Teaching creative writing by describing sensory perceptions

Mabindra Regmi

Introduction
One of the ways to really familiarize learners of  English (or any second or foreign language) is by describing what our senses perceive. Instead of mixing perceptions of all senses, each sensory perception can be divided into different exercise or activity so that the concentration is given to one of them at one time. Sight is the primary sense and easiest to describe, therefore the exercise should start here. Then the teacher can deal with the sound, smell, taste and touch. When the students have a relative comprehension and command over all the sensory perceptions, then exercises to integrate more or all of them can be carried out.

The Inspiration
My personal experience on teaching sensory perception by indulging students in one sense organ at a time dates back to my teaching days in Rato Bangla School. It was there that I found students writing about the smell of food being cooked at home during the festival season and how it made their mouth water. It was just a small assignment given by another teacher, but it opened up a whole vista of dedicating creative writing to describing sensory perception. As Macpherson, A and Stevens, A have compiled in their article, there are multiple intelligences and learning can be more effective if all these intelligences are integrated through various activities (Macpherson and Stevens. 2009). Senses definitely resulted in use of intelligences like visual, spatial, aural, etc. This inspiration led to an experimentation with interesting results.
The Experiment
In the winter months of 1995, when all schools were closed I decided to do some experimentations on describing senses. I had a few students living near to the place where I stayed who attended the school where I used to teach. They were from second, fifth and eighth standards.
I called these students everyday for about two weeks and we discussed about things that we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. In Copeland’s words “students learn to communicate and describe things through the five senses” (Copeland 2007) and I made it a point to have the students communicating within the peripherals of what our senses perceived. We discussed about various words that might be related while talking about such senses. We made a list of words as per the standard of the students and set about describing sensory perceptions.
I began with the sense of sight because I felt that would be the easiest one to describe. It was a simple task all they had to do was to describe what they saw. I asked them to use shapes and colours while describing.
Then we went onwards to the sense of hearing. I asked them to close their eyes and concentrate only on the sounds they could hear. It could be anything: a dog barking, the sound of the electric saw or even the wind whistling past. I asked them to write paragraphs where they could only make use of ‘sound’ words.
Then we went on to the sense of smell. For this I told them to describe the aroma that they could smell in their kitchen while their mother cooked the meal. It was done as a home work and I got fascinating results in the morning. Some descriptions were apt, but some were wildly imaginative. Nonetheless, I had made the students think on that line.
Now it was the sense of taste. Surprisingly I found it difficult to find many words to describe taste. And the students could fare no better. But still we trudged on. I had asked them to describe the taste of one thing that they liked best and one thing that they likes the least. In order to make the writing more comprehensive, I also asked them to integrate their feeling associated with the food items that they liked or disliked.
After that we went along similarly with the sense of touch. We began by simple sentences describing how objects around them felt. Then we went on to write paragraphs on describing the sense of touch.
The last component that I did with these students was to integrate all senses while describing people. It was an amusing and interesting exercise. They came up with all those funny adjectives for describing the smell and taste of people. When I look back now, I think that was a little too ridiculous thing to do: describing how people taste. I wonder how those children came up with the idea in the first place. They were logically supposed to omit that part and concentrate on sight, sound and smell. But I was inexperienced and they were young without any explicit directions.
The Outcome
The students started using more of other sensory perceptions apart from the sense of sight while describing from that moment onwards. Effective descriptive writing works well when it refers to things that relate to the senses such as sounds and sights (from Englishbiz).
I was impressed with the change in their writing and thought that this exercise may be an important aspect to be taught to the children.
The textbooks that we had did not integrate this aspect of describing sensory perception, so I made my own exercises and started carrying them out in the classrooms too. The changes that it brought about may not have been a significant one, but I feel that the children were aware of more than just sight when they were describing or answering about descriptions. I feel that my effort and inputs have been justified.

The Implications
I was away from teaching for many years after that and could not implement further exercises. And when I did start teaching, it was to the A level students and they were too advanced to discuss in detail about the sensory perceptions.
But nonetheless, I got an opportunity to co-compile a series of textbook for schoolchildren in Nepal. When I was writing the Step by Step series for Pragya Publication and Distributor, I included the exercises on sensory perception in the grade 5 coursebook.
Please refer to Annex 1 for the text included in the book.

The Activity
Both the teachers and learners can have effective activities that will have a positive impact in learning as well as provide the learners with more skilled aptitude for writing creatively.
An example of activity that can be followed is given in Annex 2.

Conclusion
There are some advantages of familiarizing students with reading and writing on sensory perception. First, they will isolate perception made by each sense and be able to distinguish between the descriptions on perception of each sense organ. Second, this exercise will form an interesting base for the students and will be able to describe perceptions made by each sense organ more comprehensibly. Third, The overall writing of students will be more comprehensive as they will start to integrate multiple perceptions in their descriptions. And finally, the students will familiarize themselves with vocabulary items associated with each sensory perception.

