98: Show and tell

A Thousand Things to Talk About
98: Show and tell

Is it more effective to show the difference, or explain the difference?

Show notes and links:
Learning Styles (
Show, don’t Tell (Grammar Girl)

Full episode text

The exercise of show and tell is a pretty common one in many classrooms around the world. It’s a way of creating public speaking experience, and a way of helping students understand one another better.

Showing and telling are two of the most effective ways to help students learn, but they aren’t the only ways. Learning styles vary, with one theory outlining visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning styles. All four different styles use different methods and styles to absorb and process information. Traditional classrooms tend to be very strongly skewed towards being told what you should know, though some strides are being made in creating multi-learning-style friendly spaces. Purely telling something may seem easy, but it’s not always the most effective.

It’s a challenge writers have been taking on for years. You can tell something very easily – but showing the difference is something that effective writers seem to do very well. Grammar Girl talks about how metaphor and simile are the powerful tools that help writers show instead of tell, because they appeal to the reader’s sense of imagination and by engaging the imagination, you are also engaging the memory.

Though imagination is not always what you’re aiming for. Much like show-and-tell, there are times it really depends on what your goals are. Technical writing or very specific areas of education where one particular type of learning is best do exist, but it often seems that telling a story is a much better way to make a connection.