The Write Practice

How to Unlock All 5 Senses in Your Writing

by Kellie McGann | 30 comments

As writers, we are especially aware of the five senses, especially when we focus on setting or descriptive writing. The five senses should work together to transport our readers into our character's world and to bring the story to life.

However, if you're like me, you might need to brush up on how to use the five senses in your writing to the fullest potential.

How to Unlock the Five Senses in Your Writing

I didn't used to give the five senses much credit when it came to my writing. But the truth is, the five senses have a power to connect with our readers in a deep way.

How to Write Using All 5 Senses

It's all well and good to tell you you should use the five senses in your writing. But how? Here are some ways you can draw on each sense to immerse your readers in your story:

Write With Sight

When I was writing the first draft of my book, I met regularly with a writer's group (which is essential), and one of the pieces of feedback I received most was “ show, don't tell .”

Don't simply tell your reader how you feel or what is going on, my writing group told me. Show them.

I began to experiment, and I soon discovered there is more to writing visual descriptions than “green trees” and “blue skies.”

Here's an exercise: Ask yourself, “What am I seeing?” and follow with, “Why does it matter here?”

You might start with a man walking by, but I challenge you to look further.

Maybe the man has tattoos covering his arms—can you see any colors or shapes? Describe them. Pay attention to the way he walks. Does he stare at the ground or straight ahead?

What do you really see? What do you not see? What does it mean ?

When you focus on sight in writing, you're giving readers the details they need to picture the character and scene.

Write With Taste

Describing taste can be a fun way to keep your reader intrigued by the details. So often we forget to describe the way something might taste or what that taste means. We can write straightforward description of how a character is experiencing a taste, or consider other ways to convey it.

My favorite way to describe what something tastes like is with a metaphor . This might be awful, but my favorite comedian, Tim Hawkins, compares the flavor and taste of a Krispy Kreme donut to “eating a baby angel.” How true is that, though?

My roommate describes her hot tomato soup as “coming in from a blizzard, kicking your boots off, and sitting in front of the fire.”

The metaphors we use have the power to transport our readers to places that evoke memories and emotion from their own lives, allowing a deeper connection to be made.

The next time you sit down to eat your favorite food, see if you can capture the literal tasting notes of the food as specifically as possible and then consider how that taste makes you feel.

Quick tip: cook books and recipe websites are terrific places to study how to write about taste if you get stuck.

Write With Smell

Generally we categorize smells into two options: good or bad. But smells can be a powerful tool to help you tell stories.

Consider the last time you caught a whiff of something that took you back in time: mothballs reminding you of your grandparents' attic, sour milk's stench like the cafeteria trashcans in primary school, or the earthy smell of fresh-turned soil ready for planting.

When you begin to describe a scene, close your eyes and envision all of the possible smells that surround you. Smells do not only describe food and body odor; they can be used to describe the weather, a room, or a situation.

Try describing some smells yourself, paying attention to both the source of the smell and why it's there.

Write With Sound

The most popular way to describe sounds in writing may be through the use of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia occurs when the word makes the sound it denotes, such as slam or pop . And those are fun, especially when making up your own.

Besides onomatopoeia, I never thought there was another way to really describe sound until I started really listening .

There are noises all around you. As I write this, I hear the click of keys, the low hum of the air conditioner, the whoosh of a car passing by, soft laughter from another room—the soundtrack of a quiet, peaceful morning.

Have you listened to your environment? Have you listened to your characters' environment? And have you unlocked what the sounds are really telling you?

There's more to listen to than the sounds of your external environment, too.

As I wrote my own memoir, I found myself constantly asking myself what I was hearing internally . Sounds are not always external buzzes and bangs—sometimes they come in the form of thoughts and voices. Some of those sounds are truths and some are lies.

Some sounds tell the reader where you are or what you are doing without actually having to tell them.

Write With Touch

Describing the way things feel is just plain fun. The number of adjectives available for the sense of touch are endless.

My two favorite ways to describe touch are through temperature and texture.

Her fingers skimmed the cool, silky water.

How do things feel against your skin? Rough or smooth? Blistering or frigid? Slimy or slick? Consider how a feather on your arm might be a different sensation than the same on your foot.

When you're writing about touch, the physical is important to describe, but even more important is the invisible, the different aspects that are “touched” but not with your hands.

The Key to Unlocking the Five Senses

As you have probably noticed by now, the key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind the description . The question of why you are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling something.

Vivid writing becomes powerful when those sensory descriptions are directly related to key attributes of your character, setting, conflict, or other element of your story.

Once you've established the sensory description, ask the question, “What does this mean?” What does it tell your readers about your character and their world ?

You don't want to bog readers down with unnecessary details, but a few well-placed words using all five senses in your writing in various places can immerse your readers in your story and subtly show them what's really going on.

Which sense is your favorite one to explore in writing? Is there one you often forget? Tell us about it in the comments .

Close your eyes and imagine one of your favorite places: a local coffee shop, the beach, the small bakery in Paris . . . take yourself anywhere. Then, take fifteen minutes and practice describing this place while asking the deeper questions—what does each detail really mean to us?

When you're done, post your practice in the practice box below and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

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Kellie McGann

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

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Examples of Descriptive Writing Using the 5 Senses


What is Descriptive Writing?

Descriptive writing uses details and the five senses to describe a person, place, thing, or event. Proper word choice and the use of adjectives are very important for the reader to create a picture in their mind. Similes and onomatopoeia (sound words) are some other examples of descriptive writing.

Basic Sentence: The leaf fell off the tree.

Detailed Sentence: The yellow leaf fell off the big tree.

Descriptive Writing: SWOOSH! The smooth yellow leaf floated down from the enormous oak tree.

Using the 5 Senses

Using the five senses is one of the best ways to incorporate descriptive writing. Describing sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch will enable the reader to envision the words and better understand the writing. Although it may be difficult to use all five senses, even just using a few will enhance the reader’s experience.

Grab your FREE 5 Senses Charts!


It’s fun to choose one topic and describe it in depth. Look at the list below for some examples of descriptive writing ideas for kids to try.

  • Food – pumpkin pie, ice cream, hot chocolate
  • Animal – dog, bird, elephant
  • Season – winter, spring, summer, fall
  • Holiday – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas
  • Place – zoo, island, school
  • Event – birthday, parade, sporting event

Winter by Mrs. Sutton

Cold harsh wind engulfs me like a tornado.

White fluffy snow falls from the sky.

WHOOSH! The sound of the sled as it races past.

The smell of logs burning in the fireplace.

Sweet hot cocoa hits my tongue.


Autumn is Here by Mrs. Sutton

Bright vibrant red and yellow leaves.

The sound of leaves rustling in the wind.

Cool crisp air surrounds me.

The sweet smell of pumpkin pie as the warmth enters my mouth.


Mentor Texts


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Descriptive Writing

The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader’s mind. Capturing an event through descriptive writing involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses. Teaching students to write more descriptively will improve their writing by making it more interesting and engaging to read.

Key Information

Appropriate group size, what is descriptive writing.

Descriptive writing helps the reader visualize the person, place, thing, or situation being described. When a text conjures a vivid, sensory impression in the reader’s mind, not only does it make the writing more interesting to read; it helps the reader understand the text better and recognize the author’s intention more clearly.

Why teach descriptive writing?

  • It helps students make their writing more interesting and engaging to read.
  • It creates opportunities for students to practice using new words in meaningful contexts, a key strategy for building vocabulary.
  • Descriptive writing tends to include figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, and onomatopoeia. Noticing figurative language in mentor texts and incorporating it into their own writing help students build critical verbal reasoning skills. To find out more about verbal reasoning and other components of language comprehension, see the “In Depth” section from the Comprehension module of our Reading 101 Course.
  • It encourages students to learn from—and be metacognitive about—the techniques other authors use to write vivid descriptions.  
  • It can help students clarify their understanding of new subject matter material and remember more of what they learn.

How to teach descriptive writing

If only descriptive writing were as simple as “show, don’t tell”! Descriptive writing is a skill — and a craft — that takes instruction, practice, and time to learn. The good news is that it can be explicitly taught. An understanding of the characteristics of effective descriptive writing, combined with a toolkit of structures and strategies to scaffold learning and practice, can enhance students’ development as authors of vivid, evocative writing.

What effective descriptive writing looks like

Authors of descriptive writing use a variety of styles and techniques to connect with readers, but effective descriptive writing often shares these characteristics:

  • Vivid details. Specific details paint a picture in the reader’s mind and appeal to the reader’s senses. Descriptive writing may also go beyond creating a strong sensory impression to give the reader a “picture” of the feelings the description evokes in the writer.
  • Figurative language. Tools of the writer’s craft such as analogy, simile, and metaphor  add depth to authors’ descriptions.
  • Precise language. General adjectives, nouns, and passive verbs are used sparingly. Instead, specific adjectives and nouns and strong action verbs give life to the picture being painted in the reader’s mind.
  • Thoughtful organization. Some ways to organize descriptive writing include: chronological (time), spatial (location), and order of importance. Descriptive writing about a person might begin with a physical description, followed by how the person thinks, feels and acts.

