How to Teach Your Students to Write Better in Five Minutes
#1 She was tired when she finished her paper at midnight.
#2 Sleepily, Mary slowly climbed under the cool sheets and let out a huge, satisfied sigh. Although she didn’t finish writing until the clock chimed for the twelfth time, it was worth it. She couldn’t wait to hear what her political science professor thought of her innovative solution for immigration reform.
What Makes Excellent Writing?
First class writing can be hard to produce, but simple to spot. It immediately draws you into a scene. What did you experience, if anything, while reading #1 above? What was different about #2? Did you ‘see’ a tired Mary get into bed? Did you ‘feel’ cool sheets…’hear’ the clock chiming? By using the “show, don’t tell” rule of writing, you can teach your students to write better in 5 minutes using this simple technique.
Show, Don’t Tell
#1 tells you what happened, but #2 shows you what happened, as if you were there watching. #2 gives you ‘clues’ that Mary was tired, and that she finished her paper at midnight, without coming right out and telling you. A competent author will describe a scene, providing plenty of specific, sensory details that allow the reader to look over her shoulder at it. If it is well-written, the reader “sees” and “feels” what the writer wants her to “see” and “feel.”
Let’s take another example:
1. He was angry when he left.
2. Miles stalked out of the house, muttering to himself. The kids playing in the yard stopped mid-sentence, startled at the slamming of the car door and sound of squealing tires as he rounded the corner and headed into down.
How you can write better in 5 minutes
This is an ideal exercise for your late middle or high school student. Or for you!Directions: Rewrite one or more of the following sentences so they cause the reader to ‘experience’ a situation or person.
- First, read the sentence, then envision a scene based on it.
- Second, use specific sensory details involving the main character (What does s/he see, hear, smell, feel, taste?) to tell the reader what you want him to know. You will probably use more than one sentence. Remember: “show,” don’t “tell.” Be creative!
Teaching tip: ANY changes in this direction will immediately improve your student’s writing. Don’t expect perfection on this first attempt – just keep working on it and over time it will come more naturally.
- The girl was happy that day.
- The boy is sick.
- The book was scary.
- He was not happy to see that the tree in his front yard had been cut down while he was on vacation.
- Chris had a lot of school work to do.
Post Yours in the Comments
We would LOVE to see one or more of your student(s) (or your) answers posted in the comments. I will respond to any posted–and feel free to respond to anyone else’s post as well! Student’s love to see their work published!
This lesson plan was adapted from our Middle School Daily Lesson Plans.