Harry Potter: A Rich Source of Descriptive Language

Harry PotterA recent trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios had me thinking back to my first Harry Potter memory and the treasure trove of descriptive language found in the series.

Do you have an early Harry Potter memory? Mine was the summer of ‘99. I heard Oprah Winfrey talking about a book that had adults and children alike clamoring to read. As a fourth-grade teacher, I had to investigate. Of course, the book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the rest is history.

Now it’s 19 years later, and the seven books in the Harry Potter series have collectively sold nearly 500 million copies. They’ve been translated into more than 70 languages. Imagine how many children (and adults!) have enjoyed the story of the boy wizard!

It was my 30-something daughter who invited me to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios with her. In preparation for our trip, I reread Sorcerer’s Stone. I believe it was even more enchanting than the first read. If you have children in your life who haven’t been exposed to the Harry Potter books, I highly recommend them. Although the movies have been out for a while, and many kids think they have come to “know” Harry, nothing can replace the language in J. K. Rowling’s books.

Bringing Harry into the Classroom: Using Adjectives

As your students get to know Harry and company, use the literature to teach students about the craft of writing with adjectives. There are several wonderful examples of descriptive writing in this first book that could be used with students as exemplars or stimuli. For example:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Chapter 5- Harry and Hagrid’s visit to Gringotts

Chapter 5- Harry’s visit to Ollivander’s wand shop (I had the pleasure to experience this on my trip to Hogsmeade—highly recommended!)

Chapter 7- The Great Hall and the Sorting Ceremony

Chapter 12- Harry’s Christmas Dinner

  • Have students close their eyes and conjure their own image while you read the passages aloud. This helps demonstrate the power of the author’s language.
  • Next, ask students to write their own descriptive sentences or paragraphs. Topics can include pets (real or imaginary), special dinners, birthday parties, a favorite toy, a trip to the zoo, a favorite dessert, etc.
  • Emphasize playing with the words to make writing come alive. This is a good time to practice using a thesaurus.

Making Inferences: Exploring Character Traits with Adjectives

Good writers use descriptive adjectives to show their characters’ traits. This link, ReadWriteThink.org, uses the characters from Harry Potter to help students identify character traits.

  • Have students make a list of traits for characters from Harry Potter or any other book they are reading. Then they can complete their chart with actions that demonstrate the trait.
  • Students can use the chart to show reading comprehension or to develop characters in their own writing.

More to Discuss

For more discussion ideas look at Scholastic Discussion Guide for the Harry Potter Series. This guide, written for the first 4 books in the series, deals with theme, setting, characterization, and conflict. The guide also includes discussion questions and vocabulary activities. Why not get interested students to form a book club and meet with other staff (a principal, counselor, cafeteria staff, custodian, etc.) or interested Harry Potter fan to discuss their reading? This is a way for students to connect with other adults as readers.

Post Author: Pat K

Pat K. is a retired elementary teacher who has found a new career as a writer for Simple Solutions. She holds a Masters Degree and National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist. She enjoys the Cleveland Indians, Ohio State Buckeyes, golf, and learning new things, (which is why she loves working at Simple Solutions)!