Education :: Show, Don’t Tell

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Hey, readers! First, I want to apologize for no education post last week. With my work schedule, I quickly lose track of what day of the week I’m on. By the time I realized I hadn’t posted here yet, it was already Monday… I’ll try to plan better!

Any, today’s blog post. I chose the picture above because this topic makes me think of lectures. Every once in a while, you’ll have an amazing professor who is great at engaging students with material; however, we often find ourselves as students and teachers doing more of a ‘tell’ approach rather than ‘showing’.

She was sad to hear the news.


As soon as the words reached here ears, her jaw fell slack and her eyes glittered with tears. A single drop broke loose and made its way down her check before falling and leaving its mark on here sleeve. A sob was quick to follow.

Which paragraph lets us know how the character is feeling? They both do, right? Most people reading the second paragraph would know, without being explicitly told, that the character is sad.

When a writer shows a story, it draws the reader in. The reader can imagine what’s happening; it’s almost as if they’re right there, watching and feeling as it occurs.

Telling, however, is a way of getting the facts out without drawing a reader into a scene. Of course, the reader can still imagine the scene, but it may not have the same impact.

Not only does showing draw a reader more deeply into a story, but it will also lengthen your students’ word count, expand a scene, and put them more in touch with the senses, and provide active vs passive voice (something I’ll talk more about in the future).

It’s always easier to tell instead of show.

When teaching this, pull together some samples of telling. With each one, ask your students, “How can we know this is what’s happening or being described without telling?” This can bee emotions (to me, the easiest form to teach this topic), but it can also connect with other topics.

Some generic suggestions for topics: showing emotions, feelings, actions/activities, objects, environments.

Of course, if showing causes a story to slow down and interrupts flow, it can be appropriate to tell instead. Just as with all writing ‘rules’, they can be subjective to each writer and story. I’d definitely suggest saving that for a different day down the line… We don’t want to confuse or throw off our young writers.

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