School Improvement in Maryland
Reading/English Language Arts-Instructional Strategies
The following lesson plan is a sample of how selected indicators of the English Core Learning Goals may be used to direct instruction. This particular lesson focuses on composing to describe. Included are some of the Instructional Seeds listed in the Instructional Resource Manual for English Assessment 1, which is also available on this website. This lesson shows how these seeds may be developed into a plan for classroom instruction.

Because of the integrated and recursive nature of the English Core Learning Goals, many skills and processes are evident in this plan. The many indicators that are addressed are listed at the start of the lesson. Also included are Skills for Success indicators that are also addressed.

Teachers may use this lesson plan to guide them in developing their own plans with the resources available to them. If they have any questions, they may contact Gretchen Schultz, or by calling 410-767-4663 at the Maryland State Department of Education.

The student will…

2.1.2: …compose to describe, using prose and/or poetic forms.
2.1.3: …compose to express personal ideas, using prose and/or poetic forms.
2.2.1: …use a variety of pre-writing strategies to generate and develop ideas.
2.2.2: …select and organize ideas for specific audiences and purposes.
2.2.3: …revise texts for clarity, completeness, and effectiveness.
2.2.5: …use suitable traditional and electronic resources.
3.1.5: …incorporate subjects, predicates, and modifiers when composing original sentences.
3.3.1: …edit texts for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation using available resources.
3.3.2: …use available resources to correct and confirm editorial choices.
4.2.1: …assess the effectiveness of diction that reveals his or her purpose.

The student will…

SFS 2.1.2: …represent creative ideas in forms appropriate to purpose and situations.
SFS 2.2.2: …evaluate the relevance and usefulness of supporting information in ideas and issues.
SFS 2.3.4 …establish clear criteria for evaluating ideas, issues, or positions.
SFS 3.1.1: …identify appropriate means for delivering messages for a variety of purposes, audiences, and situations.
SFS 3.1.4: … use writing skills and strategies to construct written messages.
SFS 2.1.3: … test and evaluate creative ideas before adopting them.

Instructional Plans and Assessment

  • Line drawing
  • Variety of household objects (e.g. cork, battery, small light bulb, spool of thread)
  • Descriptive excerpts from texts
  • Chart paper and sentence strips
  • 4-5 SR items about rubric criteria
  • ECR
  • 6-point rubric
  • ECR Exemplars


Getting Acquainted with the Scoring Rubric

  1. Explain to the class that each student will be writing a description and that their writing will be scored using a six-point rubric. The activities they will be doing during this class will help them understand the criteria that will be used to score what they write.
  2. Divide the class into six groups. Give each group sentence strips on which are written the statements for one of the 6-point rubric's criteria.** For example, one group will be given all the statements about organization; another group will be given those about support and elaboration. One group should be given all the primary descriptor statements for each score level. Direct the groups to put the statements in order, from that which describes the most effective writing to the one that describes the least. (Note: At score levels 5 and 6 there are statements about word choice for which there are no counterparts in score levels 1-4.) Tell the students to be prepared to explain the differences among the statements and why they made the choices they did.
  3. Construct a large class rubric by posting all the statements for each score level together. It may be best to focus on one criterion at a time so that distinctions can be made among the different score levels. Each group should present and explain the statements and the order in which they have placed them.**
  4. Assessment: Students' explanations of the criteria statements will indicate their understanding and determine future instructional needs.

  5. Rearrange the groups so that one person from each of the original groups is in a new group (i.e. one from the group that looked at organization statements, one that looked at voice and tone, etc.).**
  6. Distribute to each student a set of scored (but not annotated) exemplars, one for each score level, and an intact 6-point rubric. Each of the six groups should be assigned one of the exemplars to analyze using the criteria of the rubric and to write a group paragraph that explains why the exemplar was scored as it was. Each group will then share these with the rest of the class.
  7. Assessment: To determine understanding thus far, use a short assessment of 4-5 selected response items about the rubric criteria. (See sample)

Getting Ready to Write

  1. Ask for a student volunteer. Give the student a line drawing that only s/he will see. Direct the student to describe the drawing to the students in the class so that they can draw it as s/he describes it. The students may only ask yes/no questions or for the repetition of a direction while the directions/descriptions are given. After the drawing has been described, students should survey what other students drew as well as the original.
  2. Ask the class, “What kind of information did ____ give you that helped you recreate the drawing s/he saw and described? What information didn't you need or confused you?”
  3. Solicit oral responses from students to this question: “When writers are composing to describe, what information or kinds of details do they include to help the reader?” Start a list of Characteristics of Descriptive Writing on chart paper.**
  4. Assessment: Student responses will indicate prior knowledge.

