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ESL Lesson on Writing Descriptive Essays

Writing descriptive essays is a common task on a wide variety of exams such as the TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS and other Cambridge exams. This lesson takes students through the process of first developing the skills to write descriptive sentences which then are used in a descriptive essay. The lesson plan includes an example essay taking students through the steps of brainstorming, outlining and, finally, writing the essay. Writing exercises are provided for each step in the process of writing a descriptive essay.

Aim: Learning the skills required for writing a descriptive essay in English

Activity: Exploring different forms used in writing descriptive sentences followed by brainstorming, outlining and writing a descriptive essay

Level: Intermediate to upper-intermediate


Step one: Writing Descriptive Sentences

Pass out the example essay and ask students to read

As a class, ask students to provide samples of descriptive language / sentences taken from the example essay

Use this as the starting point to discuss different means of writing descriptive sentences such as the use of adjectives, relative clauses, prepositional phrases and so on.

Use the exercise asking students to "blow up" simple sentences using the techniques described.

Step two: Preparing the essay

Hand out the brainstorming and outline of the example essay.

Discuss the idea of brainstorming and outlining with the class, make sure to point out that even though outlining an essay may take a few minutes during an exam, it will provide a map from which to write. This will ensure structure and coherence to the finished essay.

Ask students to choose one of the topics on which to write a descriptive essay.

Have students brainstorm ideas for a few minutes on the topic they have chosen.

Ask students to use their brainstorming to create an outline for a descriptive essay on the topic they have chosen.

Have students write their final essay based on the outline they have created together.

For follow-up activities, check out the four lesson series ESL essay writing workshop .

Example Essay

Two years ago I experienced the luckiest day of my life. I was trudging along the street which was covered in snow. Suddenly, I saw a large, strangely-dressed man waving at me. I decided to cross the street as he seemed to have an important message for me. When I stepped onto the curb, he blurted out "You’ve won!!" I had no idea what he meant.

At first, I thought it was a crazy joke. I had never won a prize in my life. However, on closer look, it seemed he was handing me a ticket. It was a beat-up, old lottery ticket. "Why does he want to give me that useless ticket?" I thought to myself. The man stuck his hand, which was clearly very cold, out to me and winked saying "It’s your lucky day." I grasped the ticket which I was sure was useless.

Luckily, I decided to check the lottery website that evening. I sat down at my well-worn computer and begin to scour the confusing pages. Eventually, I found a category that seemed to match my battered ticket. Just for fun, I carefully entered the number of the ticket. Though it seemed impossible, the strange, old fellow had given me a ticket worth $100,000!

You can guess the rest of this modern-day fairy tale. I ran to the nearest lottery office which was located two blocks away. I burst into the room that was crowded with people and shouted, "I’ve won!" Everyone crowded around and stared at the faint winning numbers on my ticket. As I collected my phenomenal, surprising winnings I quietly whispered "Thank you." What else could I have done?

Descriptive Sentences Exercise:

Write down five simple sentences such as "I go to work". Modify each noun with adjectives to make the sentence more descriptive.

Use your sentences and modify the nouns using relative clauses.

Add a few prepositional phrases to provide more information about the location.

Make your sentence more complex by providing an explanation for your sentences such as causes or an effects.

Brainstorming For "My Lucky Day"

What happened when I won the ticket?


funny man

change my life forever

I was walking on the street


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