Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Show, don't tell!: A Writing Mini-Lesson

Using descriptive language is a must if students want to be great narrative writers.  Many times students will just tell what the character is feeling.  For example,  they might write "Ben was mad."  That's it. Readers crave more! Don't just tell and leave it that.  When writers SHOW a reader what the character is feeling, it gives the reader a better mental picture and insight into the character. An example of showing is, "Ben stomped into the room with narrow eyes, a red face, and nostrils flaring.  He put his hands on his hips and pointed a finger at his older brother.  See the difference?  Now, we can tell that Ben is really mad!  We have a mental picture of  him stomping into the room and showing anger towards his brother.  Writers need to SHOW, don't Tell!

I got the idea for this anchor chart from Pinterest (Oh, how I love Pinterest for great teaching ideas!).  The "Showing Emotions & Feelings" chart was posted by  It was the inspiration for the chart I created with my students.  Thanks for the idea Hooty's Homeroom!

Here's a great book you can share with your writers to introduce this writing mini-lesson.  It's called Show, Don't Tell:  Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso.  It's a long book, so you may want to only read an excerpt.

I started this writing lesson by having my students draw 6 squares on one sheet of their reader's notebook and 6 square on another sheet.  This gave them plenty of room to jot down their ideas.

Then I had them write the emotion and feeling words in each box.  The words included:  excited, sad, shy, shocked, tired, cold, hot, afraid, embarrassed nervous, and angry.  You could have them brainstorm their own words as well.  

As a class we brainstormed ways as writers we could SHOW the emotion, rather than just telling about the emotion or feeling.

Here are some examples of some of the questions I asked students during the lesson.  For the word "angry", I asked questions such as: 
  • What does angry look like?
  • How is your body language /posture when you're angry?
  • How do your eyes look when you're angry?  What does your face look like?
  • What actions are you doing when you're angry?

We repeated the questioning and brainstorming process with each emotion.  I recorded student responses on chart paper and students jotted their ideas in their reading notebooks.

Students can refer to these charts in their notebook as they write narrative stories.  It will remind them of the the descriptive language to show, not tell when writing!

1 comment:

  1. This is such a valuable tool - thanks for sharing! Showing versus telling can also be applied to all kinds of other opportunities, e.g. creating business pitches, conveying sympathy, blog posts etc. Here's an article I wrote from the perspective of a fiction editor, if you're interested:


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