Poetry and creative writing thrive on sensory language. Sights, smells, tastes, touch and sounds are the pallet of word paintings. It’s imperative to introduce a child to the fun of converting their hyper-awareness of the sensory world around them into words. Here are some exercises that I use with college writing classes that are just as valid for younger students. With each of the following examples ask the student to:

 1. Give a written, objective description of the object or sensory experience. It might help to say, “Pretend to tell a friend what the object or sensation is like over the phone.”

  2. Ask for a written, subjective description. Some prompts…I like/hate this______. It reminds me of_____.

Note: I think it is very important early on in the educational process to establish a clear distinction between personal feelings or associations (subjective) and the reality of that object (objective). An educated person will not conflate subjective feeling with objective reality e.g. I hate broccoli. Broccoli is bad. I love dogs. Dogs are good.

Once we are clear on that distinction we can use subjective feelings and associations to form word-picture metaphors.   

 3. Optional. Use the subjective associations of a sensory experience to describe a situation or person. This is hard. This is the translation of feelings into similes and metaphors.

E.g. I was so scared my mouth wouldn’t work, like right after you bite into a green apple.

Uncle John’s voice was like walking on the gravel in our driveway.


Hold up an ordinary but fairly complex object that requires more than one or two words to describe. I use a Russian nesting doll in class. Then ask the student to go through steps 1,2,3.


Ask your student to close his/her eyes and listen to a simple sound e.g. a squeeze toy or a bouncing ball. Go through steps 1,2,3.


Ask your students to reach into a bag or covered container without looking in and touch the contents. Gravel is good or corn meal etc. Steps 1,2,3.


Pour a distinctive smelling liquid (lemon juice, vinegar, pine cleaner) onto a paper towel and ask your student to go through steps 1,2,3.


Mask the identity of a beverage and ask your student to go through 1,2,3.