  5. Direct students to select a partner, and then give a common household object to each pair of students, a different one for each pair. Tell students that they are to write a descriptive paragraph of the object they have been given without naming the object. Remind them to think about and use any of the ideas listed on the chart paper.** After they have written their paragraphs, each pair should read their paragraph to the class. The other class members will determine what object each pair was given.
  6. Assessment: Descriptive paragraphs and student responses will indicate prior knowledge and drafting skills.

  7. Ask the class, "What kind of information did you include or hear other writers include in their descriptions?" Add these characteristics to the list begun in #3.
  8. Distribute two or three excerpts from texts. Remind students that authors always include description in their writing to help their readers hear and see the people and events. Ask them to read the excerpts to themselves and think about the people and events described in them. Can they see them in their minds as they read?
  9. After the students have read the excerpts, direct students to work with a partner** or alone and identify what each author included to describe the people and events so that their readers picture them. Remind students to refer to the chart of Characteristics of Descriptive Writing generated by the class thus far.
  10. Solicit from the class additional characteristics they identified in the literary excerpts. Students should also be asked to identify the words of the author that exemplify each characteristic. Add these characteristics to the chart.**
  11. Assessment: Student responses will indicate attention to details in the excerpts and application of understanding of the characteristics listed on chart. Some coaching may be needed to elicit desired responses.

  12. Homework assignment: A. Each student is to find a descriptive passage in a magazine, newspaper, or book, and identify any characteristics from the chart that are present in the passage. B. Each student is to record specific details about an important or significant object in his/her home in preparation for composing to describe in class the next day. Or, the student may choose to draw a detailed picture of the object in his/her home, a picture that will be used to help him/her write a description.**
  13. Assessment: Completion of assignment will indicate students' understanding of descriptive writing and determine instructional needs before they begin their writing assignment.


  1. Ask for two or three volunteers to read the descriptive passages they found as part of their homework assignment. After each reading, ask the other class members to identify the characteristics of descriptive writing present in the passage.
  2. Assessment: Student responses will determine need for review and readiness to compose.

  3. Distribute the assignment for composing to describe (see attached ECR sample). Review the assignment and the criteria of the 6-point rubric that will be used to score their writing. (It may be helpful to look again at some high scoring exemplars.)
  4. As students draft and compose, any of the following may be implemented:
  • Writers' Workshop: Peer collaboration for any step of the writing process **
  • Mini-lessons on observed grammar or mechanical problems **
  • Peer review **
  • Use of word processors for composing, revising, and editing **
  • Assessment: Prior assessment of students' writing will help determine what specific writing problems might be addressed in mini-lessons.

  1. Before students revise their drafts, some or all students may serve on editing teams. Each team would focus on one element of writing and be "experts" of that element. For example, one team may look for comma errors (those that have been taught), using a language handbook to confirm their recommendations. Another team may look for evidence of sensory details. Another may look at the overall organization of the writing. Highlighters could be used to indicate suggested revision points or to show evidence of criteria for which students are looking.**
  2. Assessment: Focused peer review and assessment will give some direction to students before they revise. **

  3. Scoring suggestion: After students have completed their composing, collect all papers and divide the class into scoring groups. Give each group a set of papers to read, score, and annotate as they did when analyzing exemplars.
  4. Assessment: Students' responses are scored with the 6-point rubric.

    Note: Participation in any of the activities listed in this mini-unit may earn the student a grade. Criteria for earning the grade should be made clear to the students in advance.**

Instructional Strategies