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Showing not Telling

Description 

This activity helps to enliven students’ writing by teaching them to SHOW what is happening and how characters are feeling rather than drily reporting the facts. It helps writers and readers to experience stories with their senses rather than just recalling a simple series of events.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
Skills 
Writing with Fiction Elements

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Writing

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Writing from Sources

Preparation 

Identify an excerpt of a text that does a good job showing what is happening without explicitly stating the facts. Ideally, you should select from a book that students have recently read, but short stories or children’s books are also good options. You may also write your own samples. Then, prepare a model of what the text might look like if the author simply and tediously stated the facts. The book Writing Lessons for the Interactive Whiteboard by Lola Schaefer also has relevant text samples if you are looking for something already prepared

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher displays model of showing-not-telling text for students and they discuss what they notice.

    Ask students questions, including: · Can you tell what is happening in this story? How can you tell? · Do you feel like you were really there? Why? · Which groups of words show you what the character did? · Which groups of words show you what the character felt? Ask students to identify moments in the text when the author uses sounds, thoughts, and feelings, and highlight in one color; and moments when the author uses simple reporting, and highlight in a contrasting color.

  2. Teacher displays alternate, telling-not-showing model of same passage for students and they discuss what they notice.

    Consider keeping the first passage up as a reference. Ask students the same set of questions: · Can you tell what is happening in this story? How can you tell? · Do you feel like you were really there? Why? · Which groups of words show you what the character did? · Which groups of words show you what the character felt? Ask students to identify moments in the text when the author uses sounds, thoughts, and feelings, and highlight in one color; and moments when the author uses simple reporting, and highlight in a contrasting color.

  3. Teacher leads students in a discussion of the two passages together, identifying similarities and differences, and strengths and weaknesses.

    Ask questions including: · What is the same about these two passages? · What is different about these two passages? · Which passage does more “showing”? How can you tell? · Which passage is more engaging to read? · What writing techniques did the first writer use to show not tell?

  4. Teacher asks students to brainstorm a list of strategies or techniques that the first author used to show not tell. Teacher makes and displays a list of these.

    The list should at least include the following ideas: · Use active verbs. · Use dialogue. · Describe the body language that indicates internal states (emotion or motivation). · Be descriptive of what the character perceives, and use sensory words.

  5. In pairs or individually, students prepare their own “showing not telling” piece of writing.

    Circulate as students are working and confer with them, focusing on developing their understanding and application of the showing-not-telling elements of writing craft. If this writing assignment is a multi-day task, you can also engage with students through ongoing comments and revisions.

  6. Students share out their work, through pair share or a gallery walk, or through small-group study.

    Facilitate discussion during the sharing- out period, helping students to identify the writing elements that show instead of tell.

  7. Students reflect either alone or in groups about their learning process. They can reflect in discussion or through writing.

    Ask students to respond to questions such as: · How does examining a model of writing help you to improve your own work? · How might showing not telling improve your writing in the future? · How is the experience of reading different when an author shows instead of tells? · What other types of work or tasks might showing not telling be helpful for?

Downloadable Resources 
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