Describe your whereabouts on the evening of the 18th.
Okay, this isn’t CSI, and you’re not under investigation, so this isn’t the type of description we’ll be learning about in this post.
Describe your summer vacation.
You’re not in third grade, either so no one is going to ask you to write a paper describing your family’s summer vacation (I hope!).
Write a 750 word essay describing a place, an object, an experience, or a process. Be creative!
Now this sounds like something you might be asked to write. Describing something sounds easy enough, right? But there are guidelines you should follow when writing a descriptive essay.
Being creative and descriptive can sometimes be a challenge. I’m sure you don’t want to write the seventh incarnation of your summer vacation essay, but you might be struggling to think of something a bit more original.
If you’re feeling less than creative and need some inspiration, then you’ve found the right place, as this post includes 20 fascinating and unusual descriptive essay topics.
Writing a Descriptive Essay: What You Need to Know
Yes, you’ll need to include descriptions in a descriptive essay, but there’s more to it than that.
Here are three key points should know before you write your paper.
Know why you’re writing the essay
Like any assignment, a descriptive essay has a specific purpose.
Is your purpose to simply describe something, or are you supposed include your feelings and comments about something? Not sure how to include either of these? Read more about objective and subjective description.
Know what details to include
Description is obviously important in a descriptive essay but don’t include details simply for the sake of including them. These unnecessary details slow down your writing and bog down your readers.
Here’s an example that includes too many unnecessary details.
I walked up the three steps on my front porch, put my key in my newly painted front door, and opened it casually. My jaw dropped to the floor when I opened the door. Eight of my best friends were packed tightly like sardines in the corner, each holding colorful Happy Birthday signs. They jumped out and yelled “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” as I walked in the room.
This paragraph provides too many irrelevant details. Do readers really need to know how many steps are on your front porch, or do they need to know your door was freshly painted? Of course not. These details aren’t important to your description of this event, so leave them out.
Warning: Avoid cliches! Expressions, such as “my jaw dropped to the floor” and “packed like sardines” are overused and not original or creative.
Know (and use) your senses
No, this doesn’t refer to common sense (though I do recommend you always use common sense). Here, senses literally refers to your 5 senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.
It’s easy to include sight in description, but don’t forget the other senses. Including the other senses creates more vivid imagery. It will bring your descriptions to life and help your readers imagine what you’re describing.
Think about describing a bakery. Through your description, you can show readers an image of the physical space and describe the donuts, but if you can capture the sweet aroma of baked goods wafting through the air, you’ll create a much more effective description.
Now that you’re hungry for donuts, and now that you have a better understanding of how to write a descriptive essay, the fact remains that you still need something to write about.
Here are 20 topics to help spark your creativity.
20 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics
Remember, you want to avoid topics that you’ve written about since the third grade and boring topics that are too obvious.
Try one of these topics, instead!
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Places
Sure, you could describe your bedroom, your dorm room, or even a classroom, but that’s not very original, so write about something a little more unusual, like one of these 5 places.
- A construction site: Think of the sounds of machinery and smells of construction materials. You might even be able to describe conversations between workers.
- A waiting room: Consider the mood of the room and how people interact. How do strangers interact when placed in a quiet room together?
- A gas station restroom: I hate to ask, but is it possible to describe how this room might smell?
- A cemetery at dusk: The time of year, the weather, and the light will be important in your description of a cemetery. Is the mood somber or creepy?
- A line at an amusement park ride: Think about how the temperature and the length of the line might play an important role in your description. Does a 90 degree day and a 30 minute wait change the mood of the people in line?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Objects
Your first thought might be to describe your television, your couch, or anything else immediately in front of you, but really, how fascinating can a couch be? Why not write about something a bit more interesting, like one of these topics.
- The contents of your purse or wallet: Describe what the items look like, but also describe their importance or significance. Do you carry any sentimental items?
- A painting or picture: Describe the subject of the painting or photograph. Do the background images have any significance? What is the history behind the painting or picture?
- Your favorite toy from childhood: Can you describe to readers why the toy was your favorite? What is the toy made of? Is it soft and cuddly or made of plastic or steel?
- The street in front of your home: Paint a clear picture for your readers by describing the street itself, what surrounds the street, and who uses the street? What noises are associated with the street? Are there any distinctive smells or sights?
- A tattoo: Colors, lines, and concept will play an important role in describing a tattoo. If known, you might also include a description of the tattoo’s meaning.
