San Diego Jewish Academy
High School Humanities
Sensory/Descriptive -
Figurative Language Examples
Show, Not Tell

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(Originally developed by Rebekah Kaplan)

Background: The Sensory/Descriptive domain of writing is that area which deals with the vivid description and feeling the writer uses in creating setting, characters, and action. Show, Not Tell is a technique developed by Rebekah Kaplan to help students write so that they are able to create a picture in the reader's mind, to get away from the repetition of such empty words as weird, really neat, beautiful, wonderful, and b-o-r-i-n-g.


Telling: The girls were excited.

Showing: Giggles and screams filled the arena. The soft curls were now damp with perspiration and the anticipation of the event. They held tight to each other in a mock effort to contain themselves. Arms flailed upward, and voices echoed in varying tones. The moment was here.

Telling: The room was vacant.

Showing: The door opened with a resounding echo that seemed to fill the house. Cob webs once attached flowed freely in the air as the open door brought light to a well worn floor. The light gave notice to the peeling paint on the walls and to the silhouettes once covered by pictures. The new air gave life to a stuffiness that entrapped the room. Faded and torn white sheets covered once new furniture now drowning in dust.

Figurative Language Examples | Top

Telling: It was foggy.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
- excerpt from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot

Telling: The trees are bent over from the heavy ice.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair|
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
- excerpt from "Birches" by Robert Frost

Telling: The woman is pregnant. | Top

Showing: "Metaphors"
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
- Sylvia Plath

Telling: The girl is in love.

She's so happy, this girl,
she's sending out sparks like a brush fire,
so lit with life
her eyes could beam airplanes through fog,
so warm with his loving
we could blacken our toast|
on her forehead.

The phone rings
and she whispers to it
"I love you."
The cord uncoils
and leaps to tell him
she said it,
the receiver melts in her hand
as if done by Dali,
the whole room crackles

and we at the breakfast table
but at safe distance
having learned by living
that love so without insulation
can immolate more than the toast.
- LoVerne Brown

Show not Tell Exercise | Top

Converting telling writing to showing writing: from sentences to paragraphs and beyond. Choose one telling sentence from below and expand to a showing paragraph or other short genre of writing.

  • I am nervous.
  • It was a day unlike any other day.
  • The sunset was surreal.
  • The story hit a nerve.

Examples below by Bill Pangle

The pizza was delicious.

Steam rising up off the melted cheese made my mouth water. The first bite, my teeth sinking into the cheese through the tomato sauce and into the moist crust, made me chew and swallow rapidly. Even the cheese and tomato sauce, sticking to my fingertips, begged to be licked.

He is angry.

Sitting at his desk, his jaw tightened. His eyes flashed heat waves at me. The words erupted from his mouth, "I want to talk to you after class." The final hiss in his voice warned me about his feelings.

The morning was beautiful.

Behind the mountains, the sun peaked brightly, ready to start a new day. The blue sky remained silent yet showed signs of sadness. The wind whispered through the trees as the cheerful sun rose. The birds sang gently by my window as if they wanted to wake me up.

The coffee was enjoyable.

She cradled the mug in both hands and leaned her head over it in the rising steam. Pursing her lips, she blew softly over the clouded surface and let her eyelids drop. Her shoulders rose slightly as she breathed in, and she hummed with her head low. I lifted the tiny porcelain pitcher and poured a brief rotating arch of white into the black depths of my own cup. She opened her eyes, and we looked at each other across the table without speaking.

Site Map | River of Words | 21 Club | One True Sentence | Quotes | WordList | Glossary | Graphic Organizers | Rules of Thumb | On-Line Resources | WriteDesign | Co-Teachers - Doug and Melissa | Gallery
E-Mail Doug at or Melissa at