Forget Show and Tell – Showing (not Telling) Strengthens Learning

Creative writers all know what’s sometimes called the first rule of writing: show, don’t tell. What does this mean? Here, I’ll show you:


Our fundraiser was really successful and fun. We were filled to capacity and exceeded our goals for income.


I’ve never seen so many people in our auditorium; they were spilling out into the foyer and the laughter was uproarious! Andrew Carnegie came up to me at the end and said he hadn’t had so much fun in years and then he wrote us a check for $20,000, which put us over our target by half!

As a writer, I think all the time about show, don’t tell, and it occurred to me how much it applies to learning and work environments, too. Here are some of the ways you can use the Principles and Practices of Dialogue Education (scroll down) to use showing to enhance your meetings, workshops, seminars, etc:

  1. Use Case Studies – A case study is a short story that poses a problem on the theme being studied. Use it to invite dialogue for people to learn and test new theories.
  2. Congruence, or, What I Say, I Do! – Model what it is you’re teaching or leading others to experience.
  3. Use Charts, Graphs, Visuals – the classic example of show, don’t tell – which would you rather see, a huge spreadsheet full of data or a simple pie chart?
  4. Use Found Objects – Adult learners can be invited to use anything they can put their hands on to symbolize whatever is relevant to your task at hand. They can share stories about their efforts, for example, or their family, or to show the problems of their community, or to demonstrate their longings for a better life.

You can find these and other great ideas in Training Through Dialogue, Dr. Jane Vella. What do you  use to show rather than tell? Share your stories!