Lessons >> Browse Articles >> English Language Arts


3-5: "I Spy": Using Adjectives and Descriptive Phrases

by Elizabeth Hutchens, Learn NC

Students will review definitions for adjectives, learn and practice sensory adjectives and imagery, and use adjectives and descriptive phrases in writing a paragraph and/or story.

A lesson plan for Grades 3–4 English Language Arts

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • be able to define adjectives.
  • be able to define and understand concrete and sensory adjectives.
  • be able to discriminate between ‘good’ adjectives and less complex ones.
  • use adjectives and descriptive phrases to write a descriptive paragraph.

Time required for lesson: 2 Days


pictures or photographs from magazines (at least one for each student), several sensory items for students to describe, five senses chart (see attached)


  • Review definition of adjectives with students. Ask for student volunteers to tell you what an adjective is. Write definition on board. (“An adjective is a word that modifies a noun”). It may be necessary to also review definition of noun with students.
  • List several common nouns on the board in columns (ie. ball, desk, tree…). Give students two minutes to list as many adjectives that could describe those nouns as possible.
  • Share lists with whole group; add adjectives to column underneath each common noun.


Day One:

1. Place sensory item on desk or podium. (Sensory items are objects that appeal to the senses; I use a multi-colored silk scarf and/or a glass turtle paperweight). Ask students to take five minutes to write down a description of this item using as many adjectives as possible. Tell them to imagine that they are describing the objects to someone who is blindfolded.

2. Ask for volunteers to share descriptions with the whole class. Write particularly strong sensory images on board/overhead.

3. Explain that sensory adjectives are adjectives that appeal to the five senses, adjectives that describe the way a noun smells, sounds, feels, tastes and/or looks. Hand out five senses chart (see attached). Put up same chart on overhead.

4. Give students 3-4 nouns (chocolate, rose, fire, grass are good ones). Direct students to fill in each column of chart with an adjective or descriptive phrase for the noun. Encourage them to come up with unique and creative adjectives for each item and each sense.

5. Students turn to partner and share adjectives; ask for volunteers to fill out chart on overhead/board.

6. Hand in sensory charts.

Now that students understand sensory imagery, it’s time to play “I Spy!”

  • Ask students to look around the room and find a noun, any noun that is visible to everyone in the classroom. DO NOT share what object they have chosen with whole class!
  • Give students 2-3 minutes to list all the adjectives they can brainstorm that identify that object; encourage them to use sensory adjectives.
  • Ask for volunteer to share list of adjectives. After each adjective, student will pause, and other students will try to guess the noun the volunteer is describing. The student who correctly guesses the noun then gets to share his or her list of adjectives. Game continues until all students have gotten a chance to share lists. As the game progresses, encourage students to use adjectives that other students may not think of — for example, how does the bookcase SMELL? What SOUND does the chalk eraser make?

Day Two:

1. Review definition of sensory adjectives. List five senses again; you may want to do a repeat of the sensory description activity from yesterday with a different object.

2. List two sentences on the board; “The big brown dog barks,” and “The chocolate-colored pit bull with matted fur growls menacingly.” Which is a better sentence? Why? (The second sentence gives you a picture in your head, you can ‘see’ the second sentence better, etc.)

3. Write “The red rose blooms” on the board. Ask students to expand upon that sentence using BETTER adjective choices. Share expanded sentences with whole class. Practice with several other simple sentences.

4. Hand out one picture to each student, face down. Caution them NOT to turn over their pictures until you give the word. (This activity tends to work better with artwork or scenic photos rather than photographs of people; the back of Reader’s Digest magazines and National Geographic magazines are great resources).

5. Tell students that they have just been asked to write a description of this painting for someone who cannot see it. They need to describe the painting as if they had stepped inside it, including not just what they can SEE, but what they imagine they could smell, hear, feel and even taste if they had become part of the world of the painting.

6. Ask students to flip picture over and take a couple of minutes to examine picture. Remind students that when writing their descriptions, they need to use the BEST possible adjectives and descriptive phrases and use adjectives that appeal to as many of the five senses as possible.

7. Give students 20-30 minutes to write paragraphs; rotate among students as they write helping as needed.

8. As students begin to finish, have them tape pictures to board at front of room. When all students have finished, have students read their descriptive paragraphs out loud; other students guess which painting they are describing (if you have several similar paintings/pictures, this activity becomes more challenging and encourages students to get more specific in their adjective choices).

9. Hand in descriptive paragraphs.


Collect both sensory charts and descriptive paragraphs. Assess sensory charts for completeness (each column is filled out for EACH word) and applicability of adjective to sense (for example, ‘crimson’ would NOT apply to the sense of taste).

Descriptive paragraphs are assessed for quality of adjectives/descriptive phrases and completeness of paragraph. A simple rubric can be used:

  • 5 (or A): Adjective choices are very strong; all five senses are addressed. The reader can ‘see’ the painting with ease. Sentences are complete, and basic grammar/spelling rules are followed.
  • 4 (or B): Adjective choices are strong; most of the five senses are addressed. The reader can ‘see’ the painting with relative ease. Sentences are complete, and basic grammar/spelling rules are followed.
  • 3 (or C): Adjective choices are erractic; some of the five senses are addressed. The reader cannot get a strong image of the painting. Sentences are complete, and basic grammar/spelling rules are mostly followed.
  • 2 (or D): Adjective choices are very basic; one or two of the five senses are addressed. The reader gets little sense of what the painting looks like. Some sentences are complete, and some basic grammar/spelling rules are followed.
  • 1 (or F): Adjectives are rarely used; one or two of the five senses are addressed. The reader as little/no sense of the painting. Some sentences are complete, and few basic spelling/grammar rules are followed.

Related websites


Possible Extension: For more advanced students, I have asked students develop the initial paragraphs into a creative short story set in the world of their particular painting. This can be extra credit or a natural extention of this lesson.

This lesson can, with some modification, be used as a lesson on writing and using similes/metaphors; simply substitute simlie/metaphor in place of adjectives.

Return to Lesson Plans

Related Links

Teaching School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use Teaching's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.