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Using All Five Senses to Write About Strong Feelings

By Julie Ballew on January 7, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Fourth grade students at my school are beginning a unit on writing poetry this week. Their last unit was an expository essay unit, so they really have to switch gears to match the new genre. To prepare her students for this new kind of writing, Mrs. Hales led them through some writing exercises involving their feelings.







Every Kind of Feeling

Mrs. Hales began this exercise by giving her students the following list of feeling words. (This list was created by the Children’s Center at the University of California — Santa Barbara and can be found here.)

List of Feeling Words

I especially love the categories this list provides. At the top of each column are general, basic feeling words (and the ones most commonly used in student writing). Below each of those are more specific versions of those feelings.

Students were invited to highlight the feelings that they had previously experienced, or those feelings with which they felt a strong connection. They then put this list in their writer’s notebook for reference. A few students showed me where they had jotted down times they felt disappointed or lonely so they could remember the details of the experience.


Using Senses to Describe Feelings

During the mini-lesson the next day, students were reminded that writers sometimes use sensory language (or each of their senses) to describe something. Mrs. Hales had the students choose one of their highlighted words from the feelings list, and they spent time thinking about that feeling through each sense. They created a flipbook (pictured below) with one flap for each of their senses. Students then spent their independent writing time thinking about how the chosen feeling might smell, taste, look, hear, or feel. Most of them used comparisons to things they already knew, like “plain white rice” as the taste of loneliness.

image of student flip book  image of student flip book  image of student flip book image of student flip book page


Student Responses to This Activity

I talked to several students about their experience with this activity, and I absolutely loved their responses. I promised I would include their smart thinking in my post.

Me: That’s a pretty long list of feeling words what made you choose this word?

Student #1 (lonely): Well, I knew we were about to write poetry. I’ve written poetry before, so I know that my best poems usually come from my miserable side.

Student #2 (heartbreak): We were supposed to pick an emotion that we have experienced. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve experienced a lot of heartbreak, but I see a lot of heartbreak in people around me, so I know a lot about it and it really stuck out to me.

Me: How do you think this activity will help you as a writer?

Student #1: Well, I never thought about describing my feelings like this before. I can paint a good picture with descriptions like this that use my senses.

Student #2: I don’t think I’ll use these exact sentences when I write about heartbreak because that probably wouldn’t flow very well. It will definitely be a good resource though, so I’ll be sure to look back at it when I want to include this feeling in my poems.

I can’t wait to see the poems produced in this unit. If this pre-writing activity is any indication, I will certainly be blown away by what I read!  What pre-writing activities have you tried? Let me know in the comments!


Comments (2)

This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks, Tina! I thought so too!

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