Describing: Beyond Adjectives
Many students have describing goals. Describing is the ability to provide details and specific information about a person, place, object, or concept. Descriptors allow a listener to create a mental picture of a shared idea. Descriptors help differentiate between different possible interpretations of an entity, e.g., for “dog”, “the small dog” versus “the big dog”.
Adding descriptors elaborates the noun phrase. A simple noun phrase is often a determiner (the, a/an) + a noun, such “the bear”. Adding adjectives before the noun provides information about the bear, e.g., “the big bear”, “the big, brown bear”, and “the big, brown, furry bear”. Notice the specific order of the adjectives of size/shape, color, and texture/composition. We wouldn’t say, “the furry, brown, big bear”. We can teach sequences of adjectives by asking a series of questions that replicate the expected order:
• What size is it?
• What color is it?
• What does it feel like? What is it made of?
Describing is more than adding adjectives. Interesting descriptors come after the noun, as post-noun modifiers. Adjectival phrases add information about characteristics or location. An adjectival phrase may be a prepositional phrase introduced with a preposition (in, on, at, with, by, etc.).
• Characteristics: “the kitten with the white paws”, “the shirt with the red stripes ”
• Location: “the kitten in the tree”, “the girl in my class”
Teach characteristics by asking about distinguishing traits and modeling adding detail into the sentence:
• What color is the cat? What color are the cat’s paws? That’s right, it’s an orange cat with white paws. I see the orange cat with white paws. The orange cat with white paws is cute.
Teach location with guided questions using locational prepositions and modeling adding location into the sentence:
• Where is the kitten? What is it next to? What is it on? Etc.
• “That's right, the kitten is in the tree. I see the kitten in the tree. The kitten in the tree is meowing!”
Relative clauses add details and increase clausal density (create sentences with more than one verb). A relative clause is introduced with a relative pronoun (that, who, which, etc.), e.g., “the boy who has a red shirt is next”. The relative clause, “who has a red shirt”, adds descriptive information within the simple sentence, “the boy is next”.
Teach relative clauses with a series of action pictures, guided questions, and modeling embedding of information:
• Where is he sitting? What is he doing? That’s right, he’s sitting at the table. He’s sitting at the table and he’s eating. The boy is sitting at the table and eating. The boy who is sitting at the table is eating.
• What is she doing? How is she feeling? That's right, she’s playing on the swings. She’s playing on the swings and she’s happy. The girl is playing on the swings and she’s happy. The girl who is playing on the swings is happy.
Elaborated noun phrases have more details and increased sentence length and complexity. They allow us to express more than one idea within a sentence and represent higher-level syntax (sentence form) skills.