What effective instruction in descriptive writing looks like

There isn’t one right approach to teaching descriptive writing, but effective instruction often includes:

  • Mentor texts. Reading aloud and analyzing high-quality mentor texts to help students understand how authors use descriptive writing to connect with readers.
  • Focus on the five senses. Helping students make the connection between sensory input (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) and descriptive writing.
  • Teacher modeling. Modeling different ways to generate descriptive writing.
  • Guided practice. Repeated, structured practice scaffolded to meet students’ needs.
  • Feedback and revision. Cycles of constructive teacher and peer feedback followed by thoughtful revision. 

Watch a demonstration: show NOT tell using your 5 senses

In this virtual lesson, the teacher models generating written descriptions of a hot day using the five senses as a framework.

Watch a classroom lesson: five senses graphic organizer

Students use their five senses and a graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas for writing a report on a recent school event and to help them think about interesting words to include in their report. See the lesson plan (opens in a new window) .

Watch a classroom discussion: writer’s workshop

Writer’s Workshop connects great children’s literature with children’s own writing experiences. In this video clip from our Launching Young Readers PBS series , Lynn Reichle’s second graders practice their use of descriptive writing.

Collect resources

Here are some routines and structures for teaching descriptive writing:

The RAFT strategy encourages descriptive writing and supports writing in general by encouraging students to think through the writer’s Role, the Audience, the Format, and the Topic. ReadWriteThink offers this RAFT Writing Template .

This Sense Chart (opens in a new window)  — organized into sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch categories — helps students capture sensory details related to a topic. The Describing Wheel (opens in a new window) offers a more open-ended format for capturing and organizing descriptive language.

The Show-Me Sentences (opens in a new window) lesson plan from ReadWriteThink was created for students in grades 6-12. However, elementary teachers can modify the Show-Me sentences to make them interesting for younger students.

This lesson plan from Utah Education Network (opens in a new window) guides students through the process of writing about a favorite place using descriptive language. 

This lesson plan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (opens in a new window) has students work collaboratively to generate descriptive writing about works of art. It is intended for upper elementary and middle grades but can be adapted for lower grades.

Teacher Laura Torres created a lesson plan that uses images to jumpstart vivid writing: Three Descriptive Writing Picture Prompts .

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners.

  • Use dictation as a way to help capture students thoughts and ideas.
  • Provide sentence frames for writing descriptive sentences or paragraphs.
  • Use pictures and other sensory prompts.
  • Provide budding writers with real-life or virtual experiences that give them something to write about. Trips to a relative’s house, playground or grocery store provide real-life experiences that can be recorded by a new writer.
  • Encourage students to work with a buddy or in a small group to develop first drafts .
  • Work with students to brainstorm a word bank of interesting and descriptive words students can incorporate into their writing.

Extend the learning

This resource from Greenville County Schools in South Carolina provides several ideas for writing in math class . Writing and mathematics are similar in that they both require gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. Writing can support math instruction by helping students make sense of important concepts and procedures.

Descriptive writing in science can help students capture observations and scientific phenomena with greater precision, and can help them comprehend new material by explaining it in their own words. Fazio and Gallagher propose two instructional strategies to assist teachers and student when writing in science: a mnemonic acronym (POWER) and an editing checklist.

Social Studies

In social studies, descriptive writing can help students describe an important historical figure or event more clearly. Writing rich in detail will create vivid depictions of people and places and help make history come alive.

Related strategies

  • RAFT helps students understand their roles as writers, the audience they will address, the varied formats for writing, and the topic they’ll be writing about.
  • Revision teaches students about the characteristics of good writing, which will carry over into their future writing. Revision skills complement reading skills; revision requires that writers distance themselves from the writing and critically evaluate a text.
  • Writing Conferences give students a chance to share their writing and and receive feedback from peers or the teacher.
  • Think-alouds can be used for writing as well as reading instruction

Learn more about building writing skills in our self-paced module Reading 101: Writing .

See the research that supports this strategy

Akerson, V. L., & Young, T.A. (2005). Science the ‘write’ way. Science and Children , 43(3), 38-41.

MacArthur, C., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2016). Handbook of research on writing (2nd Edition). NY: Guilford.

Miller, R.G., & Calfee, R.C. (2004). Making thinking visible: A method to encourage science writing in upper elementary grades. Science and Children , (42)3, 20-25.

Mitchell, D. (1996). Writing to learn across the curriculum and the English teacher. English Journal , 85, 93-97.

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Science Verse

This boy’s curse begins when his teacher suggests that the “poetry of science” can be heard everywhere. From Moore to Frost, familiar poems are parodied and turned into science verse. Again art and illustration are inseparable as are the laughs in this offbeat look at science.

Science Verse

The Mysterious Tadpole

When Louis’ uncle sends a tadpole from a certain lake in Scotland, the small tadpole grows to enormous proportions. With the help of a resourceful librarian, Louis figures out a way to feed his large and ever-hungry Alphonse as well as determine a permanent solution. Humor abounds in this contemporary classic.

The Mysterious Tadpole

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

At One Hoppin’ Place, the countdown to bedtime is about to begin when a family of hamsters — a mother and father with nine kids and a baby all wearing numbered striped jerseys — arrives at the front door.

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

One World, One Day

Every day children around the world awake to begin their days having breakfast, going to school, coming home to families. A poetic text combines with photographs from myriad countries to visually highlight the richness of the world and its people.

One World, One Day

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

If all of the 300 million people were simply one village of 100 people, its diversity is easier to understand. That’s just what the author has done to make the complex make-up of the U.S. residents (in terms of languages spoken, ages, and more). Colorful illustrations accompany the understandable text. Additional resources complete the book. If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People (opens in a new window) , also by Smith, looks at the inhabitants of the world as a village to allow its diversity to become more understandable for adults and children.

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Relive the journey of the Apollo 11 where the first people stepped on the Moon’s surface and saw Earth from a very different perspective. Eloquent language and illustrations combine to present this historical event in a unique, unforgettable way.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

Two machines captivated young Philo Farnsworth: a telephone and a phonograph. Both had cranks and both connected people with others (one in real time, the other through music). These and other inspirations motivated young Philo to invent what was to become known as the television. His early story is fascinatingly told and well illustrated.

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Ted Williams never flinched at hard work or a challenge. In his last season with the Boston Red Sox, Williams had to decide if he wanted to take the chance and lose his rare .400 average or go to bat. Williams’ decision creates a riveting read in this handsome and thoughtful look at one man’s ethics and the times in which he lived.

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Soup Day

A mother and her child get the ingredients for soup on a snowy day and then add everything to the pot. The pair plays snug and warm while the soup simmers until Dad comes home when they enjoy soup together. Crisp collage and a simple text make for a cozy read.

Jack and the Beanstalk

The traditional tale of a boy who planted magic beans is reimagined as a city story of a spell broken. Illustrations are photographs that have been manipulated for good effect.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Benny's Pennies

Benny’s Pennies

I Face the Wind

Children are encouraged to observe as experiment as they learn about wind and air as well as practice science writing by describing their findings.

I Face the Wind

26 Letters and 99 Cents

26 Letters and 99 Cents

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Arresting photographs of water in various states not only introduces water but also weather, solids and liquids, and more. The sophisticated text further encourages experimentation and observation, although is not necessary to use the entire book with younger children.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Cinderella stories are found around the world; here, they have been fused into one tale with special characteristics in text and illustrations that reflect the different origins. Expand parts of the story to echo the traditions of the culture and its history from which it comes. It may be possible to develop a map of tales (e.g., ancient vs. modern countries, or as a visual as to where it is/was told).

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

Squids Will Be Squids

Scieszka and Smith set sights on creating fresh fables — short traditional tales intended to teach a moral lesson. With humorous twists and take-offs, new, different and wacky fables are presented for readers’ edification and amusement.

Squids Will Be Squids

Liked it share it, topics this strategy is especially helpful for.

writing about 5 senses

If your class needs to transition from essay writing to a poetry unit, your students may have a hard time shifting gears to match the new genre. For fifth-grade teacher Julie Ballew, the exercise below was a great way for her young writers to practice expressive writing by exploring their feelings and using their five senses.

Start With a List of Feelings

To begin this exercise, give each student a list of feeling words. You can create your own list, or use the sample list below which was created by the UCSB Children’s Center .

writing about 5 senses

Invite your students to highlight the feelings that they have previously experienced or the feelings with which they feel a strong connection. They should copy those words into their writer’s notebook for reference and can jot down details from their memories of times they’ve experienced those emotions.

