Stack of Children's Books

Studying Descriptive Language with Children’s Literature

Do you study descriptive language with your children?  Some people wait until their children are older and are working on higher level writing skills, but I like to start studying descriptive language as early as kindergarten.  One, it is fun to talk about!!  But, it also helps build comprehension skills, an appreciation for good writing, AND future writing skills.  So here is how we study descriptive language!

Cover for Studying Descriptive Language in Children's Literature

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Studying Imagery

The first area I like to study is imagery or language that appeals to readers’ senses so that they can imagine themselves in the story.  Imagery may be related to sight, taste, sound, smell, or touch.  You can point out instances of imagery as you read aloud to your children and have them imagine being in the situation.  You could have them then verbally describe or draw a picture of what they are imagining.  Here is a drawing my little guy did after listening to a description of the barn in Charlotte’s Web.

Drawing of barn in Charlotte's Web done by a child.

To further develop your children’s use of imagery, you could gather a bunch of objects, including food, from around the house and then take turns describing how they feel, look, sound, taste, and smell.

Studying Figurative Language

The second area of descriptive language is figurative language and in the elementary years, I like to target: personification, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and idioms.  You could also introduce symbolism in the later elementary school years, but that can be a hard one for younger children to understand. In case you need to brush up on what these are, I have included a ‘cheat sheet’ you can download below.  I like to keep this cheat sheet in a 3-ring notebook on our classroom table along with other cheat sheets so we can reference it as needed.

There are many ways to target these concepts and you can find tons of worksheets online, but my favorite ways are by reading good books and then working with quotes to determine which type of figurative language is being used by the author.

Finding Descriptive Language in Books

You can choose one type of figurative language to introduce at a time and then look for it in a book or poem.  I talked about this is our Poetry Study Notebooking Pages post.  There are many picture books that introduce alliteration and onomatopoeia well.  Personification can be taught with any book where the animals are characters with human qualities, although it is fun to look for examples besides animals.  One of our favorite books for personification is The Day the Crayons Quit.

The Day the Crayons Quit
  • Funny back-to-school story.
  • Duncan's crayons quit coloring. Crayons have feelings, too.
  • What can Duncan do to appease the crayons and get them back coloring?
  • Contains 40 pages and measures 9.25" x 6.25".
  • Recommended for ages 3 - 7 years.

Similes and metaphors are often found throughout a variety of children’s books and sometimes whole story lines and characters are metaphors such as Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where he represents Christ.  Hyperbole and idioms can be a little harder to find in literature, but they are sprinkled through a variety of books.  The Amelia Bedelia books are good for idioms.

Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book 4-Book Box Set: Books 1-4
  • Parish, Herman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 09/02/2014 (Publication Date) - Greenwillow Books (Publisher)

Studying Descriptive Language Quotes

Once, the different types of figurative language have been introduced, I like to have my children look at various quotes and determine which technique is being used.  A fun way to do that is with our Descriptive Language Sorting Mats.  There is a mat for each type of descriptive type of language and 8 corresponding quotes taken from some of the most popular classic children’s books.  You choose how many types of language you want to them to sort.  Maybe it is just between similes and metaphors or maybe you want to just pull out the idiom mat and match the quotes to what they really mean.  Or if your child has developed their knowledge of descriptive language well, pull out several mats for them to work through.  Click the picture below to learn more.

Descriptive Language Sorting mats

Having to compare and contrast the quotes and think about the definition of each type of descriptive language will cement children’s understanding and build critical thinking skills.

When children start to write with more descriptive language in later years and discuss higher level, complex literature they will have a good understanding of it from years of studying good quotes.

To buy the descriptive language sorting mats:

Descriptive Language Sortring Mats

To help our sorting mats last, I print them on cardstock and slide them into sheet protectors.  I then keep an expandable file folder of all of our sorting mats.  Here are links to the ones we purchase:


Page Protectors

Expandable File Folder

Quotes from the following books are used in the descriptive language mats.  You do not have to have read the books to use the mats, but in case you feel inspired:

James and the Giant Peach
  • Come celebrate and join James Trotter and his friends - Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider - on an adventure inside a giant magical peach.
  • A classic that has endured through the years
  • Ages 8-12
  • Dahl, Roald (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Dahl, Roald (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 08/16/2007 (Publication Date) - Viking Books for Young Readers (Publisher)
Charlotte's Web: A Newbery Honor Award Winner
  • Hardcover Book
  • White, E. B (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 04/10/2012 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)
The Trumpet of the Swan: Full Color Edition
  • White, E. B (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 252 Pages - 10/02/2001 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Dover Children's Evergreen Classics)
  • Baum, L. Frank (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages - 05/20/1996 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)
Little Women
  • May Alcott, Louisa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 280 Pages - 11/06/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Lewis, C. S. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 01/02/2008 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)
The Long Winter: A Newbery Honor Award Winner (Little House, 6)
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 04/08/2008 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)
Bridge to Terabithia
  • Captivating children's book
  • Jess Aaron's greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade
  • He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all
  • Paterson, Katherine (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Harry Potter Complete Book Series Special Edition Boxed Set
  • Brand New in box. The product ships with all relevant accessories
  • Rowling, J. K. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 4320 Pages - 08/27/2013 (Publication Date) - Arthur A. Levine Books (Publisher)
The Wind in the Willows (Illustrated by Nancy Barnhart)
  • Grahame, Kenneth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 134 Pages - 01/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Publishing (Publisher)
The Indian in the Cupboard
  • By Lynne Reid Banks
  • For ages 8-12
  • "A sky-high fantasy that will enthrall readers"--Publishers Weekly
  • Banks, Lynne Reid (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
The Borrowers (Borrowers, 1)
  • Norton, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 04/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Clarion Books (Publisher)
Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin
  • Shurtliff, Liesl (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 04/22/2014 (Publication Date) - Yearling (Publisher)