Sunday, October 18, 2015

Writing Workshop: Show Don't Tell

My students have been busy during our writing workshop over the past few weeks. They have been working on writing fiction, specifically spooky stories. The jumping off point was a picture that I used for a quickwrite prompt at the beginning of the month from Meg Hicks.

This became the setting of their stories. Students worked on writing their original draft of the story in their writing notebooks. During this time, we had mini lessons related to overused words and vivid verbs (read this post). Once drafts were completed, students typed that draft using Google Drive. Then revisions began. Their first task was to find all their verbs and replace with vivid verbs, revising the sentences.

As students worked through this, I was conferencing with them about "show don't tell" and making sure they included a fully developed problem in their story.  I had a chance to read everyone's draft last weekend, and had an "uh-oh" moment. I realized that many of my students had just listed actions in their stories - there was no real problem, no elaboration. So I reached out to what has become my teaching support group on Voxer. They provided much needed support - not only with ideas to help my students, but also stating that they in fact have this issue with many of their students. Doesn't it always make you feel better to know you're not alone?!

I crafted my lessons for the following week to address this technique of elaboration in writing. We began by looking at a handout that showed "tell" sentences vs. "show" sentences. I had my students notice and note what the differences were between these. A few things they said were that the show sentences really helped them, as readers, imagine what was going on. They noted specifically the use of adjectives, vivid verbs, as well as description of body language and emotion.

Then we tried our hand at taking a boring "telling" sentence and changing it to a "showing" sentence by adding descriptives to the subject and object and changing the verb from an overused to a vivid verb based on different emotions. Our boring sentence was: The boy ran up the stairs. I walked around in front of them acting out the emotion I wanted them to use. As I acted, they guessed the emotion (example: sad, excited, scared). I asked them how they knew if I hadn't told them, which got them to name what I did with my face and my body. Then they crafted a sentence expressing what they had seen.

The last thing we did was to look at two paragraphs. I gave them the least descriptive to start - "tell" paragraph.

Jessie tied his shoelaces.  He couldn’t seem to tie them.  He was feeling kind of sick.  The big game today would decide who would be champions – state champions.  Playing goalie wasn’t ever easy.  He knew if he wasn’t at his best today, the team would probably lose. He grabbed his jacket.  He walked out the door.  “Bye, Mom,” he said.  “I’ll see you later at the game.”  He walked to the bus stop.

We read it together and I asked them to tell me what they thought about it. Could they imagine the scene? How did the main character feel in this paragraph? What did the author do to let you know as a reader?

Then I gave them the "show" version.

Jessie fumbled with his shoelaces.  He couldn’t seem to tie them with his shaking hands.  A sickening feeling in his stomach was creeping up into his throat.  The big game today would decide who would be champions – state champions.  Playing goalie wasn’t ever easy.  He knew if he wasn’t at his best today, the team would probably lose.  As he grabbed his jacket, he shook his head to clear his mind.  His legs felt like spaghetti noodles as he trudged down the steps while holding on to the banister.  “Bye, Mom,” he called out weakly.  “I’ll see you later at the game.”  He swallowed hard and walked to the bus stop.

The light went on! They had the "aha" moment. They were excited by the changes the author made and immediately named techniques the author used, citing examples from the paragraph that showed these changes.

They now have a clear understanding of what it means to write descriptively as an author so that their reader can really visualize their story.  Now we are working to implement these techniques in our drafts. It is a long process, but it is so exciting to see them really trying and growing as authors!

How do you help your students learn about revision strategies?

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