Friday, December 14, 2012

Show, Not Tell

Sitting down with Theo to write an essay is tough; he's in the big leagues now.  He needs a thesis and he needs to support it. There are times he needs to give an opinion, and he asks me to help him, and I pull my hair out reminding him I can't tell him what he thinks.

He requires a good deal of prodding, but often produces something pretty special. For instance, last night his thesis was "Rain is the worst weather ever!" and as an example, he was discussing the suckiness of outside plans being canceled. He was supposed to go the beach, but then he saw it was raining. I used the lingo that's sent home and said "show, not tell." He thought about it for a minute and then smiled silly and wrote, "it looked like tears falling down from the clouds."

"Show, not tell" is one of the items on the writer's checklist Theo's sent home with. Without it, he's entirely stumped. He writes short, mundane sentences. It's interesting (and frustrating) to see how dramatically his writing improves with the checklist, that has stuff like

-strong lead
-similes and metaphors
-5 senses (I write these out because he doesn't process things as well in broad concepts and needs to see specifics in front of him)
-other words for "said" (he's particularly good at this)

I'm really fascinated by this teaching method that manages to inspire creativity through rigidity. And  Theo's whole grade is learning to write this way; it's kind of satisfying that the "checklist" technique usually reserved for toddlers and special ed is applied to everyone. 

Theo doesn't have a grasp on how much is enough for each paragraph. An adult sorta knows OK, I've said everything I need to say here, so I'll move on. Theo is told 5 sentences per paragraph. It's a guideline, of course, but he takes it to heart. (Just like "read for 30 minutes" is a guideline but he watches the clock.) For now, it helps, because it forces him to write more than he normally would.

And even though he's good at implementing the stuff on the checklist, he has trouble knowing where to incorporate the various styles. That's where I come in -- "would this be a good place for dialogue?" He says oh, yeah! and then comes up with something that's usually on the mark.

I wonder how the checklist is working for the rest of the kids in his class.  It's a good method for Theo since he's such a stickler for rules. He takes the list very seriously, going through it at the end and checking everything off. I'm not sure to what extent he understands why those things made his paper interesting. Hopefully he will be so accustomed to this style of writing that it'll become ingrained.

1 comment:

Judith said...

Interesting process. I think that the big difference between Theo & many others is that you take the time to work with him. I can tell you that many, many children get to high school with minimal writing skills and still can't figure out where a paragraph ends. I do like the checklist, as long as they aren't required to use everything on it each time!