Primary: Writing Processes & Strategies, Vocabulary Secondary: Motivation for Literacy
1. Locate a suitcase
2. Choose items that are easy and interesting to describe (patterned, worn-out); one for each pair of students
3. Pack items into the suitcase
1. Place the closed suitcase in view of all of the students
2. Explain that this suitcase has been “lost”, and the class needs to get it back to the owner by making a “found” notice
a. Facilitate a discussion about how to describe the suitcase so that the owner will recognize it
• For example, “What if I just said that this is a lost bag filled with stuff? Would you
know it was yours?”
3. Have the class work together to describe the suitcase
a. Encourage and model precise and descriptive language
b. Discuss the different features the students could describe, for example: color, size, function, analogy
4. Open the suitcase and show students one item from the suitcase at a time
5. Put students into pairs and give each pair one of the items
6. Ask each pair to describe their item using as much detail as they can
7. If desired, have partners illustrate their written description with a labeled picture
8. Invite each pair to present their item, description, and picture to the class
9. Have a follow-up discussion on the benefits of descriptive language in writing
English Language Learners/ESL:
- Pair ELLs with native English language speakers - Encourage the use of bilingual dictionaries, where possible
LD/Reading & Writing Difficulties:
- Provide students with a list of descriptive words to help scaffold their written sentences
Cultural Appropriateness & Diversity:
- Include culturally diverse items in the suitcase that may particularly appeal to students in the classroom - Ensure that stereotypes of race, gender, ethnicity, culture and sexual orientation are not upheld when items are connected to possible owners
- Write instructions on the board - Provide students with personal, step-by-step instructions orally and in writing
Culham, R. (2005). 6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades. New York: Scholastic Inc.
Sloan, M.S. (1996). Encouraging young students to use interesting words in their writing. The Reading Teacher, 50, 268-269.
The goal of The Lost Suitcase: Creating a Purpose for Descriptive Writing is to develop students' ability to choose precise, descriptive words in writing by having them engage in a realistic opportunity to create a "found" notice for a lost suitcase.
What You Need
15 minutes - Locate a suitcase - Select items to put in a suitcase - Pack items in suitcase
45 minutes - Teacher explains lost suitcase activity - Class describes suitcase with teacher modeling - Teacher pairs students and distributes items - Students describe item in writing - Pairs present ideas to whole class - Class discusses importance of description in writing
Teacher: - Suitcase - Clothing, shoes, toiletries (One per pair of students)
Students: - Paper - Pencils - Drawing supplies
What You Do
Modeling: - during activity description
Facilitator: - when students are writing and presenting ideas
Whole class: - during activity description and partner presentations
Pairs: - during writing exercise
- Take note of the descriptive words used by each pair to describe their item, noting their quality and quantity
- Have students write descriptions of who they think the owner of the suitcase might be based on the items
- Show examples of real "lost and found" descriptions and have students analyze how helpful they are
- Extend the activity by encouraging students to dramatize the owner of the suitcase packing his or her items, reporting the suitcase and missing items to an airport staff, etc.
- You may wish to create a sample list of descriptive words that students can use to describe size, texture, smell, appearance, color, purpose, and so on.
a. You could add students' own words to this list at the end of the activity, and post the list in the classroom for reference. Accompanying it with pictures could be helpful!
- This same type of activity can be adapted in many ways, for example:
a. Have students create descriptive posters
about items in the school's lost and found.
b. Have students write descriptions of really
interesting movies they want to get their
friends to see with them.
- This activity is a great way to get students writing because it uses a real-world purpose and concrete materials to motivate them and support their thinking.
- Allow students who struggle with printing to use a computer to assist with the delivery of their ideas