The first twenty minutes of the pilot episode of The Walking Dead is virtually silent. I hadn’t remembered that when, out of desperation and end-of-October exhaustion, I agreed to show the episode to my ninth graders on Halloween. They begged. I was weak. In a lame effort to sound educational, I grasped wildly for one of our recent mini-lessons.
“As we watch The Walking Dead, think about what we know about the world that we aren’t explicitly told. In other words, think about where the show is showing and not telling.”
“Showing versus telling” is my instructional arch-nemesis. I teach it every year. I have some really good mini-lessons — or so I think. And still, every year, this is one of the skills that a chunk of my students have the hardest time mastering. This baffles me. It becomes a story of the writerly haves-and-have-nots, with some students mastering the skill instantly, innately.
If a student comes to my class without being an avid reader or without being a confident writer, the student still has years of story under their belt. On some level, they know that stories have action and dialogue and details. They can pick it out when they see it. They can talk about it. Yet, when it comes to translating this into their own writing, I always have the other 30% students who deeply struggle to show — and not tell — on their own.
I’ve modeled until my hands hurt. We’ve practiced: Tell me about your ride to school this morning. Now, show me your ride to school this morning. We have identified exemplars in our independent reading books. But nothing I have tried has met with more than about 70% success.
Until I gave up trying and showed an episode of a TV show.