Show 'n Tell Goes to the Movies

Lesley McKillop - Prairie Elementary School

Subject Area: English/Language Arts, ELD
Grade Level: 4th Grade

Overview: Students often have a difficult time with the concept of showing - not telling - details in their writing. Breaking the skill down helps them to gain an understanding of the concept, to become more descriptive writers, and to apply the concept of show-not-tell to multimedia writing (movie making).


  • Students will be able to generate words and expressions that transform a ‘boring’ description of a specific object into a more visual representation
  • Students will be able to add vivid descriptions to their writing that paint a picture for the reader

Descriptive Writing Lesson:

  • Begin lesson by providing pictures depicting different emotions (happy, sad, confused, angry, daydreaming etc). Note: Each picture is glued to the top of a large piece of paper and next to the picture is a question: What does mad look like? What does confused look like? What does happy look like?
  • Model the difference between "show" versus "tell" by using one of the selected pictures. For example, using the question What does mad look like?, ask the students to look carefully and describe what they observe in the picture. Some possible answers are: a crimson red face, clenched teeth, a shaking fist, sweat on his for head, his eyes are squinting, his ears are red, etc. Write down each of the response on the sheet of paper.
  • After the students have exhausted all of the details, demonstrate how to incorporate the information into writing. Example: "So instead of saying a character was mad, say, instead, "His face was crimson, he shook his fist, and little beads of sweat formed on his forehead."
  • Break students into groups and provide each group with one of the remaining sheets to complete collaboratively.
  • As groups delve into task, monitor the room and give feed back.
  • End lesson with students sharing their "show not tell" list of descriptors.
  • Place the word charts around the room to use as a reference and to add to.

Transitioning to Digital Writing:

  • Ask students if any have ever watched a silent movie. Show several samples, such as Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant (Part 1 and Part 2) or the first silent movie, George Melies' 1904 production Trip to the Moon (a great piece to accompany novel Inventions of Hugo Cabret, which I highly recommend as an introduction to camera shots and angles).
  • Introduce students to a movie -making software, such as PhotoStory 3 and/or Movie Maker 2.
  • Assign students to film-making teams. They will brainstorm a message/story they think would be suitable for a silent (show not tell) movie. Once they have their topic, they will draft the script and then create their storyboards.
  • Students film their story (the easy part) and then, based on teacher and peer feedback, begin the editing process, with the goal of producing a 1-3 minute video.


  • 6 - 7 pictures depicting different emotions, glued to chart paper
  • markers and pencils
  • copy of Invention of Hugo Cabret (optional)
  • digital camera
  • scanner (optional)

Lesson Resources:

Student Products:

Lesson Extensions: After completing the activity as a group, students then find other emotions and complete individual cards showing not telling the emotion. For example, the students would write at the top of the card Tell: He was happy. Underneath they would write Show: His face lite up like a Christmas tree and his smile reached from ear to ear. They the student would illustrate the card.



  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productivity

Common Core State Standards:

  • ELA – Text Types and Purposes #3; Production and Distribution of Writing # 6; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas #7

California Content Standards for English Language Arts:

  • Writing - 2.0 Writing Applications; 2.0 Speaking Applications

California Content Standards for English Language Development

  • Listening and speaking beginning and intermediate
  • Writing beginning and intermediate
  • Reading beginning and intermediate