Writing Traits: Showing Your Writing
three traits working together to build one powerful writing skill
"Show, don't tell" is something many of us remember our teachers saying when we wrote as students in class. In the schools where we observe, we often hear teachers say it still, but when we ask teachers to explain what showing is at our teacher workshops, often the answers are not very detailed.
How does one show instead of tell?
For the 2011-12 school year, we at WritingFix are determined to build a new resource completely dedicated to giving teachers multiple ideas for teaching their own students to balance showing skills with telling skills when writing. You have discovered our page where we will be storing all new showing resources created and submitted during 2011-12.
Welcome to this new,developing resource. If you have a showing technique to share, we hope you'll post it at our conversation page at our ning. We want this page to represent many teachers voices when all is said and done in June of 2012.
What is Showing in Writing? Perhaps Mark Twain explained it best: "Don't just say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream." Showing in writing happens when three writing traits come together to paint a picture on a reader's mind: idea development (as in choosing memorable details), voice (as in conveying emotion, mood, and tone), and word choice (as in choosing verbs and adjectives that are memorable).
In order to teach showing, an instructor must have many lessons to choose from, and students must have lots of opportunities to practice; when you're dealing with multiple traits working together, there is no "quick lesson" that teaches this skill. If you're dedicated to the idea of teaching students to show better, you must dedicate yourself to improving your own ability to not only teach idea development, voice, and word choice well, but also to be ready to demonstrate how the three traits can work together.
Our goal by year's end is to have a variety of lessons and teacher-made suggestions on this page so that teachers can choose the ideas that work best for their style of teaching and for the students they are teaching.
Is there a Mentor Text for Teaching Showing? When we took on this project for building this page, we--of course--needed a mentor text to guide our thinking and our initial efforts. As part of our Mentor Text of the Year Program, we dedicated 2010-11's MTotY Program to the topic of showing in writing. We immediately found two simple-to-integrate-into-a-classroom texts.
First, we found Josephine Nobisso's Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing, which is a picture book that explains--from the author's viewpoint--what thinking she has to do when she is preparing to show an idea in one of her books. The book narrates her process, citing good advice from a real author to a student of writing. The book is a little expensive because it contains sensory image examples; there is a scratch-n-sniff page, a touching page, and a sound effect page that really makes a sound effect. This is the kind of book you'll want to keep your eyes on carefully when students are looking through it independently
Second, we found another great book by a favorite author here at WritingFix: Ralph Fletcher. In fact, this is the third year in a row that we've used one of the great Mr. Fletcher's books as a Mentor Text of the Year. This year, we purposely selected Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words because it is all about trait-friendly techniques for showing writing to an audience. Ralph, like in most of his books, talks directly to students, offering his expertise in language they can clearly understand.
Through the 2011-12 school year, we'll be adding/revising lessons so that they quote and make use of the advice found in these two mentor texts for showing. If you want to purchase these books so you can "play" along with us this year, we kindly ask that you use the Amazon links we've programmed into the two pictures of the book covers; if you do so, WritingFix receives a small percentage of the sale, and we will invest that money back into our website so that we can keep it free-to-use. Thanks in advance.