Descriptive essay about a sporting event
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Overview | How can sports writing serve as a model for descriptive pieces of any kind? How can descriptive language capture and even recreate the energy of a lived experience? In this lesson, students analyze a sports story for descriptive language and then use it as a writing model.
Materials | Writing materials
Warm-up | Write the following sentence on the board, using the name of a school team or a local or favorite sports team for the first blank, and the name of that team’s rival in the second blank:
The ___________ won the game against the ____________.
Ask: How might a sports reporter present the same information – about who won and lost the game – in a more interesting way? Put students in pairs and have them brainstorm a list of as many different ways as they can think of to rewrite this sentence with verbs, adjectives, adverbs, nouns and descriptive phrases. Have pairs read out some of their best descriptions and write them on the board. Then invite students to nominate a description as the best one, and why.
For an extended warm up, students might scan The New York Times Sports section and write down all of the words they can find that impart the idea of a team “winning” and “losing” to add to their list.
Ask: Why might you read a newspaper article about a game, whether or not you saw it? What do sports writers describe and explain that might add to the experience of having watched a game? How can a sports article capture the experience of seeing a game and convey it to someone who did not watch it?
Related | The New York Giants beat their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, 31-24 on Sunday. The article “After Long Return, Giants Back in Running” describes the game and what it means for the Giants:
The football, this game and maybe even an entire Giants season settled in Domenik Hixon’s hands as he fielded the booming Dallas punt at his team’s 21.
This was late in the fourth quarter Sunday, and the Giants held a fragile 7-point lead against a bitter rival. After losing five of their previous six games, would the Giants squander another?
Hixon seemed surrounded by Cowboys, and his attempt to run up the left side failed. He ducked and stumbled and seemed about to go down. Then, suddenly, he shifted direction and picked up speed as he raced to the right.
His blockers reacted, fanning out like a flock of birds, and the fans jumped to their feet. All of a sudden, the big green field opened up before him along with all sorts of possibilities for this perplexing team.
Read the entire article with your class using the questions below. (Alternatively, replace this article with another descriptive sports article from The Times.) Direct students to highlight descriptive words and phrases as they read. If they need more direction, you may want to review such terms as sensory language and figurative language (including metaphor, simile and analogy) along with the parts of speech.
Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:
- How do the first two paragraphs work to build suspense?
- Why do you think the Giants victory is described as “exquisite”?
- How do the quotations from players help to add energy to the article?
- How does the sportswriter pick up and extend the Ferrari analogy that one of the players uses?
- What are your five favorite examples of descriptive language in this article? Why?
- Does this article capture the excitement of the football game? Why or why not?
Activity | Have students choose an additional article from The New York Times’s sports section that reports on a game. Have them use the handout Play-by-Play Sports Descriptions (PDF) to create a “Mad Libs”-style fill-in for a partner based on their choice of descriptive sentence from the article. (Teacher directions for this activity are here.)
Or, instead, have students use our Phillies Fill-In (created before the 2009 World Series) and have them complete the exercise with or without the word bank. Provide students with dictionaries and thesauruses to consult as needed.
After they finish the activity, reconvene the class and ask: How did changing the words and phrases in the original article change its meaning and tone? What did this activity reveal about the choices that the sportswriters made? Which of the original descriptive words and phrases were particularly striking to you, and why?
Next, ask: What ideas and techniques have you learned from the vivid writing in sports reporting that might be applied to any kind of descriptive writing? List their responses on the board. Prompt students to think about how to describe people, places and actions as well as inanimate objects. Ask: What approaches work for any type of description? What writing techniques are particularly useful for capturing an interaction, event or experience?
Then ask students what events they have recently participated in or witnessed that could be described with some of the same kinds of vivid language used in sports reporting. Have them make individual lists, or brainstorm as a class; activities might include school athletic events, theatrical performances, concerts, recent trips, or events that happened in class, in the cafeteria, after school or anywhere else.
Students should select one subject from the brainstorm and create a word web of related words and phrases. Then, they use the handout Getting in the Game: Descriptive Writing (PDF) to craft a descriptive paragraph or two that brings this event to life using some of the lessons they have learned from sports reporting.
Going further | Students switch paragraphs and find their favorite descriptive sentence in their partners’ descriptions. Then “whip” around the room and have everyone read one of these sentences aloud. Discuss the writing strategies used in these sentences and why they worked.
Alternately or additionally, invite students to create a “Mad-Libs”-style game from their own writing, similar to what they did in the warm-up activity. Once their descriptive writing piece is complete, students should rewrite the piece, leaving blanks where descriptive language appears, and trade with a partner to complete the blanks with their own descriptive language. Finally, have the class discuss how doing this activity highlights the writers’ original choices and the effect that the descriptions have and why.
Standards | From McREL, for grades 6-12:
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.