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Descriptive writing and expertise


This is a lesson on using descriptive language to back up opinions and the importance of writing about things you are an expert in. Students will write reviews in small groups over types of candy (or gum, or another type of food). They will compare their results, then write a review over something completely out of their experience. After discussing what review was easiest to write about, and what they could add to the discussing about those areas, students will brainstorm their own topics to write about based on their levels of expertise.

A&E sections offer a mix of opinion writing and reviews. Check out the feature writing section, especially the lessons related to Personality profiles.


  • Students will use description to back up their opinions.
  • Students will experiment with comparisons to help explain concepts.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1 Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.


50 minutes


Candy (Suggestion: Try a seasonal novelty that is like something most students have tried but slightly different. Example: peppermint-flavored Peeps)

“Crying Spider” – Redon

Handout: Pompeii review

A&E sections slideshow

Review brainstorm handout

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Have students brainstorm times they read reviews and the kinds of reviews they read. Discuss as a group what makes some reviews more helpful than others. Explain that reviews are written to give the audience info on whether they should try something new or not. Ask students if they were going to decide to eat a new kind of candy, what questions would they ask before trying it (flavor, texture, ingredients, etc.)

2. Five senses and candy — 5 minutes

Divide students into groups of 3-4. Distribute the candy. Have the students brainstorm in groups ways to describe the candy in as much detail as possible, using their five senses. They can include the wrapper, and of course it will help to eat the candy. When they are done analyzing the candy, ask them to consider how much they like (or dislike) the candy they just tried. What aspects of the candy were strongest? Which ones were weaker?

3. Writing about candy — 15 minutes

On their own, have the students choose the most important aspects of the candy to write their opinions about. Have them start with their opinion on the candy, but then describe it to support the opinion.

At some point bring up comparisons. Is it hard or easy to write about the way the candy tastes? Does it remind you of anything?

4. Crying Spider — 15 minutes

Tell students you are going to pass out a copy of a drawing by French Artist Odilon Redon. The drawing is from 1881.

Ask the students to describe what they saw and heard. Chances are they will be more likely to give their opinions than explain them. Encourage them to be more specific, then write a paragraph explaining their opinion on this piece. Encourage students to make comparisons, using similes and metaphors as needed to describe things they don’t have the perfect vocabulary for.

5. Discussion — 10 minutes

Ask students which topic was easier for them to write about, the candy or the drawing? Have them look over their paragraphs about the drawing. What details did they use to back up their opinions? Do their paragraphs give people a clear idea what the drawing looks like, or just their opinions? Explain that it’s important to write reviews over topics they are experts in, and that someone who has watched a lot of horror movies will be better at reviewing the latest one than someone who watches very few because they will be able to compare and describe much better.

As discussion wraps up, tell students that you are going to write a review of a song they are familiar with. Suggest guidelines for what you are looking for (genres you don’t know much about) and what you will not listen to (songs inappropriate for school) and see what they can suggest. Make a list of five for you to choose from, or have the class vote if you trust them.

Day 2

1. Areas of expertise — 20 minutes

Read your review for the class. Ask them if they trust your opinion. If you reviewed another song by that artist, would they be likely to take your advice? Why? Ask what things the review got wrong, or lacked knowledge of, and how someone who was more familiar with that band or type of music could do a better job.

Have students brainstorm things they are experts in. Distribute the brainstorming handout, but have students start on the blank side, making a list of everything they know a lot about. If some students are struggling with this, have them think about things they can compare with many other things. For example, if a student eats school lunch most days, he can compare the quality of the school chili with its cowboy cavatini and other lunches; that student could say how good that lunch is in the context of school lunch, but a student who always brings lunch from home may not have that experience. Or think about areas you’d be comfortable making a recommendation. For example, if someone wanted to go out to eat in the community, would she know enough restaurants to make a suggestion? Or wanted to try a video game, would he know enough to recommend a few?

Once students have listed their areas of expertise, have them choose three to fill in the front side of the paper, and explain what makes them an expert in that areas — what their experience is. If readers wanted to try something from that area, what would they want to know? For example, if readers wanted to read a young adult steampunk romance novel, they’d want to know about the characters, the story, the world, the writing style, details like that. Readers checking out a new animated movie would want to know about the story, the characters, what ages it’s appropriate for, the animation style and quality.

Finally, when students are done with that, have them choose two things they’d recommend in that area and one thing they’d recommend people avoid — so try these two restaurants, but stay away from that one.

2. Wrapping up — 5 minutes

Invite a few students to share one area of expertise and what they recommend people try or avoid. Explain that over the next couple days the class will be looking at examples of reviews and discussing ethics related to reviews, so they should begin to consider what they want to write about. Students will need to choose something they can return to this week, so not a museum in another state or a movie that was out last summer and not on DVD yet, but something they can check out again between now and when they plan to write the review.

3. A&E section background — 15 minutes

Ask students what sorts of arts and entertainment they are interested in, as well as what they do for fun. Ask if there are times when it seems like there is nothing fun to do in high school and then how students deal with those times. Explain that Arts and Entertainment sections are parts of many newspapers that focus on helping people find things to do and promoting the talents and interests of people in the school community. Use the A&E presentation to provide an overview. Explain to students that while we will focus on writing reviews for this unit, people who enjoy these sorts of topics have a lot of ways to cover them.