Monday, April 26, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

You and your students are working on writing, be it creative, descriptive, or otherwise. You get a lot of this:
He was hungry. He wanted a sandwich. He was full after he ate the sandwich.

You can hear the Charlie Brown "wah wah" from here, can't you? You thirst for adjectives; you starve for lively verbs! You have a hunger that can only be quenched through the satiating string of vivid descriptors, variable clauses, and dynamic syntax!

So I will give you the ingredients for your students, so they can whip up a tasty meal. I call this my "Show, Don't Tell" lesson.

You might want to start by explaining how we've turned the phrase "Show, Don't Tell" from the common, elementary school activity "Show & Tell." Good tales let the words show us the story. We can see it/smell it/taste it/hear it/feel it when we read. We're right there in the story.

Pull up the Show, Don't Tell powerpoint. In this writing lesson I focus on two elements: character & setting. We've already talking about direct characterization versus indirect (good time to talk about inferences there), so we bring that up again. If actions speak louder than words (you could incorporate this phrase & its truth into the introduction discussion), then we can best get to know our characters by seeing them act. Similarly, how does the author establish a clear setting? Is it just by telling us the weather and color of the landscape?

Notes & Checks for Understanding
Follow through the powerpoint, looking at models of good "Show" examples, talking about why they're good & what they reveal. Stop before slide 5 and handout some sample paragraphs students can keep for themselves. Have them read over the three paragraphs in the table at the top of the page. Take a quick poll on which one they think is "Okay," "Better," and "Best." Continue on, talking through the examples on the screen, asking students to identify the elements that make the writing stronger, more vivid. Try to get them to use the parts of speech (verb/adjectives/clasuses) when they talk about the examples.

Finally, slide 11, stop and have students look again at the paragraphs at the bottom of their pages. Have them read and decide (think/pair/share or independently) which is which. If there's any confusion, here's the chance to slow it down and go back over any examples as necessary. Assuming all goes well (and it will, because your kids rock), take your first step towards application.

The last slide asks students to take a "tell" sentence and turn it into a "show," by expanding it to three sentences. You could ask students to do this independently or in pairs. Don't give them too much time - 5 minutes, tops. When time's up, share! See if classmates can identify which "tell" sentence was originally chosen. Talk about how they knew which one it was.

And here returns Mr. Burdick again. Choose one of the portfolio pictures (via teacher vote or class vote) and put it in front of them. Tell them you want them to apply what they've learned now about creating a picture through their writing. You'll give them about 20-30 minutes to "show, don't tell" what's going on in that picture.

Afterward, have students get in groups and share their "showings." You could even tweak the last part so that you could let students choose which picture they want to use, and then see if classmates can determine it.

Materials: Show Don't Tell ppt, Show Don't Tell Student Notes

Source: Gateway Institute workshop; excerpts of examples given credit where I can remember

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing that lesson! I'm going to pass it along to the teachers I coach. We've been working on "show, don't tell" with their students and I think this will be a great way to wrap up the unit!