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How to Write a Five-Paragraph Descriptive Essay

written by: Margie • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/16/2014

The secret to writing descriptively is to show, not tell. By using the five senses, a descriptive essay uses words to paint pictures for readers.

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    Just How Is That Done?

    An easy form to follow is the five-paragraph essay. This would include an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. It may be helpful to write your introduction after you write your body paragraphs, since you will be introducing the information contained in those three paragraphs.

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    Writing the Descriptive Essay

    Don’t Turn It Into A StoryWriting 

    The main point that I reiterate to my students is that nothing happens in a descriptive essay. In other words, you are not telling a story. I have found that my middle school students sometimes want to turn descriptive essays into narratives; if they do this on a standardized test, they will score poorly. Make sure that you are not moving an event through time when you write a descriptive essay.

    Show, Don’t Tell

    When you are writing descriptively, it is easy to get sidetracked and begin simply telling your readers about your topic. Don’t do this! Instead of telling them, show them with words. To do this, use your five senses to describe. The five senses, for those who don't remember their science, include touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell.

    Here is an example:

    Telling: The sky is a bright shade of blue and white clouds seem to float in it.

    Showing: Puffy white clouds float across the cobalt-blue sky.

    Hint: If you are not sure if you are telling or showing, look at your verbs. If you are using lots of helping and/or linking verbs, then you are probably telling. If you are using primarily action verbs, then you are probably showing.

    Another Hint: Try to make your readers see what you are describing. I can imagine what bright blue looks like, but I really know what a cobalt-blue sky looks like.

    One More Hint: Throw in some proper nouns. If you are describing a day at the ball park, don’t just say music played. Say, “Jimmy Buffett’s Cheeseburger in Paradise blared from the loudspeakers." The more direct and precise you are the better your essay will be.

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    Choose Three Things To Describe

    The way I encourage my students to write a five-paragraph descriptive essay is to choose three things to describe. For example, say that you are asked to write an essay describing the perfect bedroom. Pick three items to describe. You might choose to describe the furniture, wall hangings, and flooring. Then describe those three items using the five senses.

    You can also choose three senses and organize your essay that way. You might write one using the sense of touch, one using the sense of sound, and one using the sense of sight. Personally, I would recommend this approach for kids who struggle with writing. It is a simpler approach, but harder to make appealing to your readers because it is much more formulaic.

    Don’t Force All Five Senses

    Keep in mind that you only use the senses that make sense to use. Do not force all five into the essay. For example, you would probably not use the sense of taste when describing your perfect bedroom.

    Use Figurative Language

    I require my students to use at least two examples of figurative language in their essays. I usually require them to use similes, metaphors, and/or personification. Using figurative language in a descriptive essay promotes creativity and is enjoyable for your readers.

    Introductions and Conclusions

    Your introduction simply presents what your essay is about. As I said earlier, it may help to write your introduction after you write your body. Look at the three things you described and give your reader some hints about what those three things are in your introduction. When you conclude your essay, briefly review what you described to your readers.

    A five-paragraph descriptive essay can be challenging, but once you get the hang of "showing, not telling" and using figurative language, descriptive essays become much more enjoyable to write.