Thursday, April 21, 2011

Even Kindergartners Prefer "Showing" (not "Telling") Writing

Yesterday I spoke to my class about the power of a well-chosen verb or verb phrase to show the personality or mood of a character, not just his/her actions. A character who "lopes," rather than simply "walks," conjures an image of a confident person who covers a lot of ground quickly. A character who "gnaws her inner cheek" paints a portrait of an anxious person, rather than simply saying "looks anxious." I explained that even the youngest readers appreciate the nuances of verb choices and can comprehend the subtle implications about characters. "It's the writer's job to find the perfect verb to convey as much as possible--even in picture books." As an example, I mentioned one of my favorite picture books, I Love You the Purplest, by Barbara M. Joosse, in which two little boys are captured by the verbs used to enact them: "Max exploded out of the cabin" versus "Julian left the cabin, carefully locking the door behind them," I paraphrased. "What do you know about the boys' personalities from those two lines?"
My preteen students answered as expected, that Max is excited and rowdy and Julian is calmer and careful. They seemed doubtful that little kids would pick up on those implications, though. I showed them how the youngest readers would comprehend the purpose of vivid verbs (based on my previous classroom experience with little guys):
"I'd ask them, 'So which one of the boys can't wait to go fishing?' They always chimed, 'MAX!' I'd ask, 'How do you know that?' They'd say, 'He goes out like THIS!' And one of them would act out 'exploding' by bursting out of his seat."
A well-chosen word is never wasted on an interested reader, regardless of age.