Standard Lesson

Descriptive Video: Using Media Technology to Enhance Writing

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
One 45-minute session
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This lesson helps students improve their writing abilities and their attention to details while experiencing a new technology called Descriptive Video. Also known as described programming, Descriptive Video refers to programming with an additional audio track that narrates a film's visual elements. Students watch the opening scene of the standard version of the Disney film The Lion King and write a description of it. They then watch the same opening scene with the descriptions and captions available online at the National Center for Accessible Media. They will write another descriptive summary on this scene. Students share their two writing samples aloud and compare their pre- and post-audio descriptions.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Descriptive Video (also known as described programming) is a technology that was developed to help individuals with visual impairments enjoy films and television programs. A Descriptive Video program has an additional audio track that can be activated by using the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) feature on a television, videocassette recorder (VCR), or DVD player. This additional audio track contains narration to explain a film's visual elements such as an unusual costume, an actor's gestures, or a car chase scene.

  • Although Descriptive Video technology was developed to assist individuals with visual impairments, it can be used to help all students build their vocabulary, comprehension, and writing ability.

  • Teachers can use Descriptive Video technology to differentiate instruction. Described programming gives students models of highly descriptive writing. Some students are able to use these models and improve their writing with relative independence. Other students require greater scaffolding.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • The Lion King movie (Walt Disney Feature Animation, 1994)
  • Computer with Internet access and LCD projector
  • Television
  • VCR or DVD player
  • Chart paper or overhead projector (optional)




Obtain a copy of the movie The Lion King by borrowing it from your school or public library. View the opening segment (about the first 2 to 3 minutes). Then access the online version at the National Center for Accessible Media and watch the same opening scene with descriptions and captions. Make sure you have the equipment needed (e.g., television, VCR or DVD player, computer with LCD projector) to share both versions with your students.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Use descriptive language, including content vocabulary, to write a retelling of a segment of a movie scene

  • Use a technology called Descriptive Video to enhance their writing skills

  • Employ and practice a variety of writing strategies

  • Reflect on and analyze their writing by comparing their two writing samples and completing the self-assessment rubric

Instruction & Activities

1. To activate background knowledge, ask students if they have ever seen The Lion King. For those who have, ask students to share what they remember about the story. Give students time to share their memories. This should familiarize those who have not seen the film with some of its content.

2. Tell students they are going to watch the opening segment of the movie and then write a descriptive retelling of it to share with the class.

3. After viewing the film segment, write a descriptive retelling while students also write one. Here is a student sample:
In the beginning animals like zebra, monkey, elephant, birds, and lions were right in back of Mufasa and Sarabi. So ZuZu put some kind of fruit on Simba’s head and took Simba from out of Sarabi’s arms and lifted him up. All the animals started to cheer for Simba’s birth. Monkeys started to jump around and elephants lifted their trunks.
4. Using your computer and LCD projector, access the National Center for Accessible Media and download the same opening scene with descriptions and captions.

5. Before showing this version, tell students that there is a new technology called Descriptive Video that provides a verbal description of the actions in a film or TV show when there is no dialogue. Tell students that they are going to watch the same scene as before from The Lion King but this time they will watch it with description added.

6. After viewing this version, have students write another descriptive retelling of the scene. The same student from Step 3 wrote the following:
In the beginning animals like zebras, monkeys, elephants, birds, and lions were right in back of Mufasa and Sarabi. Then a baby giraffe and her mother went to the ceremony. So Rafiki climbed up and gave Mufasa a hug. Rafiki got two melons and Simba lifted his hand. Rafiki cracked one melon open and got his finger and rubbed the melon across his head. Rafiki took Simba from out of Sarabi’s arms and lifted him up. Monkeys jumped around and elephants lifted their trunks. Zebras made stamps of smoke in the air. Then the animals bowed down and nearly touched the ground.
Notice that this student provided additional description and clarification in this second version. Instead of writing, “Some kind of fruit,” she used the word “melon.” More animals, such as “a baby giraffe,” were named.

7. Invite students to share what they have written and compare this version with their first version. Have student look for more specific terminology, more descriptive words and phrases, and more elaboration of detail in their second versions. If they do not see any differences between their first and second versions, ask students to share their writing with a peer and ask for advice. Then have students view the described version again now that they know where they should focus their attention.

8. Use a Venn diagram on the board, chart paper, or overhead to fill in the similarities and differences between the two writing samples. You may also have students work in pairs using the interactive Venn Diagram or the Compare & Contrast Map (point-to-point comparison).

9. Have students then share why they think their writing improved and give their opinions comparing the two viewing experiences, with and without description.

10. Distribute the Student’s Self-Assessment sheet to encourage students to reflect upon their work during the lesson.


  • Students can view various programs on PBS Kids and create their own descriptions for those portions of the shows that do not have dialogue. For example, students could visit DragonflyTV: African Penguins by Keshia and Ashley to download the film clip and write a description.

  • Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) and commercial broadcasting stations offer described programming that is appropriate for students in grades 3 to 5. Students can watch programs such as Reading Rainbow and Arthur and compare the described and standard versions. A list of described programs can be found at the Media Access Group at WGBH. You can also consult local programming guides to find appropriate described programs.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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