When I was a student in an intensive English program, one of my teachers used this activity to help us be more specific and precise in our descriptions. And as easy as this activity looks, it required reaching beyond our regular everyday vocabulary.
Later, when I became a teacher, I used this activity with my students and found it really helpful.
As a “warm-up”, I showed my students a clip from the movie “City of Angels,” when the character Seth asked the character Maggie to describe a pear. Below is the transcript of this clip:
- Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
- Maggie: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?
- Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.
- Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?
- Seth: It’s perfect.
After watching and discussing this clip with the students, I proceeded with the actual activity. Here is the description:
- Bring several fruits or/and vegetables, one for each student (apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes, bell peppers, peaches, etc.).
- Put the fruits in a nontransparent bag.
- Ask students to close their eyes and have each of them pick a fruit from the bag.
- Ask students to describe the texture, smell, and shape of their fruit without looking at it. You can also put students in pairs and have them describe their fruit to each other while holding it behind their back (so they won’t see it).
- Ask students to guess what fruit they are holding in their hands.
- Next, ask students to write a detailed description of their fruit without naming it. As a student, I remember struggling at this stage of the activity because I felt I didn’t have enough vocabulary to provide a detailed and accurate description. So you may want to give your students some extra vocabulary (especially adjectives) that they could use in their descriptions.
- Once students are done with their descriptions, collect them and put in a box or a bag.
- Collect the fruit and put them on your desk, so everyone can see them.
- Each student will come to the front of the class, pick a description from the box, read it aloud and pick the “right” fruit. As a class, you may also want to evaluate the description. Is it accurate? Is it missing something? Etc.
- If the description is not accurate, ask the class to correct it.
You can probably use other items for this activity (e.g., jewelry), as long as you achieve the goal of this exercise—help students learn more vocabulary and be more specific and detailed in their descriptions.