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Experiences
You’ve likely graduated from kindergarten, middle school, and maybe even high school. You might be tempted to write about this experience, but unless it was truly unique, consider skipping those boring ideas and go with a more unusual topic like one of the five listed here.
- A frightening, funny, or embarrassing subway ride: Describe how frightened you were when you were trapped in a dark subway car for hours. Perhaps describe how embarrassed you felt when you broke the heel of your shoe running to catch the train. Or, describe how a subway performer changed your day.
- Feeling alone in a room–not knowing anyone at the party, in a new school, or in a class: Think about the emotions you felt. How can you describe this to others so they, too, feel how you felt in that instant? Did the shape of the room or placement of the people contribute to your feelings?
- A visit to an emergency room: Describe the sounds of doctors, patients, and medical devices to your readers. Describe your thoughts and feelings. Consider how you might describe the chaos or calm in the ER at any given time.
- Getting lost in a strange new place (a city or even on your campus): Combine the panic you might feel along with a clear description of the sights and sounds around you to help readers understand your emotions and see your surroundings.
- Meeting up with a long-lost friend (or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend): Consider how you might describe the person. Does he or she look different than when you last met? How did you feel when you first saw your friend or ex? Does the place where you met play a role in your description?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Processes
Yes, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be considered a process, but these types of how-to processes read more like directions, rather than a description of a process. Choose a topic (like one listed below) that allows for more discussion and description.
- How to survive your first year of college: Think about all of your experiences and try to narrow them down to a few key points that college students must know in order to survive. You might describe the best ways to study, how to meet new people, how to avoid feeling homesick, or even how to avoid the freshman 15.
- How to train for a marathon: This description not only involves the physical aspect, but also involves the mental aspects of training. Describe how you feel during each.
- How to study for an exam: Describe a few important study strategies. Consider how you learn best and how you might help others follow your same techniques.
- How to break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend: Is it ever okay to break up on Facebook, Twitter, or via text? What should you say to your soon-to-be ex?
- How to protect your privacy online: Describe a few key steps anyone can use to protect his or her privacy. Look for simple, low-cost solutions anyone can try.
From Descriptive Topic to Descriptive Essay
After you’ve chosen from the many possible descriptive essay topics for your paper, remember: know why you’re writing the essay, know what details to include, and use your 5 senses.
With these three tips in mind, it will be easy to turn your fascinating and unusual topic into a superb essay.
If you’re looking for extra help turning descriptive essay topics into an essay, here are a few resources to set you on the right path.
For help with basic essay structure, read How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay Outline.
Read more tips on structuring your descriptive essay here.
Do you remember when teachers told you to show, not tell? They’re right! Click here to learn more about using this strategy in your own descriptive essay.
If you’ve written a killer descriptive essay but just can’t decide how to end it, read 12 Essay Conclusion Examples to Help You Finish Strong and How to Write a Killer Essay Conclusion.
When you’ve finished your essay, don’t forget to have one of our editors review your paper.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
“Descriptive writing is an art form. It’s painting a word picture so that the reader ‘sees’ exactly what you are describing.”
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What’s the big deal about writing descriptively? For one thing, it’s much more than page-filling fluff. Descriptive writing imprints images into the reader’s mind, making you feel as though you’re “right there.” It‘s all about engaging the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to transport the reader and stir emotion. By choosing vivid details and colorful words, good writers bring objects, people, places, and events to life. Instead of merely telling you what they see, they use their words to show you.
Writers use this powerful method to make their pieces memorable—even brilliant—rather than dry and boring. In many ways, description is the most important kind of writing you can teach your children. Why? Because it supports other reasons for writing such as storytelling, informative reports, or persuasion.
Even if your child never aspires to write stories or poetry, description is a wonderful skill to develop. Without it, all other writing falls flat.
Describing a Place
Vivid writing is especially important when describing a place — whether to describe a vista for a travel guide or flesh out a scene in a novel.
Master storyteller Charles Dickens was also a master of using description to create a mood.
It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. ~Charles Dickens, Hard Times
But your child doesn’t have to be a Dickens to add color, depth, and interest to his writing. Here, a ninth grader draws on all five senses to describe a place and create a mood.
Moist and salty, a chilly breeze blows in across the swells, bringing with it the pungent smells of seaweed and fish and making me pull my jacket a little closer. Sea spray transforms into fiery prisms as the waves splash against the shore, catch the last golden rays of sun, and toss them up like liquid crystals.
With a few tips and tools, your child can effectively describe a place too.
