A Writing Activity: Describing a Fruit

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:

  1. Bring several fruits or/and vegetables, one for each student (apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes, bell peppers, peaches, etc.).
  2. Put the fruits in a nontransparent bag.
  3. Ask students to close their eyes and have each of them pick a fruit from the bag.
  4. 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).
  5. Ask students to guess what fruit they are holding in their hands.
  6. 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.
  7. Once students are done with their descriptions, collect them and put in a box or a bag.
  8. Collect the fruit and put them on your desk, so everyone can see them.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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2 Responses to A Writing Activity: Describing a Fruit

  1. Tarveen Walia says:

    I found a pared-down version of this activity in Tessa Woodward’s : Planning Lessons & Courses.
    Tried it with 2 levels of learners, the intermediate level and hugely enthusiastic pair of Grade 9 girls enjoyed it and embellished it with adjectives, and opposites, and also wrote a Free Practice task at the end, describing the similarities and differences between them and an apple, whereas the lower-intermediate , but sadly unimaginative pair of Grade 8 girls made me question my teaching strategy!

  2. Lisa Riddle says:

    I’ll be teaching a high beginning ESL writing class at the community college this Fall, so I gathering ideas for creative ways to elicit descriptive writing. This is a great exercise and can be adapted in many ways, including solo, group, and pair work (pardon the pun!). Thank you!

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