Writing Descriptive Settings Lessons

Writing Descriptive Settings with a Winter Theme

Most students will be able to say that the setting of a story is where and when the story takes place; however, writing a setting is a whole new story (pun intended). This lesson includes five activities that help students write descriptive settings for their narratives.

If you wish to grab the handout before you get started, you will find it here. The handout includes links to three story videos. Printable handouts, answer keys, and links to the Google Slides versions are included. 

Activity #1 – Figurative Phrases and Sound Devices Definitions

Writing Descriptive Setting including Figurative Language

On the included handout, students complete missing words in definitions for three types of figurative language and three types of sound devices.

This handout is a quick review before students complete Activity #2.

Activity #2 – Identifying Figurative Phrases and Sound Devices

Google Slides for Writing Descriptive Settings

In the “Owl Moon Figurative Language and Sound Devices” activity, students categorize seventeen phrases from the story by the type of figurative language or sound device. Students then highlight words using specific colors to show their understanding of the phrases. A key tells students what colors to highlight words.

Here is an example.

… a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Students highlight long and low in yellow to show they are alliterated. The word like is highlighted in purple because it is a clue to the smile that the train whistle is like a song. Finally sad, sad is highlighted in blue to show repeated words.

Activity #3 – Figurative Language

Writing Descriptive Settings - Learning Figurative Language with Owl Moon and Ten Ways to Hear Snow

For Activity #3, students read the story Ten Ways to Hear Snow. Activity #3 continues to practice identifying types of phrases. Students must also explain how adding figurative language and sound devices enhance the text. 

Activity #4 – Writing Descriptive Settings

Writing Descriptive Settings

Similar to Activity #1, students complete a cloze exercise to learn what a setting of a story includes. Be sure to point out the message printed in the top corner of the handout.

Experienced writers usually mix setting details with the plot in the story using “show, don’t tell.” 

In the next activity, students will write a descriptive paragraph that includes setting details.

Activity #5 – Vivid Imagery

For Activity #5, students are going to use the setting from the book Stranger in the Woods to write a descriptive paragraph.

Make sure students understand that a setting is not…

This story takes place in the winter woods.

Instead, the winter woods are described in a “show, don’t tell” manner. Go through the sample activity to illustrate how this can be easily done when using a chart such as the one provided in this practice exercise.

Check out the sample.

Select one animal from the story. You will tell your story through the perspective of this animal. Choose between…bird [blue jay, owl, morning dove, cardinal, or chickadee], deer [fawn, doe, or buck], muskrat, squirrel, porcupine, rabbit, or mouse.

To keep from limiting your choices of animals, a wolf will be used as the sample since wolves where not part of the story.


Write in words a sound this animal makes when it communicates with the other animals.

howl – Oooooooooooooooooooooowhooo!

Write a sound this animal makes as it moves through the forest.

tail swishing

crunch of snow under foot

Write two phrases each that describe what the animal sees, hears, smells, and feels as it goes through the woods. Include a few figurative phrases or sound devices.

see – glistening sparkle of light on the snow – sagging branches leaden with snow

hear – snapping of limbs – whistling wind – calm and quiet as if nature has gone to sleep

smell – sharp, sweet smell of the spruce tree – clean, fresh air

feel – bitter wind, scratching and scrapping twigs against my side

Write a simile that describes how this animal feels when it sees the snowman.

stopped in my tracks as if a switch had been turned off

Write a personification describing eating the part of the snowman your animal would eat.

Acorns and berries danced before my eyes.

Writing Descriptive Settings

The Sample Paragraph Written from the Chart Information

I ooooooooooooooooooooowhooo to let the other wolves know that something was wrong. Cautiously, I moved through the calm and quiet woods that seemed as if it had gone to sleep. Treading lightly on the path glistening with snow so not to snap any limbs or crunch snow underfoot, I traveled toward the enemy. Scratching and scrapping twigs grazed by sides as I walked by branches sagging under the heavy weight of snow. The smell of the sharp, sweet spruce trees on the bitter wind tickled my nose. Slowly, slowly I crept toward the danger. Then, I stopped in my tracks as if a switch had been turned off. Before me stood a man made out of food. Acorns and berries danced before my eyes. 

If you missed the link for the handout above, here it is again.

A Little More About Writing Descriptive Settings

Have students write a setting based on where they live or something they have personally experienced.

Here in the mountains of North Carolina, winter came in with a vengeance. Students have missed several days of school. A fresh wave of 12 to 24 inches is predicted for this weekend. 

This doe and buck visit on a regular basis. They came out for a meal as soon as the ice began melting on November 16. Notice the red leaves lying on the ground have just fallen off the tree.

Examples such as this would make for interesting descriptive writings.

Writing Descriptive Settings
Writing Descriptive Settings
Gay Miller

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