by Linda Little
What is in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Lesson: Smells: What are they good for? (Great descriptive writing,
Purpose: To make students more aware of their sense of smell and
the role it can play in descriptive writing.
Audience: Middle school students, but it could be adapted to almost
any grade level.
Lesson Plans: (May be done in one long period, or spread over two days)
- Sample descriptive paragraphs using the sense of smell.
- Chalkboard and chalk or white board and dry erase markers
- 10 or more paper or plastic cups with lids. (Do not use
clear plastic cups, you can see the object inside and it makes guessing
- 10 or more different scented objects. (Cotton balls soaked
in smelly things also work well)
- Learning About The Sense Of Smell chart (Provided)
- Or make up your own chart to get the information you want
students to focus on.
- Ask students What are your favorite smells?
List as many as you can on a piece of paper in two minutes.
- Turn to a partner. Read your lists out loud. Note
what you have in common (if any). One person from each pair come to
the board and write down your combined list (you and your partners
without listing anything more than once). 5 10 minutes
- Look at the board. What are some similarities? Teacher
puts a check next to smells that appear in multiple lists. Does anything
stand out? Why do you think that is? Discuss. 2 5 minutes
- Smells evoke emotions and memories. They can make us hungry,
say, happy, or lonely. Choose one smell from the board (it can be from
any list) and free write about any memories or emotions it may
stir up for 10 minutes.
- Share what you have written with your partner.
5 10 minutes.
- Volunteer share their writing with entire class. 5
- Descriptive writing examples. Class takes turns
reading three short descriptive paragraphs out loud. (Examples included
in packet). Each paragraph uses the sense of smell differently.
- After reading paragraphs, pass out one highlighter to
- Students highlight specific words and phrases that
add to the flavor of the paragraphs. What do they find?
What specific memories or emotions are attached to them?
- Volunteers share what they highlighted with class. 10
15 minutes for entire activity.
- Collect highlighter pens.
- Hand out Learning about the sense of smell
chart. (see PDF of chart)
- Read what is at top of each column.
- Tell students they will each be trying to guess the contents
of 10 cups. (Made by teacher ahead of time) They are to take
the cup, close their eyes, sniff carefully, record
their reactions on the chart, and pass the cup on. They do not need
to fill in every box on the chart, but they should try. (Or you may
limit how many boxes to fill in if short on time)
- Each person should only have any one cup for a few seconds.
- Students are not to talk during the activity or give any
indication that they recognize the scents.
- This activity could take 15-20 minutes or more
depending on the number of students.
- When finished, students will share their chart
with a partner. Which smells had the most positive emotions attached
to them? Which were negative? Which were the hardest to identify? 5
- Teacher reads correct identities of smells to class from
- Retrieve all cups and put away
- Students choose one smell from their chart and
do a free write from the point of view of that object. For example,
if the scent were rose they would write from the perspective of a rose
or a bottle of rose perfume. You could also just have students choose
a smell and use the information from their chart to do a free write
on it from any perspective. 10- 15 minutes
- Volunteers share what theyve written with class.
Follow up: Students add to their free write material and develop one
may turn into a finished piece to be place in their writing
portfolio. Make a smelly bulletin board displaying work!
Example paragraphs: sense of smell
They said it was Alicias blanket, but she knew it wasnt. It
didnt have the chocolate spot that she liked to hold close to her
face just before falling asleep. It didnt fill her nose with sweet,
dark birthday cake, or the bite of lemon juice from the splash that had
fallen on one edge when Mommy was washing her hair that time. It didnt
even have that soft, warm scent that told Alicia she was home in her own
bed. All it held was soap and flowers. Who wanted to go to bed with soap
Lou stopped just inside the door and stared for a moment at the shiny
blue jacket folded over the arm of the sofa. No sound came from the darkened
kitchen, but there was something in the air...a hint of lilacs, and the
comforting aroma of hickory pipe tobacco. Immediately, excitement welled
up inside Lous chest. He was home! Dad was home again!
So Great-Aunt Martha was coming for her yearly visit? Great. The woman
worked in a cat food cannery, handling half-rotten tuna. Terrified of
offending someone with her breath, she ate cinnamon drops by the truckload,
popping them into her mouth with hands that reeked of dead fish. Vicky
had a flashing memory of cinnamon-stinking kisses and fish-stinking hugs
and wanted to throw up.
Copyright. 1992 Arlene Marks and Bette Walker http://www.summit-ed.com
Ackerman Aoyama, Sara. The Role of the Sense of Smell in Language Learning.
Vermont: School for International Training, 1996. http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc_conf96/aoyama.html.
Marks, Arlene and Bette Walker. Let Them Write Descriptive Writing.
Silverstein, Robert. Smell, the Subtle Sense. New York: Morrow
Junior Books, 1992.
Vroon, Piet. Smell: The Secret Seducer. New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 1994.
Weiss, Ellen. The Nose Knows. New York: The Kane Press, 1992.