Have Your Students Use Their Senses to Describe These Feelings

Remind your students that writers sometimes use sensory language (or each of their senses) to describe something. To get them in the mindset, read a poem or two that exemplifies sensory writing. 

Have each student choose one of their highlighted words from the feelings list and give them time to think about that feeling through each of their senses. 

Finally, have your students create a flipbook for their chosen feeling, with one flap for each of their senses. Students should write about how their chosen feeling might smell, taste, look, hear, or feel. Students may use comparisons to things they already know, like describing “plain white rice” as the taste of loneliness.  

writing about 5 senses

RELATED READING: 5 Tips for Teaching Poetry to Your Students

Invite Your Students to Respond

Talk to your students about their experience with this exercise. Here are two example questions that elicited thoughtful responses from Ballew’s young writers.

That’s a pretty long list of feeling words—what made you choose this word?

Student: Well, I knew we were about to write poetry. I’ve written poetry before, so I know that my best poems usually come from my miserable side.

How do you think this activity will help you as a writer?

Student: Well, I never thought about describing my feelings like this before. I can paint a good picture with descriptions like this that use my senses.

RELATED READING: 7 Ways Love That Dog Helps Students See Poetry in a New Light

To inspire your students, shop books about emotions below! You can find all books and activities at The Teacher Store .

Writing Technique: Using the 5 Senses

  • Sunday, May 8th, 2016
  • Writing Techniques

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

In the world that we live in, our five senses are constantly hard at work. We interact with the world through them. Without our five senses, we would all be living in a dull and dark world.

When teaching children to write better stories, utilising their five senses is just as important. However, I have noticed that getting children to describe something with their five senses is not as easy as we thought.

I believe it is because our senses are usually on autopilot mode. We use our senses without effort or much thought. How many of us would pause to think which senses are working when we are in a particular place or when we see a particular item? Most of us don’t.

It is the same with children.

Whenever we ask children to describe a place or a thing using their five senses, we are usually met with silence and blank stares.

Yet, in order to produce a good piece of descriptive writing, effort has to be made to use our five senses in our descriptions.

So, how can we make it easier for children to describe something using their five senses?

A good way is to get them to create lists. Make it a practice to create word lists of places or things using the five senses.


SIGHT:  leaves falling gently from the trees, children running, playing at the playground, people jogging, people cycling, old folks practising  Tai-Chi , old folks taking a leisurely stroll

SMELL:  the smell of fresh air, the smell of morning dew, the fragrance of fresh flowers

SOUND:  leaves rustling in the breeze, the gurgling of streams, the splashing of a fountain, a lone bird chirping, music from radios

TASTE:  sweet, velvety ice cream

TOUCH:  the breeze blowing gently at your face, the rough tree trunks, the dusty tracks, the sun shining on my skin

From this list, we can guide children to come up with descriptive sentences such as these:

The  morning sun shone gently on my  skin   (TOUCH)  as I entered Pasir Ris Park. Although it was still early, there were already  people jogging and cycling   (SIGHT).  A group of  old folks was practising Tai-Chi   (SIGHT)  and  moving along with the slow music  (SOUND ) .  There was  a gentle breeze blowing at me   (TOUCH)  as I strolled along  the dusty tracks  (TOUCH) .  Leaves rustled   (SOUND)  above me and  a lone bird was chirping   (SOUND)  nearby. I took a deep breath.  The smell of morning dew   (SMELL)  made me feel relaxed and at peace.


​ SIGHT:  crispy brown skin, dripping juices, dripping oil

SMELL:  fragrance, delightful aroma of Italian herbs, mouth-watering scent

SOUND:  sizzling

TASTE:  juicy, salty, delicious, hot and spicy, appetising, delectable, flavourful, savoury, delish, scrumptious

TOUCH:  succulent and soft, piping hot

These are some sentences that we can form using the words and phrases from the above word list:

It was morning. As Thomas opened his eyes, he was greeted by a  delightful aroma of Italian  herbs (SMELL).  “I know this smell!” exclaimed Thomas as he jumped out of bed. Dashing into the kitchen, Thomas saw his mother taking out a  crispy-looking, juices-dripping   (SIGHT)  roasted  chicken from the oven. Thomas could not wait to sink his teeth into the  succulent and savoury  meat  (TASTE) .  His mouth watered. 

Although the aim is to describe using as many senses as possible, care should be taken not to sound awkward. Most of the time, using 2 to 3 senses from a word list is sufficient.

How to use the 5 senses in your writing?

An important point to note when using the 5 senses in your writing is, try not to use the ‘sense’ verbs in your descriptions.

Whenever we asked students to use their 5 senses to describe something, they usually come up with sentences such as,

I see many people strolling in the park.

I can  hear the birds chirping.

I can  smell the delicious aroma of fried chicken.

Notice that the above sentences contain the ‘sense’ verbs ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘smell ‘?

Now, instead of writing ‘I see many people strolling in the park’ , you can write ‘Many people were strolling in the park’.   Simply remove the ‘sense’ verb ‘I see…’.

Instead of writing ‘I hear the birds chirping’ , you can write ‘Birds were chirping merrily’ by removing the ‘sense’ verb ‘I hear…’.

Instead of ‘I smell the delicious aroma of fried chicken’ , remove the ‘I smell’ and rewrite it as ‘The aroma of fried chicken filled the air’ .

Can children be taught to write like this? With lots of guidance and feedback, they can!

The key to improving one’s writing is to write, get feedback and write again . That is what we do at the Writing Academy – providing constructive feedback on our students’ writing and helping them to improve their composition writing skills, one assignment at a time.

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From the Editor

February 2, 2021, five days and five senses: free writing as a daily practice, prompts to help you build stronger writing muscles every day.

By Jacqui Banaszynski

Tagged with

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Wilhelm Gunkel via Unsplash

But it’s now February — a new month of that new year. Most wisdom tells us that behavior changes need 28 days of practice before they take hold as a habit. So February, with its 28 days, seems an apt time to dust off those discarded resolutions and start anew. And if you didn’t dive in on Feb. 1, that’s no excuse: Feb. 3 or 7 or 23 is just as good. The key is not the date on the calendar, but the doing of something each day.

To try to help, through the month we’re going to revisit some daily writing practices and perhaps introduce new ones if we bump into them. Let’s start small, which is how resolutions are actually kept: Not 20 pounds in a month, but no cream in your coffee in the morning. Not 10,000 steps a day, but a walk around the block, then around two, then three.

I just finished a weekend immersion writing workshop, via Zoom, with 10 writers who came to the course with a wide range of backgrounds and goals. Not all were or are journalists. Those who were wanted to up their game, or get back into it. One wanted to find what she felt she had missed in a graduate journalism program interrupted by COVID. Many wanted to explore writing memoirs or travel essays. I couldn’t fashion a one-size-fits-all workshop. And I didn’t feel I could ask busy people, already distracted by the demands of life, to spend their entire weekend writing and sharing and critiquing. Whatever we tried needed to be tried in small bites.

Don’t know where to start? Try short free writes with a simple prompt.

A week before the immersion weekend, we had a Zoom meet-and-greet, and I gave them this assignment, which combined daily free writes with sensory reporting/writing:

Sensory reporting (awareness) is a key to compelling storytelling, especially in the realm of narrative, poetry or essay. Humans — whom we write about and for — are sensory creatures. A key way to draw them into a piece about someone other than themselves is to use the senses as connectors. Senses also have the magical quality of being both specific and universal. They are at the heart of the physics of storytelling: The more individual and unique, the more universal. WRITING EXERCISE For each of the next five days, use one of the five senses to do a free-write: Monday: SIGHT Tuesday: SOUND Wednesday: TOUCH Thursday: TASTE Friday: SMELL Try the 4 + 4 + 2 method. (Four minutes of writing, then break for 30 seconds. Four minutes of writing, break. Two minutes. Done.) This means you should be spending no more than 12 minutes writing each day. Your free writes are not meant to be finished or polished pieces; they are practice . You may surprise yourself and produce a piece that feels complete. You may open a doorway to an idea or approach that has been eluding you. And you will learn to handle tools of the craft. This works best longhand: When you begin, keep going. Do NOT pause, scratch out or edit. Just keep your pen moving and moving and moving. Don’t know what to write? Then write: “ I don’t know what to write” as many times as you need, and take it from there. (The reason I encourage longhand writing is because it slows you down just enough to be thoughtful without thinking about it. The temptation to delete and rewrite on a keyboard is simply too great. And those of us who write or edit for a living can fall into a professional mode on the keyboard; we write the way our job expects us to write — not the way our story wants to be written.) Begin with a prompt so you don’t waste time trying to think about what to write. It really doesn’t matter. Don’t know what prompt to use? Then start with some simple variation of one of these: I remember the sight (sound, touch, taste, smell) of… (memory) OR I saw/see (heard, touched, tasted, smelled) … (current time) Pick a moment — often a description or quick scene — and go from there. Be specific and, as much as possible, factual. We are writing nonfiction. Stuff taken from real life is often more compelling than anything we can make up. And even if your goal is to write fiction, you need to plug into the senses of the real world. Some of the senses will work better for you than others. Again, it doesn’t matter. What does is that you tune yourself into the world — pay attention — and describe it as concretely and evocatively as you can.

