Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries
The Arts of India, 1556-1658
June 23 - July 1, 2008
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Unit of Study:            English for Speakers of Other Languages

Lesson Title:             Descriptive Writing

Discipline:                 English for Speakers of Other Languages, Intermediate Level

Grade Level:             9th – 11th Grades

Author:                      Laurie A. Hortie

County:                      Prince George’s County, MD

Time Period:              Seven 90-minute class periods



This lesson focuses on descriptive writing of architectural structures, yet requires students to create their own architectural model to describe.  Students will use the forms and designs found in the Mughal Empire style of architecture, or they may elect to use forms and designs found in another culture/time period.  Once they have completed their structures, they will then write a short composition describing their unique piece of architecture.


Prior to this unit, students will have completed several descriptive writing activities based on a description of the Taj Mahal that is included in our composition text.  The reading and subsequent activities focused on descriptive writing and included specialized vocabulary, useful adjectives, and the concept of spatial order.


Composition Practice, Book 3 by Blanton; Taj Mahal by Arnold & Comora; Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums  from the Chester Beatty Library; PowerPoint Presentation “Mughal Architecture: Details in Design”; video visualizer/overhead projector, small and medium paperboard boxes of all shapes, flat white paint, paint brushes, markers (fine point), pencils, tracing paper, colored pencils, hot glue guns, scissors, clothes pins, rulers, water, paper towels.


Arnold, Caroline & Comora, Madeline – Taj Mahal

Blanton, Linda Lonon - Composition Practice, Book 3, 3rd ed.

Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library or website for Muraqqa images: (search for Mughal Akbar)

Standards/Learner Outcomes:

Fine Arts Standards – Voluntary State Curriculum

Visual Arts Goal 2 – Historical, cultural, and Social Context: Students will demonstrate an understanding of visual arts as a basic aspect of history and human experience.

Visual Arts Goal 3 – Creative Expression and Production:  Students will demonstrate the ability to organize knowledge and ideas for expression in the production of art.

Content Standards – Prince George’s County

English Core Learning Goal 2 - Composing in a Variety of Modes: The student will demonstrate the ability to compose in a variety of modes by developing content, employing specific forms, and selecting language appropriate for a particular audience and purpose.

English Core Learning Goal 3 - Controlling Language: The student will demonstrate the ability to control language by applying the conventions of standard English in writing and speaking.


Fine Arts Objectives – the student will differentiate among works by artists representative of different times and cultures; the student will create images and forms from observation, memory and imagination.

Content Objectives - The student will compose to describe, using prose and/or poetic forms; the student will compose texts using the pre-writing, drafting, and revision strategies of effective writers and speakers.


  1. Reading vocabulary – emperor, entrance, arch, courtyard, dome, gate, grave, inscription, jewel, gem, memorial/monument, minaret, palace, platform, tomb
  1. Architectural vocabulary – geometrical, circular, rectangular, square, pattern, floral, scalloped, iwan, jali, jharokha, mahal, masjid, symmetrical, motif calligraphy, and aesthetic element (ideal of beauty)
  1. Spatial Order vocabulary – to the left, right, beside, between, above, below, behind, in front of, near, far, around, inside, outside, & symmetrical


My teenage students always show a lot of interest in the great love story that surrounds the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan and wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  However, the descriptive writing piece in our Composition text only briefly mentions this love, focusing instead on describing the Taj Mahal.  The picture/story book entitled Taj Mahal, presents a wonderful, detailed version of the story of their love, and I will use this book to draw the students further into the history and architecture of the Mughals.

Scope and Sequence:

Activity One (45 minutes)

Teacher Directed
Volunteer students, and teacher, will take turns reading aloud the picture book Taj Mahal and students will listen and look at the pictures.  A brief class discussion of the story will follow, allowing for questions and clarification of information.

Small Group
Students generate original comprehension questions to ask about the story.  Groups share their questions, while teacher lists them on the board, eliminating duplicate questions (Student Work 1 Questions handout).

Individual Practice
Students copy and respond to the questions for homework.

