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Showing, Not Telling in Personal Narratives for 4th & 5th Grade

Updated: Apr 28

In this blog, we'll present a specialized lesson plan designed for substitute teachers, focusing on the art of "showing, not telling" in elementary personal narratives. This lesson plan will prepare you to inspire young writers to paint vivid pictures with their words, fostering creativity and enhancing their narrative skills.

Showing, Not Telling in Personal Narratives for 4th & 5th Grade

Grade Level: 4th and 5th Grade Grade

Duration: 45-60 minutes


  • 4th & 5th Grade students will learn the importance of vivid details in personal narratives.

  • Students will understand the concept of "showing, not telling" in writing.

  • Students will practice incorporating sensory details to enhance their personal narratives.


  1. Whiteboard and markers

  2. Sample personal narrative

  3. Handout with sentence examples

  4. Sticky notes

  5. Index cards

  6. Writing paper and pencils

Lesson Sequence

Introduction (10 minutes):

  • Begin by discussing the concept of personal narratives, emphasizing that they are stories about personal experiences.

  • Share the objective of the lesson: to make their narratives more engaging and descriptive by using vivid details.

  • Explain the concept of "showing, not telling" by using a simple example, e.g., "Instead of saying, 'I was scared,' we can show the fear through descriptions and actions."

Model "Show, Don't Tell" (10 minutes):

  • Read a sample personal narrative that includes both showing and telling. Point out instances where the author tells and where the author shows. Discuss the impact of showing on the reader's engagement.

  • On the whiteboard, write a few examples of telling sentences and then transform them into showing sentences together with the class.

Example 1 (Showing, Not Telling With Sensory Details): My First Day at the Beach

The sun was shining brightly in the sky, making everything feel warm and inviting. As I stepped onto the soft, golden sand, it felt warm beneath my toes, like a cozy blanket fresh from the dryer. I couldn't resist the urge to collect seashells, so I bent down to pick up a smooth, pink one. It fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, like a little gift from the ocean.

My feet tickled as the foamy waves rushed up to greet me, and the water felt cool and refreshing. The salty scent of the sea filled the air as I waded into the shallows. I saw colorful fish darting around in the clear water, and I giggled as they swam around my legs.

I spread my towel on the warm sand and built a sandcastle with turrets and a moat. The sand was grainy and crumbled in my hands, but it was perfect for building. I felt like a king or queen in my sandy fortress, watching the waves crash in the distance.

Example 2 (Telling, Not Showing): My First Day at the Beach

I went to the beach for the first time. It was sunny and warm. I picked up some seashells and played in the water. I built a sandcastle on the beach.

In the first example, the narrative is rich with sensory details and vivid descriptions, which help the reader imagine the experience more vividly. In the second example, the narrative provides a straightforward account of the day at the beach without immersing the reader in the sensory and emotional aspects of the experience.

Guided Practice (10 minutes):

  • Provide students with a handout containing sentence examples. Have them work in pairs to identify whether the sentences are showing or telling.

  • Afterward, as a class, discuss the examples, explaining why certain sentences are more engaging due to vivid details.

Show-and-Tell Activity (5 minutes):

  • Give each student an index card and ask them to write one telling sentence about a personal experience.

  • Collect the index cards, shuffle them, and randomly distribute them among the students.

  • Have each student read the telling sentence they received and then challenge them to rewrite it to show the same information with vivid details.

Independent Practice (5 minutes):

  • Provide a prompt for a personal narrative, such as "Write about a time you overcame a challenge." Ask students to write a brief paragraph using the "show, don't tell" technique.

Sharing and Peer Feedback (5 minutes):

  • Select a few students to share their revised sentences or short paragraphs with the class.

  • Encourage constructive feedback from their peers, focusing on the effectiveness of the vivid details.4


  • Review the students' personal narratives for homework, assessing their ability to incorporate vivid details to "show" their experiences rather than "tell" them.

Extension Activity (if time allows):

  • Have students create illustrations or drawings based on their personal narratives to further emphasize the use of vivid details.


Additional lesson plans & activities for substitute teachers that you may like:


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personal narrative writing for 4th and 5th grade


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