Two days in, I was getting emails of distress: Am I doing this right? I started with a sense but kept getting philosophical — what am I doing wrong? How long is my free write supposed to be? 

Neon sign: Smell Taste Touch

Then we gathered for the weekend, dug deeper into the soul and tools of writing, did two more free writes with different prompts, and each of them read their free-write of choice. The best word I can use to describe my reaction to their work is humbled.

I asked them to comment on what the exercises taught them. Here are three, shared with permission:

I’m pretty Type A, so free writing does not come naturally to me (as an example: I did pre-reporting to check facts about the stuff I knew I wanted to free write about…). So I was surprised when setting a timer and just letting loose actually worked. Usually, I’m way too absorbed in trying to write something “good.” Free writing let me get out my shitty first draft without wasting time editing as I went along. There will be time to go back and rework — this helped me just get it out quickly. Writing is a practice; I won’t improve unless I work these muscles regularly. Free-writing can help me do that, in about 10 minutes a day. ~ Kristin Kellogg, communications manager at a nonprofit I absolutely loved the free writing, using the five senses as prompts. When I’m working on a story or an essay, it’s easy to write down details for sight and sound, but I don’t usually give a lot of love to the other senses. I forget about them. I had an interview in the latter part of last week with a man who grew up working at a fertilizer factory on Long Island, and I found myself asking him if the plant smelled. I’m not sure I would’ve thought to ask him that if I hadn’t just done a free write on smell. ~ Caren Chesler, freelance science journalist I expected and did experience significant discomfort in these assignments. Free-writing removes the structures we cling to that we think keep us safe and accepted. By taking away the guardrails, my thoughts started fast-walking me alongside a cliff, and damn if it wasn’t windy out there. When I felt myself stepping back by disengaging or purposely not writing what was on my mind, I realized I was either trying to make myself look good or avoid looking bad. Like anyone, I don’t want to be misunderstood or mocked. It’s scary to push through and accept that I can’t prevent, predict or ply a reader’s reaction. But when I gave myself permission to write some truly shitty sentences and to stop expecting ju dgment , then my free-writing revealed much more than my insecurities. ~ Mike Wells, freelance journalist and marketing content writer

Confession: I have never been comfortable with free writing myself, or journaling of any kind. Or maybe, as a daily newspaper reporter for much of my career, I was free writing every day; we just called it writing on deadline.

It’s the dailiness that builds the muscles, the discipline of actually writing rather than just thinking about writing, and having something — a news event or a simple prompt — to write about.

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Using the 5 Senses

by Patricia Bradley,  @PTBradley1

We’ve been told many times that using all five senses in our stores is imperative, and right away I recalled sight, sound, and smell, but briefly blanked on taste and touch. That made me realize I rarely used either of them in my writing, focusing mostly on the other three. 

writing about 5 senses

It’s easy to use sight and sound while smell comes in a distant third. Most of what we write for our characters include those three senses: The forested mountains (sight), the babbling brook (sight and sound), the fragrant rose with a drop of dew (sight and smell), the rusted refrigerator at the city dump (sight and smell), the barking wet dogs at the animal shelter (sight, sound and smell).

Often, we overlook the opportunity to incorporate touch and taste. Using the examples above, let’s see how we can add those two senses. If you’re climbing the forested mountains, you can bring in touch: rubbing your hand over the rough bark of an oak tree; for the brook, trail your fingers through the cold water, and at the dump, a sharp pain of slicing your leg on the rusted refrigerator and then the jab of getting a tetanus shot, and for the last, the wet tongue from the puppy you picked up at the animal shelter as it showers you with love. 

Here are a few more word choices to incorporate in the sense of touch: Angular, bumpy, caked, chapped, clammy, damp, embossed, feathery, fleecy, furry, gnarled, gooey, hairy, hot, icy, jagged, layered, lumpy, moist, oily, pockmarked, prickly, ragged, ribbed, rough, scratched, silky, thorny, tweedy, unblemished, uneven, velvety, warm, wiry, wrinkled.

writing about 5 senses

Taste is much harder to work with, but here are two from the examples. The tangy, sweet juice as you bite down on a muscadine, cupping your hand and drinking the mossy-flavored water of the brook. Again, google words that describe taste and you will find quite a few. 

Here are a few words I found for the sense of taste: acerbic, acidic, acrid, astringent, bitter, bloody, briny, buttery, cheesy, chocolatey, chalky, citrus, charred, cream, curdled, delicate, dusty, earthy, fruity, lemony, mount-watering, peppery, salty, scalding, sharp, smokey, tangy, tart, vanilla, vinegary, watery to name a few.

Writing is all about layering. In the first draft which is also my first layer, I lay down the plot of the story—the crime and how it affects the characters. I mostly use sight and sound on this layer. Then I layer in more of the romance and spiritual thread, and this is where I layer in more of smell, touch, and taste. Then as I polish, I look for more ways to use the five senses to draw my readers closer to the characters.

Look for ways to add all five senses to your scenes. It will help connect your reader to your characters and story.

Where to find words to describe touch and taste @ptbradley1 on @MyBookTherapy #writingtip #writing #pubtip Click To Tweet Using The 5 Senses by @ptbradley1 on @MyBookTherapy #writingtip #writing #pubtip Click To Tweet How often do you add touch and taste to your descriptions? ~ @ptbradley1 on @MyBookTherapy #writingtip #writing #pubtip Click To Tweet

Standoff (Natchez Trace Park Rangers Book #1)

writing about 5 senses

The Natchez Trace National Parkway stretches 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez, the oldest town on the Mississippi River. It’s the perfect road for a relaxed pleasure drive. Unfortunately for park ranger Luke Fereday, lately it’s being used to move drugs. Sent to Natchez to infiltrate the organization at the center of the drug ring, Luke arrives too late to a stakeout and discovers the body of his friend, park ranger John Danvers.

John’s daughter Brooke is determined to investigate her father’s murder, but things are more complicated than they first appear, and Brooke soon finds herself the target of a killer who will do anything to silence her. Luke will have his hands full keeping her safe. But who’s going to keep him safe when he realizes he’s falling–hard–for the daughter of the man he failed to save?

writing about 5 senses

Winner of an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award in Suspense and a 2018 Carol finalist, Patricia Bradley lives in North Mississippi with her rescue kitty, Suzy. Her romantic suspense books include the Logan Point series and the Memphis Cold Case Novels. She also has written sweet romances for Harlequin Heartwarming available as e-books.

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I’m with you – sight and smell comes naturally, but I have to be intentional about the other three! I may print those lists an post them by my computer . . .

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How To Use The Five Senses In Writing

five senses

We know the five senses the human body uses to receive information – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. But how can you incorporate each into a story, helping bring your writing alive?

Probably the easiest sense to write about. The writer will highlight what the character sees, whether the character is walking down the street or when inside a building. It’s OK to draw attention to the cracks in the pavement. But it might be significant to show how the cracks mirror the (fractured) paths in the character’s life.

I love the sound of rain. I find it strangely calming – especially if I don’t have to go outside. As a sense, sound can work particularly well in setting a scene. It will help create an ambience as to what unfolds. If your character is lost in a forest, the slightest sound might make them on edge. Whereas a walk on the beach, with the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, will create an altogether different mood.

This is an easier sense to write than you think. Back to the aforementioned beach, what smells do you think will permeate the air? Chances are it’s the smell of the saltwater and the seaweed lining the shore. We can all recall the smell of certain things in life, whether it’s a good or unpleasant experience. When writing about different smells, the writer is simply recounting them on the page.

The same applies to taste. I love the taste of strawberry jam, but I wouldn’t thank you for a drink with ginger in it. So, bringing taste to life on the page is very much character dependent – how the taste, real or imaginary, gives a greater understanding to a character’s feelings.

How do characters react when they touch something, or when someone touches them? Working in an office, paper cuts are quite common – but they can certainly sting. Again, it comes back to feelings. If your character is having a bad day, something as “trivial” as a paper cut might intensify the situation. Call me an old fool, but there is nothing more romantic than holding hands with your loved one – the reassurance it can give you. And when it’s not there – the longing for its return.

The next time you write, let your character’s experiences come to life on the page through use of the five senses.

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Writing Beyond The 5 Senses

Writing Tips: Writing Beyond The 5 Senses

posted on January 25, 2019

Writers are told to ‘show not tell' almost as frequently as they're told to ‘write every day.' In today's article, Gila Green explains how to go further than just our basic senses.