Suppose he’s planning to write about a desert. He’ll need to describe basic desert features, of course: sand, rock, hills, and dunes. But deserts aren’t all alike, so his word choices will need to reflect the kind of desert he wants to write about. For example, if he chooses a desert in the southwestern United States, he’ll probably describe plants such as sagebrush, Joshua trees, yuccas, or saguaro cacti.
But if he’s writing about an oasis in the Sahara Desert, where vegetation is much different, he would instead describe date palms, oleanders, acacia trees, succulents, and desert grasses. His description of either desert scene will spring to life as he tells about these places using rich and appropriate details.
Finding Vocabulary for Describing a Place
How do you help your child study his subject and choose strong words that make his writing sparkle? Whether he decides to write about a desert, city, rain forest, or pond, these ideas will help him find words that will form the foundation of his descriptive piece, narrative story, or report.
Using a Search Engine
Search engines such as Google make a great resource for inspiration. In addition to collecting general terms about the location’s flora and fauna (the desert, for example), he’ll also find concrete, specific nouns and adjectives that add color to his writing. Suggest that he begin his search by looking up terms like these:
- desert landscape
- desert features
- desert climate
- desert plants
- desert animals
- desert description
What if your child wants to describe a city instead of a desert? City words are trickier to find, and he may have to hunt more. Try some of these search terms:
- describe city sights
- describe Chicago, describe Pittsburgh, etc.
- “describe downtown” (use quotes)
Using Other Sources
While search engines can lead you to a wealth of information, don’t discount the value of print media such as magazines and books. Also consider digital media such as TV documentaries or DVDs about the subject.
When describing a place, visit in person, if possible. But if not, can you explore a spot with similar features? Many children are visual and tactile learners. If your child wants to describe what a sidewalk looks like, how about taking him outside to explore the sidewalk on your street? It will help him describe the texture, color, and appearance of a city sidewalk, even if you live in a suburb.
As your child searches the Internet, ask him to keep an eye out for adjectives that describe desert or city features (or whatever place he wants to write about). Encourage him to come up with words on his own, but also to watch for words he meets in articles or photo captions.
If he doesn’t understand some of the words, pull out the dictionary and make it a teaching moment! And show him how to use a thesaurus (we love The Synonym Finder[aff]) to find other words that say the same thing. Both of these exercises will help his vocabulary to grow.
Some Desert Adjectives
Desert:harsh, dry, arid, sparse, severe, hot
Rock:sharp, rough, jagged, angular
Grasses:windblown, bent, dry, pale green, brown
Sand:coarse, fine, glittering, shifting, rippling, sifting, white, golden
Sky:pale, intense, cloudless, azure, purple, crimson
Cactus:tall, short, squatty, spiny, prickly, thorny
Date palm:tall, bent, leather (leaves), frayed (leaves)
Some City Adjectives
City:active, bustling, noisy, busy, clean, dirty, windy
Traffic:loud, congested, snarled
Buildings:old, shabby, rundown, crumbling, modern, futuristic, sleek, towering, squat
Buildings (walls):brick, stone, marble, glass, steel, graffiti-covered
Monuments, statues:stone, copper, carved, ancient, moss-covered, faded, green, bronze
Sidewalk:concrete, cement, slick, cracked, tidy, littered, swept
Paint:fresh, weathered, peeling
Signs:neon, weathered, worn, bright, welcoming, flashing
Buses, cars, taxis:belching, crawling, speeding, honking, waiting, screeching
People:hurried, bundled, smiling, frowning, eager, rushed
Use these suggestions to encourage your child come up with ideas for describing a place of his own. You’ll both discover that hunting for words can become a favorite pre-writing game! And as your child dabbles more and more in descriptive writing, I’m confident his words will soon begin to “show” more and “tell” less.
. . . . .
Do you struggle with teaching and grading writing? Does your child’s writing need a boost? Consider adding WriteShop to your curriculum choices for this school year!
The first seven lessons of WriteShop I specifically teach your teen descriptive writing. This important skill is then practiced in the remaining informative and narrative writing lessons. In addition, WriteShop teaches—and offers practice in using—a wide array of sentence variations that help to enhance a student’s paper with fresh style and vigor. When combined with strong, dynamic word choices, sentence variations give dull writing new life.
For younger children, WriteShop Primary introduces K-3rd graders to activities that widen their writing vocabulary. Book C contains three specific descriptive writing lessons. WriteShop Junior, for upper elementary, also provides many opportunities for students to incorporate description.
Learn more here.
Photos: Alice, Dietmar Temps, & Phillip Capper, courtesy of Creative Commons