Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Colour Rusty Purple and the Monochrome World

I am always amazed at how little students use colour in their writing. Something so simple, yet often absent in work. I have similes thrown at me with buckets and personification dribbled over work, but not one simple adjective is used to describe the colour of an object.

Recently, to prepare students for the new GCSE writing task, I asked students to describe a setting. They had to describe it in the style of CSI; they had to suggest what actually happened through their description of objects. Thankfully, I instructed them that they could only use one drop of blood. Every piece of description came back mentioning the red blood and no other colour. It must be a monochrome world my student live in. Either that, or they have new form of colour-blindness.  

I usually spend a whole lesson on colour with students, because there is an important need to. The following is just a simple overview of the kind of lesson I do.

Part 1:

What is the difference between these different kinds of the colour white?

Egg white

Paper white

Dirty white

Yellowy white

Faded white

Smudged white

Students have to explain the difference between these whites and, if possible, use something in the room to demonstrate its existence. Cue lots of pointing to walls, socks and light fittings.

Part 2:

Create new versions of these colours by simply adding a word before the adjective.








Once we have got past the bogey green and wee yellow we get some interesting efforts.  My recent favourites include shadow black, misty grey and feint blue.

Part 3:

Select the best three colours to describe a positive place.

Select the best three colours to describe a negative place.

This gets students to see how the colours have an impact on how the place is seen and how the reader feels when they read the text.

Part 4:

We then visit a Dulux website or paint charts stolen from a DIY store. We look at the names and select the best ones and build a bit of a colour chart.

clear cove blue

marine mist blue

Turkish tile blue

Sometimes, student spot that the names could be used for similes. Some of the names are great. There’s one blue that is called ‘Tears of joy’. Not a great name for a colour, but a good name for a comparison.

Part 5:

Students are given a picture and they have to describe it to a partner and explain / describe the colours. Note: the partner cannot see the picture.

Part 6:

Finally the students describe the setting in their books. Their version has to be different and unique. Plus, they must create a particular mood. It is also at this point that I mention the possible problems with using colours in their writing, such as describing every colour imaginable so that that the read is dazzled with a rainbow. Or, people forget the reader needs to think about the colour, so they list hundreds of colours. The following rules tend to apply:

[1] Keep the colours limited to three or four in your description. However, you can repeat one colour several times, but you must use a different phrase /name to describe it.

[2] Don’t list colours.

[3] Give the reader time to think about one colour before you introduce another. Leave a sentence between colours, if possible.

The results are very interesting and they are often refreshing. The use of colour adds a nice quality to their writing.       

For example:

The sun-baked brick orange sky casts shadows on the ground. A little man waits. His nails dig the rusty brown earth and amongst the crumbs of kidney bean soil he searches for life. A frosty green shoot is discovered.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Fab ideas. That's one for my file! A good exercise for wannabe writers, too.

  2. Thanks for the inspiration, Chris. I also get students to play with the placement of the colour in the sentence such as in an opening adjectival clause. Students see the power the colour can have as a result. I also love bringing in objects for students to describe, focusing on colour, texture, shape etc. They come up with some fantastic variations, similes and metaphors. They then write descriptions for each object. Once they put all of their description in I ask them to pare it back, focussing on different elements and we discuss the effect of each decision. Lots of great discussion as a result.


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