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Get Students to Show, Not Tell with a Gotcha!

april 28, 2011

Get Students to Show, Not Tell with a Gotcha!

Trying to get students to describe a moment rather than just tell about it is difficult. We’ve all said things like “Show, don’t tell” or “Paint a picture in my mind with your details” or “Make me feel like I was there.” But, despite all this instruction, students still tell their readers “The teacher was mad” rather than show “The red-faced teacher pursed her lips and glared at the anxious students.”

In an attempt to help her students better understand the difference between “showing” and not just “telling,” Angie Adkins from St. Philip Neri School (Indianapolis, IN) crafts a fake interruption. She has someone call her out into the hall, excuses herself from the class, and then returns a few moments later.

When she comes back into the classroom, she has a red face and an angry look. She slams a book onto an empty desk and writes “NO RECESS!” on the board. She then slams the marker down and glares at her students.

After letting the students panic for a second or two, she yells “Gotcha!” Angie explains it was all pretend. With sighs of relief the students begin describing what they observed. They brainstorm a list of descriptive words and phrases that captured the scene. Using those details, they craft a whole-class description that “shows” the anger while Angie writes it out on chart paper.

She reminds them they could have simply written “The teacher was mad.” But the students know there was so much more to that moment that wasn’t conveyed in that “telling” sentence. Needless to say, Angie’s students forever remember how to develop a “showing” moment in their writing. Thanks for sharing, Angie!

Tricia Snow, teacher at Fort Branch Community School (Fort Branch, IN), posted a tweet that highlighted student examples: 7th grade practiced Word Choice with a “Show, Don’t Tell” activity! #WritingTraits | #SmekensEd | @SmekensEd

Student Sample: Show, Don't Tell
Student Sample: Show, Don't Tell
Student Sample: Show, Don't Tell
Student Sample: Show, Don't Tell
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