Show... Don't Tell! A Writing Minilesson

My third grade co-teachers and I are super excited!  We recently did two minilessons on "Show!! Don't Tell." in writing, and we are already observing that our students are putting their new knowledge to use in their writing!  HOORAY!

This is the second year that I have co-taught writing in our school's third grade classrooms.  We did not tackle this minilesson last year.  However, after a series of emails with my friend, Kelly Roberts, I became convinced that we should try it.  Kelly teaches fourth grade in Florida, and she mentioned to me that she would be doing a "Show, Don't Tell" lesson when her principal came to do her formal observation.  As we traded emails back and forth, I told her that I was unsure that our third graders would understand the concept, but she assured me that the lesson was third-grade friendly... and she was positively correct!  Once she walked me step-by-step through how she teaches this lesson, I knew it would be a winner!  I encourage you to try it with your students!  Here's how the lesson went, based on Kelly's directions to me.

First, I wrote "excited" at the top of the chart.  I informed my students that my daughter, Kayla, was super excited a week ago when she and a friend were outside walking, and they happened upon a $20 bill in the grass.  (Kayla is in third grade, as well, so they love to hear "Kayla stories".)  I paused and asked, "Now if I was writing a story about this event, would it be very interesting if I wrote 'Kayla was excited.'"  (monotone voice, of course!)  They all shook their heads no, and I agreed.  Then I stated, "That's the focus of today's minilesson... how we can write sentences that SHOW the reader our feelings, because just telling them is way too boring!"  Then I returned to Kayla's story, and asked my students... "How do you think I could tell Kayla was excited?  What do you think she was doing with her body that showed me her excitement when she walked through the door to tell me the news?"  They guessed that she was jumping up and down, that she was out of breath from running, that she was smiling, etc.  With each answer, I confirmed that they were correct, and I added each as a bullet to the chart.  I also added a few of my own.

Can you tell that our third graders recently completed their figurative language unit?
Check out all of those similes!

Next, I told them that I made this handy little chart that would help them write showing sentences.

We went through the chart and checked to see if we answered all of the questions, and we added a few bullets for ones we had missed.

Now it was time for practice.  I chose groups of two or three by drawing popsicle sticks.  I gave each group a slip of paper with an emotion written on it and a sheet of poster paper.  I told them NOT to write the emotion at the top of the paper.  Rather, they would only write SHOWING sentences.  I stressed again that their emotion should be written NOWHERE on the poster paper, because after 10 minutes, we would be gathering again, and each group would share their poster with the class.  If they had good showing sentences, their classmates should be able to guess the emotion that was on the slip of paper.  The groups then set off to work!

Wow, were we impressed!  Some of the students were so creative!  They had recently learned about similes, so there were lots of similes on their charts!  (The photos below show the green slip of paper with an emotion that each group received.)
My favorite on this poster was "My mouth was so big I can shove an apple in it"! next day, as a follow-up lesson, I read The Memory String by Eve Bunting to the students.  We stopped after each page and asked students to identify showing sentences that Eve Bunting used on each page.  They were rock stars at this activity, and easily identified showing sentences.  (This book had some wonderful showing sentences; I highly recommend it!  Beware, though, I found it hard not to cry as I was reading aloud to the third graders!)

When we finished the story, I told students to get out their most recent rough draft.  I instructed them to find a "telling sentence" where they told their emotion.  (They nearly all had at least one emotion sentence, because we have really hit hard this year that every personal narrative should include emotions.)  I told them to draw a line through that telling sentence, and then rewrite a showing sentence to replace it.  They met that challenge easily, and even exceeded my expectations!  Hooray!  I was so happy!  Oops!  I mean.... my eyes lit up and I was grinning ear to ear when I left that third grade classroom!

If you are looking for ready-made resources, feel free to check out my PowerPoint and flipbook!


  1. Thanks so much Deb! Such a great lesson! So glad so many students benefited from this writing lesson! Kelly:-)

  2. What a fantastic lesson! It is so rewarding when our students use the lessons we teach. Even after all these years I live for those moments. I always enjoy reading your blog posts!


  3. When I taught in prison I always taught "show don't tell to my students". Thanks for the reminder that I should be teaching this to my current students.

  4. What a great post, Deb! I've pinned pictures from this lesson and will try to use some of your ideas as we revise our poetry next week. This will come in extra handy next year. The Memory String is one of our mentor texts we often use during our character unit. What a great idea to use it for this focus as well for writing! Thanks for sharing!

    Tales of a Teacher