'Show Don't Tell' -Providing the Power to Improve Student Writing

I am increasingly aware there exists in some classrooms, a confusion  over exactly what is meant by the term, show, don't tell, and how to present it to student writers...

We often refer to the Show, Don't Tell craft strategy when we read students’ writing and notice they've told us that they’ve had a good time, or that the ice-cream they ate was good, but don’t show us by giving a specific example. To help students see how other writers show and not tell, choose parts from texts presenting clear examples of ‘show and not tell.’

One of the most common traps writers fall into is to try and tell things in their writing instead of showing them. They say things like,
“The little boy was angry”

This type of writing tells the reader something, but it doesn’t show. The words used don’t create a clear enough picture in the mind of the reader. The immediate question is, 'What did the boy do to indicate he was angry. Anger can show up in many ways. 'How did the boy display anger?'
As curious readers, we want to know.

 If we want children’s writing to come to life for their readers we have to teach them to show. To show their readers what the boy’s anger looked like, they might write it like this:

'The little boy balled his fists into tight little bullets, clutched at his side. When he spoke it was more of a hissing than a regular voice.'

The reader immediately knows the boy is angry. The word ‘angry’ is not required. The reader can see it in the words the writer has used. The reader is able to infer. The writer treats the reader with respect and allows them to not only visualize, but more importantly, think.

‘Show don’t tell’ is a strategy that can be used effectively during the revision stage of writing. The writer needs to be encouraged to ask the question, ‘Are their places in my writing where I am telling instead of showing?’

Show,Don't Tell as a Revision Strategy
It assists the reader to activate their senses and visualize the scene, rather than just being told.

 My room was messy.

REMEMBER: Can’t use messy!

REVISION:  I had to force open the door because a football and a backpack blocked it. How am I ever going to find my football jumper in that mountain of clothes on the unmade bed?

Using Show, Don't Tell with characters

When writing about a particular character, try to show that character in action.

Mary was angry (TELL)

Mary threw her arms around her diary and
glared at her brother (SHOW)

Joe was an old man (TELL)

Joe had lived through eighty summers. His face was shriveled like a walnut and he relied heavily on his faithful walking stick when moving about.(SHOW)

A Great Example of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’

He shivered, He shook. He sneezed. His teeth chattered. He longed for his handkerchief. He grabbed hold of his tail (it took a long frightening moment to even locate his tail, so absolute was the darkness) to have something, anything to hold on to. He considered fainting. He deemed it the only reasonable response to the situation in which he found himself, but then he remembered the words of the threadmaster: honour, courtesy, devotion and bravery.

The Tale of Despereaux,
Kate DiCamillo
Page 74 


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