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Book: Investigative Creative Writing

Chapter: 1. Teaching Students to Show Not Tell

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.34890


First published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, this chapter builds on an observation by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud to introduce a revolutionary teaching technique that I’ve been practicing for fifteen years. To teach students to show not tell, I assign the task of writing “portraits” that rely on detail provided through the five senses, metaphor and simile, and “wordular” inventions. The purpose of these exercises is to wean students from their reliance on vague and often meaningless words like “beautiful” and “cool” and to substitute information which provokes images and associations that automatically translate context. With references to William Blake, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Newton, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, I explain how creativity can be measured through the process I advocate, which is also extremely useful in writing college papers and other texts.

Chapter Contributors

  • Mark Spitzer ( - markspitzer) 'University of Central Arkansas'