How to Teach Descriptive Writing with Show-me Sentences

Descriptive writing doesn't come naturally to most writers, especially to children. That ability usually has to be learned.

As you know, children tend to tell, not show what is happening, so their writing ends up sounding more like a newspaper article rather than a story. As parents and teachers, we often struggle with how to help our children be more descriptive in their writing.

One fun way to help children develop better writing skills is to use Show-me Sentences.

The idea is simple. You give a child a sentence such as "He was nice." or  "My room was messy." Then you guide the child in writing a paragraph that demonstrates that idea without stating outright that a person was nice or that the room was messy. The child needs to show that the person was nice or that the room was messy, not just state the fact.

Here's an example of a Show-Me Sentence that Joely did today for the Show-me Sentence "I am not a morning person."

It was on a Sunday morning and I felt so comfortable and safe as I slept in my bed. Suddenly my mom knocked on my door and said, "Time to get up, Joely!" I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It was 7:30AM. I sighed, pulled the covers over my head, and squirmed. Minutes later my dad came in and ripped the covers off me. "Get up and get ready for church!" I groaned and lumbered out of bed to get breakfast.

(NOTE: Joely has been working on Show-Me sentences for several days now, and this attempt is far better than her typical attempt. We also collaborated on editing it extensively, which we usually don't on a normal day, since I told her I'd be using it in a post.)

How to Use Show-Me Sentences

1. Offer your child several Show-Me Sentences to choose from.

I've included a list you can start with at the end of this post.

2. Help your child brainstorm ideas by asking questions.

If the Show-Me Sentence is "He was nice.", ask your child what that person might do to make you think he was nice? Did he speak kindly? Offer assistance? Praise you?

For "My room was messy." ask your child what made the room look messy. Toys? Clothes? Unmade bed?

In each case have your child make a list of his ideas. These can be used to help develop the paragraph.

3. Encourage the child to pretend he's writing a paragraph in the middle of a book or a scene in the middle of a movie.

It doesn't have to be a complete thought, only a snapshot of one small paragraph in a larger chapter of a story. For example, if the Show-Me Sentence was "I was scared." suggest starting the story with you in an airplane suited up with parachute gear ready to skydive for the first time.

Show-Me Sentence Ideas

Here is a list of some Show-Me Sentence you can start with. Of course it's simple to come up with your own as well, but hopefully this will get you started. Feel free to change the subjects, pronouns, or anything about the sentences if you use them.

  • My grandfather is funny.
  • I had a busy day today.
  • My mother had a bad headache.
  • Performing stunts on a skateboard can be dangerous.
  • My friend makes me laugh.
  • He was nice.
  • My room was messy.
  • I am not a morning person.
  • Her hairstyle is wild.
  • Our family vacation was a disaster.
  • Taking tests makes me nervous.
  • My father is a good man.
  • Lying is not a good idea.
  • I was scared.
  • She put her foot in her mouth. (idiomatically)
  • The twins are completely different.
  • She saw the car accident from the sidewalk.
  • The room was crowded.
  • She takes things way too seriously.
  • He can dish it out, but he can't take it.
  • My dog is lazy.

Descriptive writing and show-me sentences can truly enhance your childs ability to write creatively and to see more of life than just a flat report.

Do you have other suggestions for Show-Me Sentences? It would be fabulous if we could come up with a huge list for people to choose from.

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  1. Gina Chapman says

    Here's one we will be using:
    My cat is strange!
    You could also use weird/odd/crazy, but in any case, I think my girls will come up with lots of supporting details to add to make a great story with that one since we have a kitten that's almost 1 yr old now. He even plays fetch better than the dog does! lol We can have lots of fun with this one! Thanks for the ideas!


    Tara Holmes Reply:

    i don't like peas. or any other food item they may not like.


  2. Linda Waldman says

    Love this, hope it works. Even at dinner we could use this to replace "how was your day? Answer- "fine" have them use a "show me".
    Also, I think I would have them try these….
    It was fun.
    It is/was hard.
    It is cool.
    I would change the topic "it" to whatever we were working on.


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