I know young children are fascinated by dinosaurs. But I’m willing to bet that slightly older students—especially those who want to write well—will be equally excited about Alison Wilcox’s Descriptosaurus. Wilcox describes Descriptosaurus as a “thematic expansion of a dictionary and thesaurus.” It is a resource designed to help students aged 8-14 expand their descriptive vocabulary and experiment with language based on settings, characters, and creatures.
The basic Descriptosaurus is a hardback book divided into three sections, then subdivided thematically to allow young authors to find just the options they are seeking, For example, in the Settings section there are subsections for Landscapes, Settlements, and Atmosphere. Each of those is further divided. If I wanted to describe a foggy day, I could easily turn to the page on “Rain, mist and fog” to find related words, phrases, and sentences. Do I want my fog to be icy, damp, or swirling? Is it brooding or a blanket of grey mist? Did it drift up from the soggy soil or perhaps descend from a mountain? Sample sentences made me think of fog in still more varied ways. Students are cautioned not to use sentences directly from the book but as models for the many ways sentences can be constructed. Click on the Amazon link above, then on the “Look Inside” option to help envision what’s available. It’s hard to describe (yes, I recognize that’s ironic!)
Descriptosaurus also contains a myriad of suggestions and activities for teachers or parents to use in teaching descriptive vocabulary. Many of these are contained in an associated CD, but also available online. A few years ago the British National Literacy Trust partnered with the Descriptosaurus folks in a Descriptosaurus Writing Challenge. The contest is closed but many of the resources are still available online. Be sure to download the version with Appendices as it is a treasure trove of activities.
Beyond the basic book available, smaller specialized versions of Descriptosaurus are available. Descriptosaurus Ghost Stories is full of vocabulary and strategies for creating a spooky atmosphere and building suspense. Similar specialized resources are available for writing action and adventures or myths and legends.
While learning activities may be suitable for particular grade levels, age limits don’t really matter for Descriptosaurus. For anyone who enjoys writing or telling stories, these resources are a delight. They make me want to run out and write something, just for the fun of playing with the language. But perhaps they are even more of a treasure for reluctant writers or anyone who has ever faced a blank piece of paper with no idea where to start. I wish I’d had Descriptosaurus long ago. I suspect some of you may one day feel the same!