Writing Beyond The 5 Senses

In other words, you must ask yourself why does that particular character notice the hot waiter in the restaurant, while the other only smells the overuse of bleach in the room, while still, a third can't drown out the exacerbating pop music in the background?

Once you can answer that question, you can show your readers what they need to know about each character. You simply choose the correct sense you need to get that information across to your readers.

If you choose the right sense, you will have successfully shown not told the reader. Voila!

We can go way beyond the classic 5 senses

But perhaps our hyper-focus on these classic five senses—courtesy of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who originally said humans have five senses in his De Anima Book II—has caused us to neglect other senses.

Neuroscience says Aristotle is wrong

There may be as many as 22 to 33 senses according to the latest scientific research . That's what the neuroscientists tell us and that gives us between 17 and 29 more reasons to celebrate as writers.

The more tools we have in our writer's toolkits, the wider our range and the more chances we have of reaching wider audiences.

Use your intuition

We intuitively know about many of these ‘new' senses but most of us neglect to apply these valuable gems in our writing. They can be vital for creating unique characters and character worlds.

As master writer Stephen King says, we want our readers to “prickle with recognition” when they read our writing and what better way than to manipulate some of the many senses most of us instinctively recognize but aren't taught to identify as universal, human senses.


merry go round

Equilibrioception applies equally to animals and humans . This means a dog or a cat with no sense of balance could provide as much comic relief as a person who lacks a sense of balance could provide tragedy in your writing.

Even something as simple as a character with a cast on his arm or leg loses the full sense of equilibrioception and can be used by an adept writer as a unique handicap in a story.

When we lose our equilibrioception we feel sick.

Consider riding on a merry-go-round. A disturbance with your sense of balance can make you feel nauseous, dizzy, or disoriented. This could apply equally to a character who has overdone it in an amusement park as it can to someone with Alzheimer's or vertigo.

In fantasy or science fiction, there are endless possibilities you could explore by playing with a character's sense of balance. A magic wand in the wrong hands might disable everyone around them; no one could catch the villain if no one could chase them.


A second fascinating sense is called magnetoreception . This is the ability to detect magnetic fields to pick up direction, location, or altitude.

Flying Flock Of Common Cranes

This sense would come in truly handy when you're trying to get somewhere, especially if you're lost in a dark forest, in cold outer space, or in a magical maze.

There is a myriad of ways these senses can be applied to fantasy, sci-fi, magical, and horror. Magneto from Marvel's X-Men comics is probably the best-known example. For anyone not into X-Men, Magneto can generate and control magnetic fields.

Detecting magnetic fields, altitudes, and locations can be used by writers who stick with realism, too. We do have a mineral called magnetite in our brains and bones. Who knows? One day scientists might figure out that humans can detect magnetic fields, that scientist might be the main character in your next novel.

No sense of time

A third neglected sense in much of our writing is our sense of time. The ability to perceive long vs. short periods of time passing may come from two different parts of our brain , but either way, it's a great sense to manipulate in your writing.

pocket watch

When did you last read a book in which one of the characters couldn't track time? Never?

Yet, it opens up so many possibilities for unforgettable, relatable characters we can all empathize with. All of us know at least one person who doesn't seem to have any sense of time.

I'm not even talking about toddlers who lack the brain structure to even comprehend a sense of time. Yes, little kids really do live in the ‘now'. Emotions often run high around people big or small who have no sense of time and that makes for great drama in a novel.

I used the sense of time as a writing exercise in one of my classes and one class participant based an entire short story around it .

She wrote about an American couple who longed to move to Mexico because they couldn't fit into their time-conscious American society. They were forever losing jobs and missing appointments because they just couldn't get it together on time. Ouch!

In the end, they couldn't even escape a society they felt at odds with because they missed their flight! There was a general sense of recognition in the writing class and you could see the writer had tapped into something universal.


Proprioception is another sense you may not be able to define and that you should add to your writer's toolkit.

Proprioception is the ability to distinguish your body from the rest of the world and move it (i.e., we can scratch our feet without looking because we know where they are).

What about a character that lacks proprioception? What if that character was a famous football player who suddenly loses his sense of proprioception? How devastating for any career but for athletes in particular.

Can you think of other ways proprioception can be used as a dominant sense in a novel?

Sense of effort

woman lifting a box

This is an excellent sense to take advantage of in children's writing . For me, this immediately makes me think of young children who miscalculate the effort it takes to throw things and who go tumbling backward or flying forward. You can explore this sense yourself and see what you come up with.

A new take on old senses

Though I encourage writers to apply under-used or never-used senses to liven up their writing, it doesn't mean the classic five are in the clear. At least two of them need to be revamped: smell and taste.

We can smell a lot more than roses

Here's some information about our olfactory sense that you can use to apply the sense of smell in new ways in your writing.

You can move way beyond sweet, spicy, and citrus perfume, a trillion scents beyond, in fact. Yes, humans can sniff over one trillion scents , including fear and disgust (through sweat).

And there's a reason why your mom was always telling you to wash your runners. Women do have a superior sense of smell. Consider that the next time your heroine walks into a laundromat or a gym.

We eat therefore we write

Everything I wrote about smell applies to everyone's favorite sense: taste. Don't be afraid to explore beyond the standard sweet, sour, salty and spicy (crunchy peanut butter anyone?).

Scientists are split on whether we can taste savory (cheese, meat), fat, and calcium. There's no reason why writers should be.

Why not have a heroine who can't bear the taste of fat or calcium engaged to be married to someone whose greatest love is to cook for her using many fat and calcium-filled ingredients?

This is a nice change on the character with the sweet tooth, which I admit, I'm guilty of using in more than one novel.

When it comes to the classic 5 senses, I need to swallow some of my own new advice.

Could expanding your use of characters' senses change and improve your writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Gila Green

Reader Interactions

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January 25, 2019 at 5:41 am

Great reminder to go beyond the traditional 5 senses. Scientists have begun to confirm more than the traditional sweet, salty, bitter, sour, Imani of taste, too. For example, our bodies sense at least 5 different types of bitter, and not all our bitter sensors are in our mouth—some are in our gut. The book “Flavor, The science of Out Most Neglected Sense” by Bob Holmes is a great read that touches on the edge of what we know about taste and smell without being overly technical.

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January 26, 2019 at 10:35 am

Thanks, Tracy. I’ll check out that book.

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January 25, 2019 at 10:18 pm

Meniere’s disease can be mildly annoying or completely disabling. Besides hearing loss, tinnitus can exist at the same time. So you can’t hear what is and can have auditory hallucinations at the same time. My wife would always hear mice scratching in the walls, even when there were no mice. The vertigo is the worst part, it makes the nausea seem almost fun.

January 28, 2019 at 11:56 am

Such valuable points, Mark. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

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January 27, 2019 at 5:55 pm

How interesting–love how you dove deeper into our senses and other ways we capture information in our little orbits. Thanks for the great article!

January 28, 2019 at 11:57 am

You are very welcome, J.P. I enjoyed writing this article and in general, like the idea of combining writing with neuroscience.

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February 7, 2019 at 6:00 am

Thank you for that post. Very thought provoking. I’m going to bookmark it. I have a character in my next wip who had lost part of his arm. Some of these ‘new’ senses will apply to him, I would think.

February 18, 2019 at 12:44 pm

Thanks fantastic, Vivienne. I was so pleased to read your comment.

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February 20, 2019 at 9:03 am

This is fantastic. I don’t regret reading it. You’re simply a genius.

[…] People tend to favor one sense over the other, and for most of us, that’s the visual processing system. Writers are no different! But neglecting smell, touch, taste, and sound can flatten scenes. [Note from Joanna: for tips on writing using the 5 senses and beyond, check out this recent post.] […]

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writing about 5 senses

Lisa Gornick and Alice Elliott Dark on Altered States of Consciousness and Our (More than Five) Senses

The authors of ana turns and fellowship point in conversation.

Lisa Gornick and Alice Elliott Dark met a dozen years ago through the Montclair Writers Group, a group of women writers who have gathered regularly over the past quarter century to support one another’s work.

As is the case with many writers, Lisa and Alice grew up with the practice of writing as a central part of their identities. Recently they began to email back and forth about how their writing practices had developed over time. They wondered what it had meant to the other to have lived for decades with reading and writing so central to their days.

Lisa Gornick : Alice, we were both passionate child readers and, not long after, child writers—the two entwined as the inhalation and exhalation of breath. Like you, I began with poems. I still recall the awareness of something magical afoot in those early efforts to transform what was confusing and murky or painful or dull into something crafted and streaked with light.

The world, I sensed, had many levels: there were the events skating over the surface and then the connections you might discover beneath. There was the deadening blandness of suburban middle school—lockers and worksheets and jarring bells—and then the momentary glimpses of a midsummer’s night enchantment in the flickering light of a forbidden cigarette under a magnolia tree; of the buried desires of a friend’s father as he ate his five o’clock dinner in his shirtsleeves and tie.

