Assisting Student Writers To Establish A Sense of Setting

I have been encouraging three classes of Grade 5 writers to devote more attention to establishing setting in their writing. I explained how setting assisted readers to gain a sense of place for their characters. It assists the reader to see where the plot is unfolding  and where the struggle is taking place. The setting can be used in many ways in a piece of writing. 

A brief description of a place is an excellent way to set the scene at the beginning of a piece of writing. It gives the reader time to feel at home before moving into the real action,

I further urged these young writers to consider their senses when writing about settings.To enhance their sense of setting, I asked the students to think about a place with which they were familiar.The idea was for them to walk around the chosen setting in their minds. To visualize the elements of the setting is important in capturing the place they are charged with describing. 

Here are some examples of the writing they produced.

'I walk inside my lovely room. The first thing I see is my bed. It is very big. Queen sized in fact. The doona cover has pictures of the Eiffel tower, my absolute favourite place in the entire world. The sun’s setting, so the sky’s a bluey-purple and orange colour. My walls are partly pink. YUCK! One wall is light pink. Another is hot pink. At least the other two are plain. Unfortunately, my mum wouldn’t let me paint them.

The second you walk through the door, you almost crash into my little black desk. It’s easy to do if you’re not watching. It’s small, but usable. Next to the desk is a five shelf, brown bookcase. It’s filled with heaps of books and other junk.'

*Georgia not only paints a vibrant canvas with her words, the reader also gains a clear picture to her attitude to certain aspects of this familiar setting. There is a strong sense of voice in the writing. You get the sense that the writer is engaged in a conversation with the reader as she guides you through the room.

'The sun was setting. The sky was red and orange. I sat there in my seat staring out the window in such wonder. Why does the sky look so beautiful in the late afternoon? I felt like I could just fly up to the sky and lie down on a cloud as if it were a soft pillow. I could look at the beautiful colours of the sky my whole life.

Wherever we drive in the afternoon, I stare at the sunset. Sometimes, my mum and I not only look at the afternoon sky, but at night we also stare at the stars. I just love to feel the cold breeze while sitting on the grass at night with nothing else to do.'

*Nartasha includes internal thought in her piece. It's not just description of the physical world. The writer's attitude to her surroundings is clearly conveyed to the reader. This is a place she enjoys. She brings her Mum into the scene while continuing to create a sense of setting.

It’s a sunny day at the beach and we’re relaxing. The sand is as soft a big cat around you. We make sandcastles, go swimming and have fun. We watch out for crabs. It’s peaceful and quiet. It’s so quiet you can hear the birds humming, and the sound of the waves splashing onto the sand.

Christian has written a brief description that is rich in detail. I like the use of simile to describe the feel of the sand. I also enjoyed the way he unpacked the heavy sentence-'It's peaceful and quiet' in the follow up sentence.

I have asked students to continue to look for examples of strong description of setting in their reading. Collecting exemplars is a great way to practice reading like a writer. Unless we mindfully teach into this aspect of writing, young writers will give setting a cursory nod and charge on through the piece. They will give it the drive by treatment at best. We can assist them to be more aware that the setting is where big things happen for their characters. Establishing a sense of setting is a courtesy the writer extends to the reader.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I love that you included examples from your students and commentary about each.

  2. Thanks for the sharing of your students' work, terrific to see those words. And it is an important aspect of fiction or non-fiction, seating the story. Thanks, Alan.

  3. Once again, you share important information. Too often, the setting is vague. What wonderful examples you shared!


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