Annex 1
Sensory perception: Sight
When we talk about the things we see, we talk about the size, shape and colour of the object.
To describe the size we use words like big, small, tiny, huge fat, thin, and so on.
To describe the shape we use words like round, square, surly, straight, curved, and so on.
Of course you know about colours.
Let us describe this glass.
The glass I see is a small one. It is transparent. It is cylindrical in shape and it is hollow inside. The Bottom part is sealed and the top part is open. It looks a little greenish. It can be used to keep some liquid. it is generally used to serve tea.
Sensory perception: Sound
We hear many sounds all around us all the time. Some sounds are loud, some are soft. Some are sounds we like and some are sounds we don’t like. Here are some words that we can use to describe sounds.

loud, growl, rumble, roar, screech, squeak, soft, soothing, melodious, thud, bang, purr

Write a sentence for each of the word above to clarify who or what makes these kinds of sounds.
Read this small paragraph and circle all the words that describe sound.
As I am going to school from home, I can hear the murmur of people talking. Motorcycles pass me by roaring in the street. There is the soft tinkle of bells near the temple. The dogs are usually growling and barking at each other. When the wind blows, the trees are swooshing along with the wind. When the cars honk their horns, I hate that. I do love the soft music being played in people’s homes.
Write down ten sentences describing many sounds that you can hear when you go to the market. Use as many sounds words as possible.
Here are some sounds and what they made them. Can you match them?

moan, band, crash, patter, tinkle, thunder, drum, bell, rain, wind, dry, leaf

It is very noisy in the farm. Write down sound that each animal makes.

cow, chicken, cat, pig, donkey, dog

Sensory perception: Smell
We smell many things all around us. Some smells are pleasant while others are revolting. Let us look at these words which are related to smell.

pleasant, flowery, revolting, pungent, sweet, scent, aroma, stink, rotten, sniff, foul, perfume, whiff, odour

We can separate most of the words given above into good smell and bad smell. Make a table and separate the good and the bad smell. Are there some words remaining? What do you think they mean?
Read the text below and see how it talks about smell.
I like going to the kitchen. There is always a lingering smell of the good food my mum cooks for the whole family. There is mouth watering smell of fish being fried, especially when she cooks my favorite curry- cauliflower. The sweet perfume of freshly baked buns and the whiff of pulau when my mum takes off the lid simply drive me crazy.
Can you write a similar paragraph using words which indicate bad smell?
Sensory perception: Taste
We can mainly taste four different tastes.

sweet, sour, salty, bitter

But every food that we have has a mixture of different tastes that makes it unique. Even the thought of food that we like makes our mouth water.
Here are some words that can be used when we are talking about taste.

spicy, hot, tangy, sharp, bland, plain, weak, tasteless, tart, sugary, syrupy

Timur Golbhedako Achar
I love the taste of spicy pickle made from tomatoes and timur. The green chilies give it a hot taste and adding a pinch of salt will work wonder for my taste buds. The ‘timur’ makes the whole thing a little tangy and it excites by tongue and whole body. But the pickle has to be ground on a ‘silauto’ or a stone grind otherwise it won’t taste as good. Now, have a spoonful of this mixture with rice, daal and curry…yummy!
Write a similar piece on one food item that you really, really like.
Did you know…. .
that cats can not taste sweet things.
that flies taste with their paws.
that snakes smell with their tongue.
Sensory perception: Touch
Look at these words. They tell us about touch or about what we feel when we touch.

smooth, silky, rough, grainy, coarse, fine, metallic, glassy, leathery, furry, warm, cool, cold, hot, icy

Let’s divide the words into different boxes. In one box write down all the soft and comfortable touch words and in the other one put all the hard and uncomfortable touch words.
I got a teddy bear for my birthday. It is soft and cuddly. It has soft brown fur and it feels warm when I carry it. The eyes are also soft brown and glassy to touch. It has beads inside and I can feel the hard round objects from outside. I t also has a collar which is very silky and smooth. I love my teddy bear very much.
Write a paragraph describing an imaginary or real event when you first touched water under a fall. Describe how you felt using touch words.

Annex 2
Teaching Sensory perception: Taste

Student’s Copy
Exercise 1
Read the passage below carefully. Make a list of words that are related to taste. Match with the list of taste words that you have written. Do they match?
Timur Golbhedako Achar
I love the taste of spicy pickle made from tomatoes and timur. The green chilies give it a hot taste and adding a pinch of salt will work wonder for my taste buds. The ‘timur’ makes the whole thing a little tangy and it excites by tongue and whole body. But the pickle has to be ground on a ‘silauto’ or a stone grind otherwise it won’t taste as good. Now, have a spoonful of this mixture with rice, daal and curry…yummy!
Exercise 2
Here are some words that can be used when we are talking about taste.

spicy, hot, tangy, sharp, bland, plain, weak, tasteless, tart, sugary, syrupy

Divide the words into groups “I like” and “I don’t like”
Did you know…. .
that cats can not taste sweet things.
that flies taste with their paws.
that snakes smell with their tongue.

Teacher’s Copy

Sensory perception: Taste
Task A
Set Scene
Taste:
Talk about how you had a wonderful or a horrible meal recently
Use words related to taste and write few of them on the board
Ask the students to recall something really tasty that they had eaten
Ask them to prepare a list of taste words related to the food that they ate

Task B
Preteach vocabulary/prediction
Discuss and preteach the following vocabulary:
spicy tangy yummy
hot taste pinch of salt
Exercise 1
Exercise 2

Task C
Follow up
The students are to explain about a memorable eating experience that they really enjoyed. It can be in a restaurant, a relative’s house or at a party. They should include answers to the following questions.
What did they eat?
How did they like it?
What words can you use to describe the incredible taste?
The students can share with each other a memorable eating experience that they have had.

Task D
Homework idea
Write a similar piece on one food item that you really, really like.

References
Copeland, L. (2007). Creative Writing: Painting Pictures with Words. Journal of NELTA Vol. 1 2 No. 1 & 2 December 2007
Macpherson, A and Stevens, A. (2009) Multiple Ways to Motivate & Support Activity and Learning: An Introduction to the Imaginative use of Multiple Intelligences. Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Regmi, M and Sajnani M. (2009). Step By Step: Grade 5. Kathmandu, Nepal: Pragya Publication and Distributor.
Unknown Author. Englishbiz – Descriptive Writing

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