Can you tell me how and when you developed the desire to be a writer?

Alice Elliott Dark : I did start as a child. I wanted to capture the feeling that books gave me, and that had to do with making a book as much as it did with reading one. I copied the ideas of books I loved—my first fan fiction—and wrote illustrated novels about wise talking bears and big families having adventures. As a teen I got more serious about it, and wrote lots of poems, and position papers for the school paper. Smash the dress code! Get rid of grades!

I was deeply attracted to mysticism and altered states of consciousness and wrote in a version of an ecstatic state, in the middle of the night. I wanted to connect with something outside of myself through writing. I vibed to stories of astrophysicists seeking contact with intelligences in outer space. (Later, The Dancing Wu-Li Masters was another favorite, mind-blowing book.)

In college I stopped writing, believing that people like me weren’t real writers. Many artists speak of making the leap from never me to why not me—I did too, eventually. I didn’t have the idea that I wanted to be a writer until after college, when I found I was too shy to apply for anything but very unassuming jobs. In the vacuum, poetry came roaring back.

How did you not put your writing aside during the early stages of development, when most people stop in favor of more lucrative or immediately rewarding occupations?

LKG : I grew up in an intellectual family, where no one talked about work being lucrative. What mattered was that work have meaning. The idea of an occupation was not on my mind—though I always assumed that I had to support myself and my taste for adventure.

By the time I turned eighteen, I’d worked as a cashier at Dunkin Donuts, as a research assistant for a guy with a stash of Victorian pornography and some shady financial dealings that landed him in federal prison, as the graveyard shift waitress at a diner renowned for occasional gunfire. My first year of college, I took a dazzling array of impractical classes: Buddhist philosophy, modern dance, a poetry workshop.

The workshop was all that I really cared about. We were given assignments to write in various classic forms, and for the first time I received feedback on my writing. But it was also the era of the glamorous suicidal poetesses—Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton—and with my consciousness so porous and my family having taken a turn into chaos, not a good time for me to spend countless hours alone, tapping out iambic pentameter and laboring in the basement recesses of an art library on the tenth draft of a poem.

Hungry for time away from the manicured lawns of my college, I signed up for a tutoring job at a nearby prison. My ex-con supervisor invited me to sit in on a group he ran. It was my introduction to psychotherapy and I was immediately smitten. The men in the group were telling stories, stories through which they could see themselves—not very different from what I did with my poems. Listening to their sometimes tragic, sometimes soulful, sometimes humorous tales, I envisioned a life in which I might both write (never expecting it would yield enough money to support myself) and work as a therapist.

I’d like to return to your mention of altered states of consciousness. We both came of age in the wake of the sixties, a time when drug experiences and new age practices were seen as potential pathways to enlightenment. Can you say more about how this thread has played out in your writing life?

AED : I was influenced by the ideas floating around in the ether, Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception , The Tibetan Book of the Dead , the writings of Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Ávila, the Seth books by Jane Roberts and the shamanic adventures of Carlos Casteneda. I devoured their writings and was fascinated by worlds beyond the five senses. I craved those enlightenment experiences, and tried to get there by meditating, fasting (the era of parents without helicopters), and writing.

I didn’t revise, but waited until I had a poem or article fully formed in my mind and then transcribed it. It was dramatic—black candles, sealing wax, a whole occult atmosphere existed in my bedroom after midnight.

But I was also after the writing, and was struck that many mystics—excellent writers—made it clear they couldn’t put their experiences into words. The best they could do was to write around them. I began to pay attention to my own mind in a different way, noticing that I passed through states and feelings that I didn’t name. They were just there, shimmering, as I went through the day.

Then I noticed that when I spoke, or wrote, words felt like only a thin approximation of what was happening inside of me, and presumably inside everyone. Words were blunt instruments until they were attended to. It wouldn’t be enough to continue writing out of my version of ecstatic states. I wasn’t William Blake! I was a girl in a suburban bedroom who loved the Romantic poets and Sylvia Plath and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, mystical writers who also knew how to make language embody meaning in their writing. (Bruce Springsteen said it well—”I got this guitar and I learned how to make her talk.”) I wanted to learn how to make language talk beyond the shorthand I got by with, while at the same time continuing to cultivate a place inside that was more untethered than my personality.

What inspired you to shift from poetry to prose?

LKG : What a gorgeous depiction of your early awareness that there is more to the world than we perceive with our five senses.

As a child, I had a strange sense of biding my time, stuck for the most part in that surface reality, waiting until I could strike out to create my own life—a life with more color and texture that would be worthy of being written about! At eighteen, I moved to Paris, living in a garret chambre de bonne . I spent my days as an au pair for the ill-behaved children of an elegant concert pianist, who instructed me on how a French woman dresses, and my evenings with various boyfriends—a Communist factory worker, a Polish photographer—while I saved up enough money to travel from Crete to Marrakech. Of course, I read Stendhal and Anais Nin and Henry Miller and Paul Bowles and of course I kept voluminous journals—never considering those pages to be my creative work.

My first foray into fiction came the year before I started graduate school, when I decided to teach myself to compose at the typewriter. I’d assumed that I’d continue my journal entries, but somehow with this new modality, the entries broke free and morphed into scenes that began to approximate stories.

It was the early eighties, an era of renaissance for that form. I gobbled up collections by Ann Beatty and Raymond Carver and Jayne Anne Phillips and Bobbie Ann for the precision and economy of their work. I joined a workshop run by Gordon Lish, infamous for precepts such as the writer, as god of the page, must never use their power to skewer others; the writer must take the reader by the hand, never confusing or condescending. It would be nearly a decade later, at which point my stories were bursting at the seams, before I would try my hand at a novel.

How about you? When and how did you make the shift from poetry to short stories? And when did you begin to develop a writing discipline as opposed to relying on those midnight, candle-lit ecstatic states?

AED : Like every woman writer I know, I have struggled to make time for my writing. I won’t even go into all that weighs against doing it; everyone knows. It is no accident that I was able to settle into working on a big novel, Fellowship Point , after my son had been out of the house for a year. I’d published a novel eight years earlier and tried two in between, and I couldn’t figure them out. They sit in plastic bins in my basement.

It wasn’t only time; it was mental space. When my son was born, he took over my brain and I thought of him always. He could tell if he weren’t foremost in my mind, and wanted me back. That was a conflict, as I knew it would be. Such is life. Such was I. Teaching also takes up a huge amount of mental space.

It has taken me a long time to sort through my writing/life problems, and I’m not done yet. I have arrived at a writing method that works reliably. I write before I do anything else, and I stop when my attention lags. Ninety minutes of writing this way is worth four hours of agitation, doubt, interruption. It’s very much the way I first wrote, except in the morning rather than the middle of the night, and without the spooky overlay. For revising, I work more hours, and then don’t mind distractions; I check my email, read. It’s fine.

My husband is extremely knowledgeable about fiction but I rely on him for encouragement above all, and that works. I have friends, including you, Lisa, who gave me great notes on Fellowship Point . My son, also a writer, is my top reader, and my agent has been insightful and helpful to me for years.

I do my best to support my friends and students. Knowing I have my hour or two early in the day makes fulfilling the needs of others possible without resentment. Sometimes I need to retreat; I love residencies for that. They are not as impermeable as they used to be but they’re still out of this world marvelous places that deserve all the support they can get. They offer artists many things, above all the chance to go deep and do better.

My greatest support is books. I have my favorites, and my favorite movies, and return to them over and over, not so much to learn as to settle down. I teach a class called Literary Fan Fiction where we look at conversations that take place in the form of stories and novels, often traversing the barrier of death. When I read I am always looking through the text, imagining the author’s handwriting or picking up their mood.

Lisa, we started talking about how writing has changed us but quickly realized it has been the organizing principle of our lives, so let me ask: what has that meant for you over time?

LKG : Oh my, Alice: you’ve found the exact idea—the organizing principle of our lives. I also work best in the morning hours–when my mind is fresh from sleep and close to dreams, before the pull of family life and the static of emails—but I’ve learned to accept that there are times when others’ schedules should come first and I have to bend.

Those imperfect not-first-thing hours are imperfect, but as long as I have quiet (construction earmuffs help in a pinch), I can now find my focus when I sit in my chair with my yellow shawl across the back, at my desk with the rose inside a glass paperweight and the handmade mug filled with my coffee always set up the night before, and the books that speak to what I’m working on nearby.

The organizing principle: Writing has become my meditation. When I’m at my desk and absorbed in finding the connection between inchoate thoughts and feelings and words ribboning across the screen, everything else drops away. I’m not worried about my ninety-four-year-old mother and her hearing aids or my younger son’s linear algebra exam or my older son’s allergies or calling the super to fix the dripping sink. I let go of thinking about why the rain is so torrential this year or if the deer are eating the hydrangeas or what will happen in the next election. My heartbeat slows and I am fully present—which doesn’t assure that the work will be worthy, only that I am doing the work.

