show and tell

I know that I teach older students and therefore Show and Tell seems a bit like child's play.  However, I allowed my students to choose one item and then use our snazzy new set of pencils to sketch the item and describe each one in a few paragraphs.  Students took home the paper and pencils, finished the activity and then brought the item into class.

At first, students were reluctant to talk about the items they had brought. In kindergarten, the children nearly bludgeon one another to death with their swaying hands and "ooh, ooh, ohh, pick me."  Yet, here I ran into a wall of apathy.  

"Why do we have to present if we can just publish this to our plogs and read about it?" a girl asks. 

So, I begin with my item.  I share the red rock from the western frontier where I was born.  I talk about how I kept it as a child so that I wouldn't forget it when we moved back to the flat, dull land of Kansas.  I mentioned what the land represented, how I had been shaped by the sense of the wild freedom out west and why I get depressed in this urban enclave when the smoke stacks and the gray terrain makes me feel trapped.

This opens the door for the students.  A boy shares a deck of cards that he used when his dad was in the hospital and since they had little in common to talk about, the cards became another language for them to speak.  A girl shares a stack of recipes her grandmother wrote out with the note, "This is my legacy.  Don't lose it.  I know you've committed this to your mind.  I know you will modify these meals to make them your own.  But if you ever feel yourself pulled to far by the city, look back at these recipes."  

When it's all over, a student says, "Why can't all school be show and tell?"  

It has me thinking that maybe he's right.  What if it was always this personal?  Or at least, what if there was always a personal element that they could hold onto in each subject?  And what if, instead of "judge and label," the model was "show and tell?"  What if the goal was to demonstrate their knowledge with a tangible item that they could show the world and talk about in a one-on-one conversation.

The beauty of pencils and paper is that it's permanent.  Sort of.  At least more permanent than a slate.  It's portable, too.  Kids can publish on plogs and write on shared documents.  What this means is that the potential for a classroom based upon show and tell becomes more feasible.  


  1. What about the shy kids or the hurt kids or the unpopular kids who don't *want* to share something personal? You need to provide a safe option for them as well.

  2. In this specific activity, students had the option of opting out. No child had to participate. However, on some other level (and this is speaking as a shy kid) the quiet kids need to learn to speak up just as much as the loud kids need to learn to be quiet.

  3. Show and tell can certainly be a competition and in my classroom last year, I thought the steady stream of YouTube videos that were "special" to my students disappointing. Never-the-less we need to build on the young people's desire to express their own uniqueness. Its okay if they don't all want to do it.

  4. I love the idea of show and tell in the classroom. It gives the children a chance to tell the class a little bit about who they are as an individual and it shows that there are different ways to look at things and what may mean one thing to one child may mean a totally different thing to another child.

  5. I think that show and tell is a great way to get kids, even if they are a little older, to open up and find new ways to express themselves. Even the "shy or unpopular" children may be able to break out of their shells. It might be easier for these children to open up if they are talking to the class about something that actually matters to them, instead of doing a book report or other presentation on something they may not care about at all.

  6. I think the idea of show and tell is wonderful! I think even the shy or hurt children will be comfortable enough to share because most children do not enjoy public speaking. With every student being required to do show and tell, every student is just as vulnerable as the next. Every student will have their own unique story and it may even bring the class closer together. I love the concept of this idea. I have a blog at Please feel free to check it out!

  7. Thank you for the kind words! I'll check out your blog.