Descriptive Writing Lesson Plan: Why Showing is Better than Telling

Submitted by: Yoni Fine

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6-12, students use BrainPOP resources to explore the difference between writing that “shows” and writing that “tells” and articulate an author’s purpose for choosing to “show.” Students will also analyze descriptive language and sensory detail for implied messages regarding mood and/or theme. They will then apply the show-not-tell writing technique to their own creative writing in order to achieve a clear goal.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Identify the difference between writing that "shows" and writing that "tells" and articulate an author's purpose for choosing to "show."
  2. Analyze descriptive language and sensory detail for implied messages regarding mood and/or theme.
  3. Apply the show-not-tell writing technique to their own creative writing in order to achieve a clear goal.

Materials:

  • Photocopies of BrainPOP activity pages (Graphic Organizer) for each student
  • Copies of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men for each student, or photocopies/projector displaying the text of the first page)
  • Computer(s) with internet access and projector (or interactive whiteboard)

Vocabulary:

effective; sensory detail; John Steinbeck; junctures; debris; sycamores; mottled; recumbent; limbs; skittering; tramps; stilted; heron

Preparation:

If possible, require students to watch the Show, Not Tell BrainPOP movie and take the Quiz for homework. If not, do those activities together during the previous class period or at the beginning of this class period.

This lesson uses the first page of Of Mice and Men and is a great way to start a study of the novel. It would also work well after finishing the novel (to be able to read more into the foreshadowing in the opening scene). Or both!

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Tell students to take out pen and paper and write 4-5 sentences describing you, the teacher. (If, in your estimation, your students' maturity levels make this inadvisable, have them describe someone else - a celebrity, a superhero, a family member). Tell students they can be honest as this will not be collected but will serve as practice for what they must turn in later.
  2. Review the difference between "showing" and "telling." You may want to re-show the Show, Not Tell BrainPOP movie at this time. Or, you may want to write two examples on the board: "He is grumpy" [tell] and "He furrows his eyebrows and looks straight us without smiling" [show].
  3. Have students swap papers. Students must mark their partners' accordingly for "showing" or "telling." Circle all instances of "showing" and underline those of "telling."
  4. Share examples on the board in two columns. Take the opportunity to review and be sure all students are clear on the difference. Students may share their partner's work instead of their own.
  5. Once you have two substantial columns, read through each and discuss which gives a more effective portrait. Prompt students to articulate WHY one is more effective than the other.
  6. If you haven't yet re-shown the BrainPOP movie, do so now, prompting students to take notes on reasons for why showing is often more effective than telling.
  7. Be sure to ask students why the movie opens with Tim showing Moby where his raincoat is. Also ask why the movie shows still images that look different while Tim is sharing his examples of descriptive writing. Use student responses to craft a class response to the question: Why is showing more effective than telling?
  8. Distribute the Graphic Organizer. Have students read the first two paragraphs of "Of Mice and Men" and/or read it aloud or play the audio book.
  9. Instruct students to complete the graphic organizer using phrases or sentences from the first two paragraphs. Tell students they may not find an example for taste, but that they should pick details for smell and sound that they can smell or hear, if using their imagination.
  10. In the space at the bottom of the graphic organizer, have students "tell" what Steinbeck is trying to "show" us about this place and/or the content/mood of the book.
  11. Have students "pair/share" their responses, then collect some responses and record on a projected copy of the graphic organizer or on an interactive whiteboard.
  12. Read and/or play the third paragraph of "Of Mice and Men". On the back (or in an empty spot on the front) of the graphic organizer, have students pick one sensory detail from the third paragraph that may be showing something different about this place, the book, or the mood the author is trying to create. If necessary, instruct students to look for sensory details that may be showing some tension or some foreboding.
  13. Collect answers and write out what Steinbeck is trying to show the readers with those details.

Extension Activity:

Students can use an additional copy of the graphic organizer to complete their own creative writing project, inspired by Steinbeck's opening paragraphs. Students may write about any incident from their lives, or, if they need more direction, a description of their home.

You may also assign an analytical essay requiring students to examine the ways in which Steinbeck's sensory details show the reader a certain element of his story before actually telling his story, or analyzing how setting affects mood.