Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

In the world that we live in, our five senses are constantly hard at work. We interact with the world through them. Without our five senses, we would all be living in a dull and dark world.

When teaching children to write better stories, utilising their five senses is just as important. However, I have noticed that getting children to describe something with their five senses is not as easy as we thought.

I believe it is because our senses are usually on autopilot mode. We use our senses without effort or much thought. How many of us would pause to think which senses are working when we are in a particular place or when we see a particular item? Most of us don’t.

It is the same with children.

Whenever we ask children to describe a place or a thing using their five senses, we are usually met with silence and blank stares.

Yet, in order to produce a good piece of descriptive writing, effort has to be made to use our five senses in our descriptions.

So, how can we make it easier for children to describe something using their five senses?

A good way is to get them to create lists. Make it a practice to create word lists of places or things using the five senses.


SIGHT: leaves falling gently from the trees, children running, playing at the playground, people jogging, people cycling, old folks practising Tai-Chi, old folks taking a leisurely stroll

SMELL: the smell of fresh air, the smell of morning dew, the fragrance of fresh flowers

SOUND: leaves rustling in the breeze, the gurgling of streams, the splashing of a fountain, a lone bird chirping, music from radios

TASTE: sweet, velvety ice cream

TOUCH: the breeze blowing gently at your face, the rough tree trunks, the dusty tracks, the sun shining on my skin

From this list, we can guide children to come up with descriptive sentences such as these:

The morning sun shone gently on my skin (TOUCH) as I entered Pasir Ris Park. Although it was still early, there were already people jogging and cycling (SIGHT). A group of old folks was practising Tai-Chi (SIGHT) and moving along with the slow music (SOUND). There was a gentle breeze blowing at me (TOUCH) as I strolled along the dusty tracks (TOUCH)Leaves rustled (SOUND) above me and a lone bird was chirping (SOUND) nearby. I took a deep breath. The smell of morning dew (SMELL) made me feel relaxed and at peace.


SIGHT: crispy brown skin, dripping juices, dripping oil

SMELL: fragrance, delightful aroma of Italian herbs, mouth-watering scent

SOUND: sizzling

TASTE: juicy, salty, delicious, hot and spicy, appetising, delectable, flavourful, savoury, delish, scrumptious

TOUCH: succulent and soft, piping hot

These are some sentences that we can form using the words and phrases from the above word list:

It was morning. As Thomas opened his eyes, he was greeted by a delightful aroma of Italian herbs (SMELL). “I know this smell!” exclaimed Thomas as he jumped out of bed. Dashing into the kitchen, Thomas saw his mother taking out a crispy-looking, juices-dripping (SIGHT) roasted chicken from the oven. Thomas could not wait to sink his teeth into the succulent and savoury meat (TASTE). His mouth watered. 

Although the aim is to describe using as many senses as possible, care should be taken not to sound awkward. Most of the time, using 2 to 3 senses from a word list is sufficient.

How to use the 5 senses in your writing?

An important point to note when using the 5 senses in your writing is, try not to use the ‘sense’ verbs in your descriptions.

Whenever we asked students to use their 5 senses to describe something, they usually come up with sentences such as,

I see many people strolling in the park.

I can hear the birds chirping.

I can smell the delicious aroma of fried chicken.

Notice that the above sentences contain the ‘sense’ verbs ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘smell‘?

Now, instead of writing ‘I see many people strolling in the park’, you can write ‘Many people were strolling in the park’.  Simply remove the ‘sense’ verb ‘I see…’.

Instead of writing ‘I hear the birds chirping’, you can write ‘Birds were chirping merrily’ by removing the ‘sense’ verb ‘I hear…’.

Instead of ‘I smell the delicious aroma of fried chicken’, remove the ‘I smell’ and rewrite it as ‘The aroma of fried chicken filled the air’.

Can children be taught to write like this?
With lots of guidance and feedback, they can!

The key to improving one’s writing is to write, get feedback and write again. That is what we do at the Writing Academy – providing constructive feedback on our students’ writing and helping them to improve their composition writing skills, one assignment at a time.