Stress Free Writing Activity for Students Using Paintings

writing activity students

Objective: To write descriptively with no rules

Age: 5+              Time: 15-30 minutes (writing varies)               Grades: Kindergarten +


It’s time for no rules and less stress! This is an opportunity for children to write freely at any given moment. This activity can be instructed a number of ways. Children enjoy this strategy because there are no specific rules. As the children become more familiar and confident with writing strategies, you will be amazed at what they are able to produce in a short amount of time.

Lesson Plan

Free Writes: (can be used daily or weekly)

Note: Younger or more challenged children may need to dictate their responses until their written application improves.

  1. Use a pre-cut mat frame (or make one out of Construction paper or oak tag paper). There is no need decorate it. Keep the frame plain so as not to be too distracting when you use it. Laminating the frame is optional, but will be helpful to use throughout the academic year.
  2. Allow the children to observe a painting for a few minutes. This observation can be done by viewing it from afar, flat on the table, or on the computer.
  3. If the painting is flat on the table, place a frame on the painting to observe through. Encourage them to write only about what is inside the frame for 5-10 minutes. (timer optional) Don’t concern them with grammar or spelling.
  4. If the painting is observed from afar or on the computer (this may be common for virtual learning) students can place a frame in front of it, or place/lean frame on computer. Teacher direction may be necessary, but realize that it is most beneficial to focus on what is in the frame so the children can spotlight/ concentrate on their descriptive elements. Be creative!
  5. Writing/time will vary based on teacher direction and expectation.
  6. Students can sketch or color their painting in their journals with coloring and drawing supplies after their timed writing is complete. Free Writes can be ‘quick writes’ and a wonderful reinforcement to building confidence in descriptive writing.
  7. Share aloud as ‘quick reads’ and discuss the experience (see other ways to use this lesson)

writing activity painting education

Note: Leopard Painting inspired by a 10th grader. You can use children’s paintings as well for this activity.

Optional – DIY Writing Journal

This is a one-time activity and is optional to do before the lesson plan has started. 

  1. Create a Free Write journal using oak tag and/or construction paper. You may decide to sponge paint, color or stencil a cover. Allow the children to be as creative as possible.
  2. You will need free writes pages to attach as well. Include space for drawing and lines for writing. Lines can be added to back-side of journal page as well.


Remember, this strategy gives your students the experience of writing in a timed situation, thus, preparing them to quickly write and be comfortable responding to details and perhaps partial comprehension at a given moment. It’s just practice!

Depending on the skill you are reinforcing, this activity lends itself easily to assessing descriptive sentences, elaborative sentences, descriptive words and the use of adjectives, verbs and nouns. It can also reinforce paragraph writing and poetic elements as well. Be sure to inform your students about your expectations. Perhaps you can orally assess a particular skill by asking the children to tell you to name the verbs, or nouns and adjectives. Their written application will already be completed, therefore, you may want to assess for punctuation and mechanics/ grammar in a timed situation and record their growth over time. Try using the information to direct your free writes in the future. Another way to organize your anecdotal notes can be to create a skill chart and check off the skills that have been mastered or need more improvement. Remember, by keeping a writing journal, you will have an on-going progress assessment which will guide teacher direction as well. (See below Other Ways to Use This Lesson).

Other Ways to Use This Lesson

*Note: Time can vary depending on the age and ability. Children may benefit by writing for longer periods of time in the beginning and then increasingly less as they progress weekly.

Remember to allow the opportunity for your learners to write “visually”. This technique will work for concrete learners who may rely on writing about exactly what they ‘see’ and your more experienced/confident writers will extend their creative thinking beyond the picture and rely more on previous knowledge. Moreover, all learning styles will benefit from this visual approach to written expression. Additionally, try keeping a basket of photograph paintings, magazine pictures and posters, or calendar paintings in your classroom for the children to use at any given moment. Remember, this quick visual experience will easily enhance narrative, descriptive, expository, and poetic writing. Let them see the picture before they write. Train them early to ‘visualize’ and see the details. Guaranteed, your students will feel more confident as they progress with this approach.

Critical Thinking

Write a prediction about what happened before this painting or will happen next. Older children will enjoy this critical thinking extension. Perhaps you may choose to keep the painting (if a small copy) to be glued in their journals or you can save the paintings to be used another time and the children can illustrate the painting instead. Let them choose the art mediums and enjoy if you have the creative license and time available.

This lesson can focus on one skill at a time. Perhaps you are introducing descriptive sentences; allow the children to draw on previous knowledge from their reading, as well as be inspired by the pictures. Have the children try free writes, writing only descriptive sentences, every week, collect the journals and allow the class to share them aloud. More experienced writers will naturally write paragraphs, so let them.

Descriptive Words

You may want to have the children only write phrases or single words like verbs, nouns, or adjectives to describe what is in the picture. Keep an on-going chart or personal dictionary to record these words and use again for writing. You may want to extend this activity and list antonyms and synonyms to match these words as well. You can put these words on index cards and keep in a basket for kids to use and write their own sentences with. Be creative!

Allow the children to paint their own visual to enhance the subject or main character being taught. Place the frame on the painting or a portion of the painting and allocate time for the kids to write. They can write retells of a story or their favorite parts. Perhaps the children can be given a writing prompt about a specific painting instead. Remember, a timer is a super way to get the children familiar with timed mastery tests as well.

About the Author:

Kim WaltmireKim Waltmire is a state and national award-winning educator. She holds an honorary seat with the 2006 USA Today All-Star Teacher team. Kim is a graduate from CCSU with a Masters in Early Childhood Education. She published a writing & literacy book; Picturesque Writing, now self-published as The Art of Visual Writing for elementary teachers K-5. Kim also published a Read-Along Series for primary grades, coupled with spelling, grammar, science and social studies lessons for k-12 with a home-school company. Her writing and Project Based Learning strategies were recognized and published in the Creative Classroom Teacher’s magazine; May/June 1998 issue. She was recognized for her educational contributions and Project Based Learning by Oprah Winfrey, interviewed on CNN, Fox News, and honored by the CT State Governor several times. Kim has taught elementary school for 28 years and presently an Educational Literacy Consultant. Kim’s passion is teaching writing literacy for all learning styles.

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