A Descriptive Activity: Short Writing Assignment

This is a good way to introduce descriptive writing and to drive home the point that details matter.

For this assignment you need a set of art postcards (big enough to see easily without showing off to everyone else) from four or five artists whose individual works are very similar. So, for instance, I use Remington pictures of cowboys because many of these have the same subjects, like a lone cowboy riding. I use Klimt. I like Chagall and Dali and Picasso, but sometimes the sets of their works are very different and those won’t work. Monet might work.

The art postcards can be purchased from Dover. There are several different books of them. They’re about $7 each, as of this writing, and have twenty-four postcards. If you can use sixteen that is plenty to confuse the students with. 🙂

I mix them up if I have several sets. I don’t want the people sitting next to each other to get similar cards because then they’ll know they have to write very specifically. Then I hand the students each a separate card, telling them to keep them away from their neighbor. When they are all passed out, I have the students write a description that will identify their work of art without giving the artist’s name or the title of the work.

Then I take back my postcards and their writing. I pass the descriptions out and have the students come up, a few at a time, to look through the postcards which I have laid out on the desk. They choose the one that they think most closely matches their description.

We usually have one or two sets which are mixed up. It encourages very detailed descriptions without a strong negative because it is an in-class exercise, not a large grade.

After that I move on to whatever descriptive essay I am working on with the students.

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