinny fingers.”
Wait longer to make sure he’s done describing — both kids and adults tend to talk more when there’s no response. Then, when you’re sure he’s done, congratulate him, “That sounds like a frog to me. You did such a great job describing it I would have been able to figure that out even with my eyes closed!”
5 tips for prompting your child to describe
Use describing words in your conversations
Don’t just say “Over there, to your right, see it?” As an adult, you’ll need to model the desired behavior, so make sure you’re describing with more than the basic words.
Give kids time
Try not to jump in and give an answer, but count to ten after your child finishes his thoughts to make sure he’s really finished. Often times, when given quiet time to think about what he’s just said, he’ll think of more to add to the conversation.
Listen and question
Pay close attention to the way he is describing something, so that you have questions to ask for further discussion. Perhaps he uses the word “huge.” We know that “huge” is a relative term, so ask him what he means by the word or to compare the size to something else.
Sometimes the looks of an object give a child a feeling–the feeling is very much a part of the describing process. In fact, describing feelings is often more difficult that describing an object because feelings aren’t tangible. As children grow to be stronger writers, they’ll learn to tie together feelings and objects as they describe.
Practice describing words as a game
This is an easy game for waiting in line or in the car. Select an object and take turns describing it together without saying what it is. It’s even more fun to do this with a friend who can guess what you’re describing.