M.A.R. #3: Show > Tell with the Miraculous Edward Tulane

  • Middle School
Kristin Leong

Welcome to Mostly Appropriate Resources where I offer teachers ideas for ELA curriculum that might inspire a few parent emails. All lessons are aligned with Charlotte Danielson’s teacher evaluation framework, TPEP. Let’s call these standards-inspired opportunities for parent-teacher communication. It’s all about the village.

This column was inspired by this list.


DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Chapters 1 and 15.

Grade Level: 6—8

Subject: Honors Humanities

Learning Targets:

Students will…

1) CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

2)  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.D: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

3) Compare dynamic characters across multiple texts.

TPEP: Criterion 1: Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement. 3c: Engaging students in learning. Distinguished: Virtually all students are intellectually engaged in challenging content through well-designed learning tasks and suitable scaffolding by the teacher and fully aligned with the instructional outcomes. In addition, there is evidence of some student initiation of inquiry and of student contribution to the exploration of important content. The pacing of the lesson provides students the time needed to intellectually engage with and reflect upon their learning and to consolidate their understanding. Students may have some choice in how they complete tasks and may serve as resources for one another.

Background: I taught two versions of this lesson this year: one to my three 6th grade classes, and the other to my two 7/8 split classes. All students wrote 500 word creative pieces for their assessment following this lesson. Their only prompt was to show more than tell. A lot of animal protagonists showed up in my 6th graders’ papers. More than a few stories about loneliness showed up in my 7/8 classes.

WARM UP, posted on the board as students arrive:

Describe what it smells like to be in love. Don’t say roses.

STEP 1: Share out the warm up. Open with this entry task in the spring when crushes between your tween students begin to distract from your lesson plans. Remind them that because they have so many more years together at this small school they should look for romance elsewhere. They will ignore this advice. Have them turn-and-talk then share out. They will start with the expected stuff: perfume, chocolate. Encourage them when they start venturing out: clean laundry, a rainstorm. Watch them get competitive with their creativity. With luck someone will offer pizza like an 8th grader did in my class.

STEP 2: Direct instruction. Write SHOW > TELL big and bold on the whiteboard. Ask them what this means. Guide them to arrive at sensory details. Ask them which joke is funnier: the one where the listener says “that’s funny,” or the one where the listener laughs. Write laughing > “that’s funny” on the board. Ask them to describe what is looks/feels/tastes/smells/sounds like when someone is finds out about a pop quiz. Record their best examples: skipping through the rows of desks > “she was thrilled.”

STEP 3: Underscore the Learning Targets. Tell them straight out: We’re going to analyze the impact of showing over telling in creative writing. Tell them they’re about to analyze a chapter from a story written about a bunny. Watch the 6th graders get so psyched. Watch the 8th graders roll their eyes but lean in to listen despite themselves. Point out that the author, Kate DiCamillo, is female. Ask them if this is relevant.

STEP 4:  Empathize with the bunny. Tell them Edward Tulane is a china bunny so of course he can’t talk. But then tell them he can think and feel and that he does indeed experience a miraculous journey. Suggest that is must feel very frustrating to feel things deeply and then not be able to express those feelings. Invite them to turn-and-talk about that.

STEP 5: Read chapter one aloud. Have them clear off their desks. No notes. No reading along with you. Just listen to the story like they don’t get to do enough anymore outside of the womb of elementary school. Exaggerate “exceptional specimen” in the fourth paragraph. Invite your audience to show open disdain for Edward when they hear that he “preferred, as a rule, not to think unpleasant thoughts.” As you describe Edward at the dinner table with the Tulane family and their white tablecloth, notice the faces of your students shift slightly as a moment of empathy for Edward passes over them when they hear that he also doesn’t appreciate that “all adults, in fact, condescended to him.” Read the part about the little girl’s grandmother with the gravity she deserves.

STEP 6: What was shown? Ask them what DiCamillo showed us about Edward in this opening chapter. Record some of the ways they summarize Edward’s description on the left side of the board: selfish, arrogant, fancy, etc.

STEP 7: Talk about despair. Assure them this lesson is not so much a spoiler as it is a trailer. Tell them that Edward becomes separated from the Tulane family and that he goes through some rough times. Tell them chapter fifteen is from the pit of that. Ask them to describe what hopelessness looks/feels/tastes/smells/sounds like.

STEP 8: Discuss the bunny on the cross. Distribute chapter fifteen with the paragraphs numbered including the illustration of Edward Tulane strapped to two poles as a scarecrow. Tell them some might think this is a biblical allusion. Guide them to figure out what that means.

STEP 9: Read and annotate chapter fifteen. Tell them to underline as they read when DiCamillo shows Edward’s pain at its most glaring. Invite them find out if the people sitting around them were moved to underline the same things.

STEP 10: Perform chapter fifteen. Prep and support the performers like you did for the Junot Díaz lesson. Pause at the moment Edward gives up: “Pick me up or don’t pick me up, the rabbit thought. It makes no difference to me.” Repeat it back to the class slow and sad. Ask a couple of your bravest performers to read those lines again showing the emptiness of a character at the lowest moment of their despair. Point out that this lowest moment will be the one that his transformation will be measured against once he comes out on the other side of it. Assure them, especially the kids prone to heartbreak, that it does, in fact, get better. Tell them it always does, even if your own optimism is still emerging. Restart the class performance then pause them again when Edward tells the stars that he has been loved and the stars answer back, “So?” Ask them what DiCamillo is showing us to have this bunny pleading with the insensitive stars.

STEP 11: What was shown? Ask them what DiCamillo showed the reader about Edward in this chapter. Record some descriptive words for him on the right side of the board: rejected, humbled, broken.

STEP 12: Loop back to dynamic character. Point to the sign next to the clock that’s been up all year with the definition about conflict and transformation. Draw an arrow from Edward’s descriptive words on the left to his list on the right to underscore that he has undergone a significant transformation due to an experience of conflict. Remind them about the other dynamic characters we gotten to know this year: Scout Finch, Ponyboy, Esperanza, Beyoncé, Junot Díaz. Have them talk out their comparisons, perhaps draw some Venn diagrams.

STEP 13: Analyze the impact of showing. Ask them: How would this chapter have been different if DiCamillo just told us that Edward was feeling like crap?

STEP 14: Summative assessment. Give them only one day and 500 words with the excitingly/intimidatingly vague prompt simply to show more than tell. Remind them about those five senses. Make sure there is time at the end of the period to start the piece right after reading chapter fifteen together while Edward’s pleading with the stars is still fresh in their minds. Invite volunteers to share out the next day. Do not be surprised when almost all of them raise their hands.




Check out earlier installments of Mostly Appropriate Resources:

Slay the Curriculum

A Lesson Based on Fear With Junot Díaz

  • Creativity
  • resources
  • student centered learning
  • Student Engagement
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