How to Teach Your Students to Write Better in 5 Minutes

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write better in 5 minutes

You can help your kids write better in 5 minutes, by teaching them the simple principle to “Show, don’t Tell” in their writing.

Have you ever heard the writing principle called “Show, don’t tell.” and wondered how you can teach that to your kids? I’m going to show you in this post how to get your late middle and high school students to understand it, practice it, and write better in 5 minutes.  You might have to talk them through the examples and help them brainstorm the first sentence of the exercise below with them, but once they get it, you’ll be amazed at the improvement in their writing.

Here are a couple of writing examples. Take a look:

#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 the clock had just chimed for the twelfth time, it was worth it. She smiled in anticipation of her political science professor reading her innovative solution for immigration reform. 

What Makes Excellent Writing? 

First-class writing can be hard to produce, but simple to spot. Better writing immediately draws you into a scene.

So did you “experience” anything while reading the first example above?

What was different about the second example? Did you ‘see‘ a tired Mary get into bed? Did you ‘feel’ cool sheets? Or ‘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.

Teach your kids to write better in 5 minutes by teaching them to “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 the sound of squealing tires as he rounded the corner and headed into town.

What were the words or word pictures that made you think that a guy was angry?

  • Miles (made you picture a man or guy)
  • “stalked”
  • “muttering to himself,” along with “stalked,” especially sounds angry and provides you a mental image
  • “startled at the slamming of the car door” (not only do you “hear” the door slamming, but you “see” children stopping their play when they heard the door slam)
  • the “sound of squealing tires” also reinforces that MIles was angry

write better in 5 minutes with show don't tell



So how do you teach your kids to write better in 5 minutes, “showing, not telling”?

This is an ideal exercise for your late middle or high school student.  Or for you!

Directions: Rewrite the following sentences so they cause the reader to ‘experience’ a situation or person. Use language that makes the reader see, hear, feel, smell, or taste what’s happening.

  • First, read the sentence.  Then, take a few minutes to envision a scene based on it.  (You can make notes or jot down phrases as you are thinking if that’s helpful.)
  • Second, use specific, sensory details that describe the scene that you created? What do you want the reader to see, hear, smell, feel, and/or taste?
  • Look back at the examples again if you need to.
  • Expect to use more than one sentence. Remember to “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.

You can teach your students to write better in 5 minutes, just by teaching them to “show, not tell.”  Give it a try and see what a difference it makes!


Note that there’s a more detailed example of “showing, not telling” in our high school composition course, Essay Styles for High School.


Happy Writing!

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