Activity Two (45 minutes)

Small Group
Students compare the images of the Taj Mahal in the Arnold and Comora picture book with the images of the Taj Mahal in our Composition Practice Book.  In groups, students brainstorm a list of aesthetic elements found in the Taj Mahal.  These are shared, with teacher assisting with vocabulary as needed, and the elements are defined and clarified.  Students copy the list from the board.  Many of these elements were vocabulary terms previously studied in the composition book, so this is not all new material to the students.

Teacher Directed
Teacher presents “Mughal Architecture: Details in Design,” a PowerPoint presentation created to identify and highlight aesthetic elements found in Mughal architecture in general. As the students view the images of different examples of Mughal architecture, they identify the aesthetic elements found in the new images.  At the end of the presentation, these newly identified elements are added to the list generated from the first activity. A class discussion of the possible meaning of the elements is conducted, with teacher sharing the meanings provided in the second section of Arnold and Comora’s Taj Mahal (Building the Taj Mahal handout).

Activity Three (45 minutes)

Teacher Directed

  1. Teacher shows students a small-scale replica of a Mughal structure that teacher created using paperboard, glue and markers.  Students are asked, “How do you think this was created?”  “Do you think it was easy or difficult to make?”  “Guess what?  You are going to make one yourself!”  Teacher shares project instruction sheet with students and reviews the steps to be followed to complete the project successfully. (Project Construction & Rubric handout)
  1. Each student is given two paperboard boxes to start their project with, but they may trade boxes with each other or with the teacher if a different shape is needed. If desired, the student may add additional boxes, if more are available.  Students were also encouraged to search their homes for appropriate boxes.
  1. Teacher demonstrates Stage One of the project:
  • Figure out what the structure will look like by analyzing the components and arranging them in alternate ways
  • Decide which aesthetic elements to use.
  • On a clean sheet of drawing paper, teacher begins to plan the designs, patterns and motifs he/she wishes to include in the structure, and also chooses the colors he/she wishes to use.
  • Teacher lightly draws these designs, patterns and motifs on the paperboard components using a pencil.

Activity Four (90 minutes)

Guided Practice

  1. Individually, students decide what kind of structure they wish to build and draw a rough sketch of the building.  They list three aesthetic elements they will include in their design.
  2. Students begin to plan the designs, patterns and motifs he/she wishes to include in the structure, and also chooses the colors he/she wishes to use.
  3. Some students paint their brown boxes with flat white paint to prepare for the sketching stage.
  4. Students draw their designs onto the paperboard components with pencil.

Activity Five (90 minutes)

Teacher Directed

Teacher demonstrates Stage Two of the project:

  1. Teacher outlines the penciled designs, patterns and motifs using a fine-point black marker.
  2. Teacher adds color to the structure
  3. Glue the structure together
  4. Add finishing touches

Guided Practice

After teacher demonstrates each step of Stage Two, students follow along, completing steps a, b and c. Teacher circulates and assists as needed.

Independent Practice

Students continue to assemble their structure on their own until it is completed.  Let structure dry thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Activity Six (Two 90-minute periods)

Teacher Directed

On the board, the teacher shows how to create a pre-writing plan for the composition. The teacher should “think out loud” in order to demonstrate writing strategies. (Composition Practice Book 3 is referenced here: the descriptive composition of the Taj Mahal and pages 11 and 12, which focus on organization and spatial order). The teacher begins to compose a descriptive composition of his/her sample structure.

Guided Practice

  1. After a few sentences are written, students are asked to contribute their ideas by offering sentences for inclusion in the composition.  This continues until the rough draft of the composition is completed.
  2. Teacher leads discussion of next steps: revision and editing strategies.

Independent Practice

Students write a descriptive composition of their completed structure, creating a pre-writing plan, a rough draft (revised) and a typed final draft.


Informal assessment occurs continuously throughout the unit, with the teacher giving guidance and clarification where needed.

Completed architectural structures are graded using a rubric (Project Construction and Rubric Handout).

Completed compositions are graded using a rubric (Mughal Project Composition Rubric).


Students arrange the various structures together inside of a large shallow box in order to create a shared community. Each student writes a brief paragraph, reflecting on what they have learned from these lessons on the Taj Mahal and the architecture project.  The teacher will write a reflection paragraph as well.

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