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Describe is a common exam question and skills that needs to be demonstrated in English. The examiner is testing your knowledge and wants you to write what you know about a topic. You DO NOT need to explain or say why. 





Describe part 1: Using Adjectives and Adverbs

Using adjectives and adverbs are very important if you want to describe effectively as the marks available for this type of writing are almost all awarded for detailed, tangible description.  When you use a noun or verb in your sentence, ask yourself if you can include an adjective or adverb that stands out before or after it. Your descriptive writing will improve straight away.



“The sun shone down on the heads of the children and the waves washed up on the sand.”


“The scorching sun shone fiercely down on the shining heads of the exuberant children and the sparkling waves washed up merrily on the sugar-soft sand.”







Describe part 2: Using Metaphors and Similies

Demonstrating your ability to use metaphors and similes is something examiners will look for in an exam, not only at GCSE but at all academic levels.  Make sure you understand the difference between the two;


metaphor describes something by suggesting it is something else: 



 “The sea was a glimmering mirror”



Whilst a simile compares something to another object:



“The waves roared like a hungry dragon”






Describe part 3: The Five senses

One of the biggest mistakes made when it comes to describing is when you forget the other senses and only describe what you can see. You will get higher marks if you can remember to include details about smells, sounds, feelings and tastes too! 





“The sand felt cold and the water tasted salty”


“The wet sand squelched coldly between my toes and the sharp tang of the salty water stung the back of my throat, taking my breath away.”





“Charlie smelled the chile and coughed.”


“Charlie leaned over the pot and breathed in deeply through. He recoiled away, the hot spices tickling his nose and throwing him into a coughing fit.”



How to describe 


Question: Look in detail at this extract, from lines 6 to 14 of the source:       (Extract in question paper)
How does the writer use language here to describe Rosabel’s bus journey home?

You could include the writer’s choice of:

Words and phrases/language features/ and techniques sentence forms (8m)



Mark scheme Level 1 response

The writer says the jewellers’ shops were ‘fairy palaces’ and the word ‘fairy’ makes it sound like something out of a fairy story.
Inside the bus the people have ‘one meaningless, staring face’ so the looks on their faces don’t mean anything.


Mark scheme Level 2 response

The writer describes the jewellers’ shops that Rosabel can see through the wet bus window as ‘fairy palaces’. This image shows the shops are sparkling in the light and look pretty. Inside the bus is different, because the people sitting opposite her have ‘one
meaningless, staring face’. This is a metaphor to tell us that all the passengers look the same and seem really bored as they travel home.


Mark scheme Level 3 response

The writer uses positive language to describe the view from the bus on Rosabel’s journey home. The jewellers’ shops are ‘fairy
palaces’, an image to suggest that the light shining on the steamed-up bus windows makes the buildings sparkle and appear
dream-like and magical to Rosabel. However, negative language is then used to portray the stuffy atmosphere inside the bus. She says the people ‘seemed to resolve into one meaningless, staring face’, a metaphor to imply that everyone looks alike and blurs into one dull, ordinary group going about their pointless, everyday lives. In this way, the writer’s use of language contrasts Rosabel’s imaginary world outside the bus with what her life is really like.


Mark scheme Level 4 response

The writer employs very different language to describe the view from the bus and the claustrophobic, mundane atmosphere within it. As the light catches the misty window panes, jewellers’ shops are transformed into ‘fairy palaces’ for Rosabel. Metaphorically, these shops symbolise a dream-like fantasy world full of sparkle, magic and enchantment, a world that is completely unobtainable for a lower class shop girl like her. However, the passengers inside the bus are described collectively as ‘one meaningless, staring face’, suggesting their features are indistinguishable: they have blurred into a single anonymous being that personifies the hollow, pointless existence that seems to be their lives. In the bus journey home, the writer’s use of language contrasts the outside world of Rosabel’s hopes and dreams with the inside reality of her life.







Question: Look in detail at this extract, lines 5 to 15 of the source.     (Extract in question paper)
How does the writer use language here to describe the boy playing in the evening?   

You could include the writer’s choice of:
• words and phrases           • language features and techniques    • sentence forms     (8m)



Mark scheme Level 1 response 

The writer describes the boy playing with the broken glass using interesting words like ‘shattered’. We are told all of the things he does when he is playing, like ‘making houses’ and ‘balancing roofs on them’. This gives us a very vivid picture.


Mark scheme Level 2 response

The writer uses similes ‘like shattered marbles’ and ‘like a tall thin man’ to describe the boy playing his game of an imaginary world. She makes the boy sound really careful and precise by using lots of action words like ‘making houses, balancing roofs on them, building towers’ to show how interested the boy was in his game.


Mark scheme Level 3 response

The writer uses verbs to emphasise how the boy is able to use his imagination to create a make-believe world, ‘making houses, balancing roofs on them, building towers’. The list more strongly suggests the boy’s sense of power as he enjoys playing his game at first, where ‘at the top of the mound he was in charge’. The writer then develops a simile by describing the lamppost as ‘looking like a tall thin man’. The simile implies a link in the boy’s imagination between a tall and thin lamppost and a man that in the dusky light could also appear tall and towering over him. As such, it
introduces a darker, more sinister side to his game.


Mark scheme Level 4 response

The writer lists three consecutive verbs in order to emphasise how the boy is the creator of his make-believe world, ‘making houses, balancing roofs on them, building towers’. The present participles capture the boy’s sense of power ‘where he is in charge’ in that it helps the reader to visualise him in the continuous act of ‘making’ and ‘building’. It reinforces his energy and shows how he is captivated by his game at this point. In then introducing a simile by describing the lamppost as ‘looking like a tall thin man’ the writer prepares us for a change in mood. The simile can
be interpreted at two levels. In the physical world where he is playing on the mound, it can simply imply a link between a tall and thin lamppost
and a man that in the dusky light could also appear tall and to tower over him in an imposing way. On another level though, it cleverly blurs
the boundary between his game and the possibly sinister repercussions of it. Does he just imagine the lamppost as a man, or does the lamppost come to life as a real man? The use of a further simile adds to this effect as we are told the glass fragments are like ‘shattered marbles’. Here the sibilant ‘s’ sounds recreate the breaking of glass, giving the impression of a broken game, something ruined, perhaps again foreshadowing the
boy’s fear as his game develops.


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