Writing is the medium through which I can allow my imagination to go wild, through which I’ve learned to trust my intuition, to work so hard at times that my eyes gloriously ache. It’s how I’ve faced down fears and the ugliest parts of myself and how I’ve discovered the most fearless and worthiest parts of myself. Exchanging work with other writers has been among the most intimate experiences of my life: receiving the great gift of someone else’s full attention on my work and their dedication to helping it become its best version of itself; being granted the great privilege of another entrusting me to do the same.

If I do not write, I am unwell: deprived of the very thing that gives me sustenance. The same is true for me with reading, which for me is part of writing. I can leave the house without water or an umbrella, but never without a book and a notebook. We all have the rivers through which we navigate our lives and literature is mine—an infinitely fascinating current of ideas and feelings and for me, a portal into the most elevated modes of living. When my days are over, I will feel content and very lucky if I can leave my sons well in mind and body and a handful of my books in those majestic waters.

So let me end our exchange by flipping the question: What has it meant to you to have writing as the organizing principle of your life?

AED : Lisa, I love what you say here, and I say ditto to all of it. Writing is my meditation, too. Everything that is of present concern recedes during the hours I am writing, and I am untethered from how I interact of the world and what it makes of me. I do take myself to the page, my experience and knowledge, but my identity becomes far more fluid as I enter the sphere of imagination.

I don’t know if our characters express aspects of ourselves, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels more like this: One day when I was still living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in an old apartment, I was walking across the living room when a whole other person passed right through me. It probably lasted a second, but in that time I received complete knowledge of who he was, images of his life, what he was like. He was, above all, not me, but another entity entirely, unique and on his own trajectory that happened to intersect with mine at that moment.

It’s a ghost story, take it or leave it; it happened. My experience of him is how I feel about characters. They pass through me, but they are not me, and when I am giving them their due I am relieved of myself for those hours.

When I was a child, writing was an escape, a place to go to get away from the chaos around me. I was a seeker, and since I couldn’t see my way to committing to the life of a religious, I chose the path of writing as a way to temper my personality, shave down my ego, and see the world more directly. Sometimes writing has been an addiction. Sometimes a therapist, a medicine, a bearing wall for mental health. I was once told your art problems are your life problems. That gave me a fresh perspective on my writing, and I found that issues I thought endemic to the work weren’t—they were me.

These days writing is peaceful. I approach the page as I approach the feral cats I feed twice a day, with an attitude of curiosity, benevolence, and a lack of agenda. That may sound contradictory to the work of writing a novel, but I mean something separate from the important role played by executive functions—organization and planning. In the early morning writing sessions I have learned to be open and present.

The page, my pal, is present too, formidable and surprising and equal—exactly my equal, on any day. We have a good relationship, and so far, I have always wanted to get together again.


Ana Turns - Gornick, Lisa

Ana Turns   by Lisa Gornick is available via Keylight Books .

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How To Use Your Five Senses When Writing: Really Useful Links by Amanda J Evans

Amanda J Evans

Amanda J Evans

  • 18 February 2021

In this week’s column, the focus is on how to use your five senses when writing fiction. Uses the senses helps to bring description and scenes to life on the page and pull the reader into your story. The links I’ve chosen include tips and advise on how to effectively use the five senses to bring your fiction to life as well as an article that includes some great examples of using the five senses in writing. I hope you find them useful and they help you to improve your writing.

  • – Tips to Use Your Five Senses When Writing: This is a short read that includes a paragraph for each of the five senses and how you can use them when writing fiction. There is an example included and some information on what to focus on when using each of the senses.
  • – How to Use All 5 Senses To Unlock Your Fictional World: The sense work brilliantly when you are writing description and in this article each of the five senses is taken and detailed so you know how to get the most out of them. There are videos included in the article as well as some great examples to show how each of the senses can enrich your prose. At the end of each sense are some tips on how you can start using it. This is a detailed article and I recommend putting aside some time to read it thoroughly.
  • – How to Use the Five Senses in Your Writing: This is an article from MasterClass that explains that in order to create descriptions that will stay with your readers it is important to understand and know how to use the five senses in writing. This article is broken down into different sections and includes a section on how to write with sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound. There are writing prompts, and tips included with each section too.
  • – Description Writing and the 5 Senses: This is a detailed article that explores how to use your five senses when writing fiction and it has a section for each sense including the addition of the sixth sense. The article begins with a look at what sensory description is before jumping into each of the senses. Using the senses is all about trying to give your readers a way to really experience your characters and the world they are living in.
  • – How to Use the 5 Senses in Creative Writing: This is a great, down to earth, article about using the senses in your writing. The examples are great and I loved the explanation on whether or not we should use all 5 senses all the time. The section on how to weave the 5 senses into your story is excellent and the examples really help to show you what the author is talking about. It’s a quick read, but with a great explanation of this topic.
  • – How to Unlock All Five Senses in Your Writing: This article discusses the five senses and how to write using them. There are some exercises included with the article to help you get in some practice and once you’ve read through how to use each of the senses the exercises will help you hone your skills.
  • – The Five Senses and Filtering: This is a brilliant article, especially the section on filtering which gives you some great examples of how to use each of the sentences without telling. Instead of saying she heard, she felt, she tasted, there are examples of how to show each of these senses while engaging your readers. Again, each of the senses are covered in the article which some great tips on how to use them in your writing.
  • – The Power of the 5 Senses in Stories: Using the senses in writing is a great way to show and not tell and this article looks at ways in which you can do this. There’s a great exercise right at the start followed by some extra sensory information that you can make use of in your writing. The article ends with three writing exercises for using the 5 senses.
  • – Great Examples of The 5 Senses in Writing: The final link for this week and this topic is examples of using the five senses. This article has a number of sections including an explanation of the five sensory organs, then the five senses. An example from Great Expectations is used for sight. For touch, there a great exercise you can do. The Smell section includes a great example from Joyce’s Ulysses. There’s a 5 senses writing checklist and a section on how to use the five senses in writing with some great exercises for you to try. The article ends with a huge list of adjectives for the 5 senses that I’m sure you’ll find useful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed all the links this week and are getting ready to practice all the advice given. If there is a topic you’d like to see me cover, all you need to do is get in touch with me via any of my social media links.

(c) Amanda J Evans , Facebook and Twitter : @amandajevans

About the author

Amanda J Evans is an award-winning Irish author of YA and Adult romance in paranormal and fantasy genres. Growing up with heroes like Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, her stories centre on good versus evil with a splice of love and magic thrown in too. Her books have all won awards and her latest novella, Hear Me Cry, won the Book of the Year Award at the Dublin Writers Conference 2018. Amanda has been featured in a number of poetry anthologies in 2017 and 2018 including A Bowl of Irish Stew, a charity anthology for Pieta House and her short story Moonlight Magic was included in the Owl Hollow Press Anthology, Under the Full Moon’s Light, published in October 2018. Amanda is currently polishing her novel, Winterland, which will be submitted to agents and publishers in 2019, and is also working on a Bronte inspired story for an anthology due for publication in 2020. Amanda is also the author of Surviving Suicide: A Memoir from Those Death Left Behind, published in 2012. You can find out more on her website, Facebook and Twitter: @amandajevans

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Composition Revision: Using Your 5 Senses in Your Writing

  • Posted By blog-user

Composition Revision. Creative Writing & Compo

Hey everyone! I’m Miss Krittika, a teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. Before we start, let’s see whether you can identify any of the 5 senses I have used to craft the descriptions in the paragraph above. They are:

the sense of smell

the sense of hearing

the sense of sight

Let’s take a look at the same paragraph again. This time I have highlighted and labelled the sentences that show the use of these 3 senses:

Composition Revision. Creative Writing & Compo

I am sure you have managed to pick out the correct sentences and senses from the paragraph! As you can tell, today we’ll be revising how to use our 5 senses effectively in our writing. Let’s go!

Composition Revision. Creative Writing & Compo

First let’s recall what our 5 senses are:

5 Senses. Creative Writing & Compo

Do you know that we use our 5 senses every day? You are using your sense of sight right this instant to read this blog post. If you can hear your fan or air conditioner whirring, or even your friends chattering away, then you are using your sense of hearing. Amazing right?

Why should we use our 5 senses during writing?

We use the 5 senses description to describe the setting or place in the story. By doing so, readers can visualise the place where the story is happening. As students, you are encouraged to use some if not all of your 5 senses in your composition to engage your readers.

When can we use our 5 senses during writing?

At Lil’ but Mighty, the 5-senses description is always used in the introduction where we provide a place description to show where the main character is. In addition, you are encouraged to use them each time the setting changes in the story! In the paragraph, we should mention the place and provide 2 to 3 sets of descriptions about the people, things, or activities there. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Creative Writing & Compo

What can b e seen?

What can be heard?

What can be smelt?

What can be tasted?

