By Ruth O’Neil

Does your homeschool students’ creative writing seem lifeless? If so, maybe they are “zombie writing.” But don’t leave those lifeless essays for dead! In this article, you’ll learn new methods for bringing writing to life in a way that is fun and memorable for your students!

Sometimes it can be difficult to teach children the difference between showing and telling in their writing. After all, we do “tell” stories, but when we write we need to “show.”

Recently, several of the students in my homeschool co-op elementary writing class were struggling with this concept, and I was struggling to find a way to break through to them. Then it came to me: zombie writing. That’s what some of them were giving me.

Zombie writing is boring. It lacks:

  • enthusiasm
  • excitement
  • expression
  • action
  • good verbs
  • flavor.

In short, zombie writing NEEDS BRAINS!

Your Students Will Never Forget This Creative Writing Example…

The next class, I requested a couple of boys to walk around pretending to be zombies. The rest of the class was highly entertained by their antics. I asked the class to describe zombies to me.

“They’re boring.”

“They don’t have any enthusiasm.”

“There’s no excitement.”

“No expression.”

They came up with all of these descriptions and more.

“That,” I said, “is exactly what you’re writing when you tell a story instead of showing it.”

I told them to try to think of their story as a movie playing in their head. To think of:

  • what characters looked like
  • what they were doing
  • how they were doing it; and,
  • to take note of characters’ body language.

Then I asked another student to enter the room repeatedly, each time embodying the emotions of a word that another student called out.

Mad: She stomped into the room, swinging her arms for all she was worth with a grumpy look on her face.

Bored: She ever so slowly slumped into the room, rolling her eyes giving the impression that class was the last place she wanted to be.

Happy: She skipped into the room, with a huge smile on her face, and grabbed one of her friends in a bear hug.

After each entry, I asked the students to describe her actions vividly with adjectives and verbs in a complete sentence.


“Everyone knew Lola was angry by the way she stomped into the room, her face was scrunched up and red, and even there may have been smoke coming out of her nose.”

“It was the class Lola hated. She trudged into the room, obviously working hard to put one foot in front of the other. She slumped down at her desk already glancing at the clock and rolling her eyes, realizing how much time was left.”

“Lola burst into the room, skipping and jumping, excited about the news she had to share. She grabbed her best friend up from her chair and squeezed the life out of her in a bear hug.”

These new sentences were much better than the students’ previous work.

When to Show vs. Tell (Using Dialog)

At times when we need to give the reader a bit of information, zombie writing using boring narration to deliver the information. However, by creating dialog, we can relay the information in a lively way.

Instead of: “The house was red,” one of the characters can share that information by saying, “Ooooo! I love that shade of red!” The reader got a pertinent fact infused with emotion.

Telling is simply summarizing a story without giving any mental pictures to the reader to go along with it.

Telling = Boring!

Showing is giving exciting details, often involving the five senses. By describing sensory experiences, the writer pulls the reader into the story making him feel, smell, see, hear and taste the same things the characters are experiencing.

Showing = Lively!

Answer the who, what, where, when and why with detail and description that excites the reader’s imagination and makes the reader want to keep turning pages.

How to Teach Creative Writing: Step Outside the Box!

The creative writing I began to receive after the “zombie” class was tremendously improved. My co-op students began showing instead of telling!

Sometimes all it takes is a new and different way to explain writing concepts. Let your students act like zombies and then compare that to a display of various emotions. Have them write sentences that reflect those emotions with rich adjectives and verbs.

With the memorable example of what to avoid, your students will be better able to integrate the five senses into their writing, bringing the text leaping off the page and creating stories that are enjoyable to read.

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Ruth O’Neil has published hundreds of articles in dozens of publications. You can visit her at or on her website at Ruth spends her spare time quilting, scrapbooking and camping with her family.