Can your students tell the difference between a discursive and descriptive essay?

Ask them to look at these prompts and decide which is descriptive and which is discursive:


1. Write an essay about public transport in your country. Say what types of public transport are available, if there are any problems with public transport networks and what could be done to help more people use public transport.

2. Write an essay about whether it is better to learn to speak English or Chinese. Say what the advantages and disadvantages are of each option, and if you think the situation will change in the future.



1. Descriptive = describing a current situation – there aren’t two sides being explored in this essay.

2. Discursive (many discursive essays include “if” or “whether”/ advantages + disadvantages) = evaluating two things.

Essays are very formal writing – no personal opinion unless the question specifically asks for it!


Remember to show your students that the verbs they choose can make their writing more, or less, formal!

Latin verbs in general more formal, germanic ones less so – phrasal verbs with “get” are very useful to make things seem informal.

If I get sick I’ll go to see the doctor.

If I become ill I will attend the hospital.

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