Using Old Calendars to Practice Descriptive Writing

This is a great time of year for this project, or at least to start planning for it.

One thing I have asked parents for in past Decembers were any old calendars from the previous year- landscape ones, travel ones, and the like. I collect all of them and use most of the photos for this project.

Old calendars have loads of advantages- they are durable (I still mount & laminate them, though), they are high-quality, already printed (yay, no ink on your part!), and are pretty big, so they are perfect for this writing activity.

If you don't have access to old calendars, you can also scoop up new calendars on the cheap this time of year, or you can also search Pinterest under "Travel"- they have some incredibly amazing photos as well!

Once you have a class set of photos, I have kids choose the one that speaks to them and keep a hold of their photo throughout this activity. This year I had kids walk around the room quietly with all of the pictures spread across the five tables. They were to make a mental list of their top 3-5 photos and I then called them up a few at a time to choose one- it went well!

We then begin using our Descriptive Web Plans to write this piece.

In real life, I am scared to death of spiders, but I grin and fake it when it comes to this unit because I think the spider imagery helps the boys get over the touchy-feely that description usually evokes :) And to help me (and other arachnophobes like me), I did try to get the cutest spider clipart I could ;)

We then use the pictures to brainstorm around the web. They imagine themselves in this spot and I will ask them out loud what they see, hear, taste (if possible), smell, feel with their heart and touch with their body. The touch/feel is the hand with the heart in it- I want kids to brainstorm not just what they can feel on the outside (soft grass, warm sun), but the feelings of being in this place (calm, joyful).

I have my students write their photo place in the center circle and 3-5 descriptive branches from each sense. We talk all about including color in the "see" section, feelings on the inside & out in the "touch" section, and comparisons and similes wherever we can.

Some of my strugglers or reluctant writers will only have 3 words coming from each, and that's ok. Some of my more advanced writers will have a web that takes up the whole planing page, and that's more than ok :) The important thing is that they have as much sensory detail as they can from their photo on their plan, since that will make their written piece that much better.

Before we start to write, I have them meet with their Writing Partner (who is assigned by me for this unit and who is on a similar writing ability) to show them the picture they chose and share their descriptive web. They can then work with their partner to help add on to each other's web to make it more comprehensive. We won't always do this for every written piece, but in the beginning, it helps to make the web as full as possible. I will work with some of my strugglers at this time to try and beef up their web and make it more complete.

When it comes to writing the piece, we talk a lot about how this is not a traditional story, but is instead like we are standing in the photo (or walking around in it). We discuss "painting with words" and making our piece as colorful and detailed as the photo. We draft in our Writer's Notebook so we can practicing revising and editing.

One of the challenges that you may come across is that every sentence starts with "I see" or "I (sense)...". A fun minilesson to do as your students revise this piece is to cross off those words at the beginning of every sentence and then use the words that remain as a new sentence starter.

For example:
old: I see the green leaves on the tree.
new: I see The green leaves on the tree are waving in the breeze.

It's amazing how much this enriches their sentences and therefore their entire piece! Plus, it makes it much more interesting for you as the teacher to not have to read a hundred "I see" sentences :)

This quick writing unit allows us to create a nice descriptive base that will help us out in many of our future written pieces. Once they have had this practice using all of the senses in one piece, I can always ask them to refer back to their mini-web in their Writer's Notebook and see if there is a way to incorporate sensory details in their story, their paragraph, their poem, and so on.

If you're interested in this unit, you can pick it up in my TpT Store HERE. I hope this helped and be sure to start collecting those calendars!!


  1. I bought some calendars last year (cheap!) for this very purpose, but haven't used them yet. Thanks for the reminder--I'll get them out and get them ready!

  2. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm so glad this can help! It's a lot of fun and sort of a mental vaca to look at those great pictures during Writer's Workshop :) :)

      3rd Grade Thoughts

  3. This is such a nice idea (no surprise there though!). Thank Stephanie!!

    1. You are just so incredibly kind, thank you, my friend :) :)

      3rd Grade Thoughts

  4. I love this idea! It is so creative! Thanks for sharing...
    If you have time, stop by my blog and enter the giveaway!

    Brigid's Daily Lesson Log

  5. That is such a neat idea! I am a student and hope to teach 3rd grade myself. I have recently started my own blog ( highlighting the creativity of current educators as well as a group forum on linkedin where other bloggers can connect, chat, and share. I would love if you could join:

  6. This a great idea...we have just started writing realistic fiction and this idea may come right in handy to help my fledgling writers to write setting descriptions in their leads. Thank you for sharing!

    Kathy O.
    Third Grade Doodles