What can be touched or felt?

For instance, in the paragraph that you read at the start of this post, I described what I saw, heard and smelt at my favourite cafe in relation to the things, people and activities found there. If you can imagine the scene in your mind, then I have successfully used the 5 senses description in my paragraph!

As part of our revision, let’s take a look at some example phrases of how each of the different senses work.

Sense of sight. Creative Writing & Compo

The phrases above can be used to describe common settings such as the canteen, the shopping mall, the park and many more! Sometimes, it can be challenging for us to use all of our 5 senses as it may not be applicable to the setting. In such cases, using 2 to 3 senses is sufficient.

Take note that even though we have been describing the place, you should not forget about describing the weather especially if it is important to the story e.g. a rainy day which caused an accident to happen. Here are some descriptions to show how you should use the 5 senses to describe the weather.

Rainy weather. Creative Writing & Compo

Can you think of other phrases using your 5 senses? Share with us in the comments section below! Till we meet again! 😊

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Ms. Krittika

As a teacher, Miss Krittika is highly motivated in empowering children to become independent and resilient learners. She also believes that every child’s creativity can be unleashed in a safe and open environment. With her penchant for teaching and dedication, Miss Krittika aims to make her classes interactive and effective.

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ESL Expat - Resources for Teaching English Abroad

Five Senses ESL Writing Activity

The Five Senses ESL Activity encourages students to write more descriptively using all five of their senses with a piece of chocolate. It is recommended for adult learners; however, kids could try it as well if their level is high enough.

Student Level: Intermediate , Advanced

Age Group: Adults

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Five Senses ESL Activity Preparation:

Pick up some chocolate from your local convenience store. Those small individually wrapped pieces of chocolate usually work best for most scenarios.

If budget is a concern, you could supplement the chocolate with some cheap candy or even use a beverage if you prefer.

Five Senses ESL Activity Guidelines:

First, when class begins, it would be a good idea to show the class some examples of descriptive writing using the senses. Try comparing writing styles that use more colorful language versus writing that uses less description.

Second, elicit the five senses that we use in our daily lives: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. You could draw a simple diagram on the board or use some other visual technique to elicit the senses if you like.

Third, enforce the idea that sometimes writing can be much more powerful and effective when we use descriptive adjectives that appeal to our five senses. Students are going to elevate their creative writing skills by analyzing how chocolate tastes, smells, feels, and looks. Additionally, you could even have them describe how it “sounds.”

Next, students should write down the five sensory categories on a piece of paper. You could create a customized handout with the categories on it before class if you want. Then, hand out the wrappers of chocolate to each student. However, tell them they can’t eat it until the end of the activity. This is important!

Model the first sense on the list for them to complete the first category. Unwrap the chocolate. If the first sense on the list is “smell,” then demonstrate the task by smelling the chocolate in your hand.

Write on the board a number of adjectives and similes about the scent of the chocolate. Elicit more descriptive words from the students. Try to list as many as you can.

After demonstrating the task, have the class perform the same task for the other four senses in their groups. Note, it would be a good idea to set a time limit for each category and lead feedback for each section after the time is up.

By the end, the students will have compiled an extensive list of descriptive words and phrases for how chocolate appeals to their five senses. Furthermore, make sure that the last sense that they describe is about how the chocolate TASTES.

Remember, if you do that one first then there will be nothing to describe for the other four senses because the chocolate will already be in their stomachs!

Finally, to complete the five senses writing activity, have the class write a descriptive paragraph about chocolate using the lists that were compiled during the activity. Assign it for homework if you run out of time.

Perhaps, for some extra motivation, you could reward the students with the most impressive paragraphs will a big chocolate bar.

Follow-Up ESL Activities:

As an extension to the lesson, you could do a similar activity with a beverage, like coffee or tea. Students could use anything that they have in their bag or supply them with something to describe.

Alternatively, you could try the TED Talk Listening Activity to improve their listening skills relating to talks about the five senses.

More ESL Writing Activities for Kids and Adults:

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    Capturing an event through descriptive writing involves paying close attention to the details by using all of your five senses. Teaching students to write more descriptively will improve their writing by making it more interesting and engaging to read. Home In the Classroom Classroom Strategy Library Descriptive Writing Key Information Focus

  8. Descriptive writing using 5 senses ️

    Descriptive writing using 5 senses ️ | How to write the perfect piece of descriptive writing Learn Easy English 454K subscribers Subscribe Subscribed 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8...

  9. PDF Descriptive Writing and the Five Senses

    Descriptive Writing and the Five Senses One of the key tasks that a passage of descriptive writing has to perform is to appeal to all five of the senses. The "picture" that your novel paints in a reader's mind should be so much more than a visual one - it should also be about how things sound, smell, taste, and touch.

  10. Using All 5 Senses to Write About Feelings

    If your class needs to transition from essay writing to a poetry unit, your students may have a hard time shifting gears to match the new genre. For fifth-grade teacher Julie Ballew, the exercise below was a great way for her young writers to practice expressive writing by exploring their feelings and using their five senses.

  11. Writing Technique: Using the 5 Senses

    When teaching children to write better stories, utilising their five senses is just as important. However, I have noticed that getting children to describe something with their five senses is not as easy as we thought. I believe it is because our senses are usually on autopilot mode. We use our senses without effort or much thought.

  12. Five days and five senses: Free writing as a daily practice

    February 2, 2021 Five days and five senses: Free writing as a daily practice Prompts to help you build stronger writing muscles every day By Jacqui Banaszynski Tagged with Free writing Sensory writing Writing practice Writing tips Wilhelm Gunkel via Unsplash

  13. Using the 5 Senses

    It's easy to use sight and sound while smell comes in a distant third. Most of what we write for our characters include those three senses: The forested mountains (sight), the babbling brook (sight and sound), the fragrant rose with a drop of dew (sight and smell), the rusted refrigerator at the city dump (sight and smell), the barking wet dogs at the animal shelter (sight, sound and smell).

  14. Using the Senses to Write Descriptively

    Lesson Plan. Explain to students that they are going to use all five senses as they write a descriptive paragraph. Ask students to list the five senses, and write them -- sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch -- on a chalkboard or chart as students respond. You might prepare in advance of the lesson a work sheet with a 5-column chart; each ...

  15. How To Use The Five Senses In Writing

    Probably the easiest sense to write about. The writer will highlight what the character sees, whether the character is walking down the street or when inside a building. It's OK to draw attention to the cracks in the pavement. But it might be significant to show how the cracks mirror the (fractured) paths in the character's life.

  16. Writing Tips: Writing Beyond the 5 Senses

    The most useful way to show what you want to say is to tap into the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing and get into the 'why' behind each sense.

  17. How to Use All Five Senses in Your Writing, Ft. Sacha Black

    Learn how to harness all five senses to make your stories come alive, which will deepen your reader's experience.Meg LaTorre interviews bestselling fantasy a...

  18. Lisa Gornick and Alice Elliott Dark on Altered States of Consciousness

    AED: I was influenced by the ideas floating around in the ether, Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the writings of Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Ávila, the Seth books by Jane Roberts and the shamanic adventures of Carlos Casteneda.I devoured their writings and was fascinated by worlds beyond the five senses. I craved those enlightenment experiences, and ...

  19. How To Use Your Five Senses When Writing: Really Useful Links by Amanda

    Amanda J Evans. 18 February 2021. In this week's column, the focus is on how to use your five senses when writing fiction. Uses the senses helps to bring description and scenes to life on the page and pull the reader into your story. The links I've chosen include tips and advise on how to effectively use the five senses to bring your ...

  20. Composition Revision: Using Your 5 Senses in Your Writing

    Before we start, let's see whether you can identify any of the 5 senses I have used to craft the descriptions in the paragraph above. They are: the sense of smell. the sense of hearing. the sense of sight. Let's take a look at the same paragraph again. This time I have highlighted and labelled the sentences that show the use of these 3 senses:

  21. The five senses

    GCSE; CCEA; Planning - CCEA The five senses. It's always a good idea to plan before you write. You can gather your main ideas, list vocabulary you'd like to include and map out your structure ...

  22. What are the senses?

    How we use our five senses. Video Transcript Your senses. Touch. Your skin gives you a sense of touch. So even when you're not looking, you can tell if something is soft and warm, or smooth...

  23. Descriptive Writing and the Five Senses

    In this learning concept, students will learn: The importance of 5 senses in descriptive writing. Usage of sensory details in descriptive writing. Vivid examples of using sensory in a sentence. Every concept for class 5 English students has been covered using examples, illustrations, and concept maps. Students can assess their related skills by ...

  24. Five Senses

    Five Senses ESL Activity Guidelines: First, when class begins, it would be a good idea to show the class some examples of descriptive writing using the senses. Try comparing writing styles that use more colorful language versus writing that uses less description. Second, elicit the five senses that we use in our daily lives: sight, sound, touch ...