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Using Description in Non Fiction Writing

We often see description as a separate kind of writing to non-fiction, a distinction enshrined in most GCSE specifications. Yet, one of the biggest upgrades I think we can make to student non-fiction writing is to encourage them to include elements of description.

In my own teaching this translates to using a structure shape I call DPRN, as below, and where the ‘D’ means ‘descriptive hook’.

The aim of the descriptive hook is to create a character that will help students to convey their point of view without actually stating what it is. They invent a character that they feel will most emotionally and persuasively express what they think and to which they can then attach subsequent arguments.

When I introduce this to students I do so with a couple of ‘rules’:

1. The descriptive hook must include a character
2. We do not state what our point of view is but rather imply it
3. The character is doing something or something is happening to our character that helps to imply what our position is

We then have a go at brainstorming this kind of character for a given question. I ask them to be really specific. What is the character’s name? What do they look like? How old are they? What is happening to them? How do they feel? How do we want the reader or audience to feel? How does this help to express our point of view?

Here’s an example of a descriptive hook that I live modelled using a question about whether or not homework is useful. This was done using the ideas and examples that we first brainstormed together.

The great benefit of this is that it is designed to pack an emotional punch and to hook the reader in. I explain to my students that the great speakers (I use the example of Obama) do this all the time: they begin by telling the story of an individual and then wrap into this a wider point or conviction. This is, what I say, exactly what we’re doing and it’s a cornerstone of effective rhetoric.

However, it also serves a structural purpose since we can now refer to this character throughout our piece, threading the ideas it initiates as we move through our argument, as seen in the rest of this example.


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