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Show-and-Tell How To
By Rebecca McMahon Giles and Karyn Wellhousen Tunks

Shiki, a first year Kindergarten teacher, was excited about introducing many of the teaching activities she recalled from her own early school experiences. After several weeks of traditional show-and-tell in which children chose items to bring from home to share with the class, Shiki questioned whether or not to continue with this activity. The children became restless from sitting and listening for such a long period of time while each child in the class took a turn. Some of the children wouldn’t even talk but stood silently while holding their object, missing out on the purpose of promoting oral language development. As the weeks continued, the children became more competitive in the items being shared as they brought bigger and more expensive toys and electronic equipment. Shiki did not want to give up on her belief that show-and-tell was a valuable teaching activity, but she did want to eliminate the problems she was experiencing.

From a young age, children are encouraged to show a friend their new toy or tell a parent about their day at preschool. These informal interactions foster oral language by building vocabulary as well as self-expression.  For years, early childhood teachers have implemented show-and-tell as a natural extension of these early language experiences. It is an activity that can be socially rewarding and academically advantageous for young children while also solidifying the home-school connection.
In order to capitalize on the many benefits of show-and-tell, teachers should take into account the age and developmental level of the children in their class. This includes considering alternatives to traditional show-and-tell in order to plan for children’s limited attention span, build speaking skills, increase children’s confidence in speaking, and minimize competition and commercialization.

Planning for Limited Attention Span
Rather than requiring a whole group of young children to sit quietly and listen for long periods of time as each of their classmates takes a turn at show-and-tell, teachers can design the experience so that it is well-matched to attention spans. Assigning each child a specific day of the week for show and tell offers numerous advantages. If 3-4 children share each day, then show-and-tell is completed in 10-15 minutes, which is a length of time developmentally suited to most young children’s attention. Another option would be to have one child a day share for each day of the month. Assigning each child a specific day to share teaches children responsibility, provides greater opportunity for each child to fully tell about an item, and eliminates the redundancy and lack of audience participation that occurs when 15-20 children share consecutively. Another benefit to organizing show-and-tell in this way is providing an atmosphere that is unhurried. Feeling rushed, along with being interrupted, increases children’s disfluencies (lags in communication) when speaking.

Teachers can increase the audience’s interest (and concentration) by specifying a category for sharing. This offers variety, provides a focus for the activity, and introduces the concept of classification. Category possibilities are endless, ranging from something homemade or a kitchen gadget to something found in nature or a favorite book. Categories also allow show-and tell to be coordinated with current themes of study. 

Building Children’s Confidence
Show-and-tell was originally designed to provide children with a forum for speaking publicly. Therefore, every effort should be made to help them feel successful as they present in front of classmates. Children can be encouraged to practice describing their object with family before presenting at school. This informal rehearsal relieves stress associated with speaking to peers and allows opportunity to reinforce good speaking habits, such as looking at the audience while you talk and speaking loud enough to be heard by all who are listening.

Guidelines regarding presentation format are also important. For example, children might state their first and last name before beginning and end with “thank you for listening.”  The audience may follow the routine of welcoming the speaker with a group “hello” and applauding afterward. If the audience is allowed to ask questions, the number should also be clarified in advance for consistency. Guidelines such as these foster a sense of confidence and decrease anxiety because children and families know exactly what is expected.

Minimizing Competition and Commercialization
Show-and-tell is most beneficial when teachers take steps to diminish the competitive atmosphere it can create. The spirited rivalry that sometimes occurs is adeptly described in Abby Klein’s The King of Show and Tell (Blue Sky Press, 2004) as Freddy Thresher strives to outdo his best friend Robbie by finding something very unusual and exciting to bring to school for his weekly show-and-tell. (See Box 1 for some of positive examples of show-and-tell presented in children’s literature.) In order to minimize this and the commercialization that results from bringing only toys to share, teachers can establish clear and creative guidelines. Stating guidelines regarding the value, size, and nature of items brought for show-and-tell, also decreases problems associated with storing and protecting children’s personal property. Examples of possible item guidelines are listed below:
• Show-and-tell items must be able to fit inside a shoebox.
• Do not bring items of great sentimental or monetary value.
• Do not bring items that are electronic in nature.
• Do not bring items that suggest violence (such as toy weapons, certain action figures).

Ideas for Successful Show-and-Tell
Consider the following ideas as variations of traditional show-and-tell:
All About Me – Consider beginning the school year with each child completing a show-and-tell all about who he is. For this activity, children can create and use a prop such as a collage or grab bag. To make a collage, children collect pictures that represent things they like (foods, sports, or TV shows) and interesting facts (where they were born, how many family members, or pets) and glue them to paper. During show-and-tell, the child points to each item and explains what it means. For a grab bag, small representative items are placed inside a brown, paper lunch bag. During show-and-tell, each item is removed as its significance is explained.

Show-and-tell Stories – Children select a series of 3-4 favorite photographs from a single significant event. The photos are numbered and shared in sequential order to tell a story about the holiday, vacation, sporting event, or recital. This option has the added narrative benefits of practicing sequencing events and teaching a sense of story – beginning, middle, and end.

Surprise Can – A container (can, bag or box) is provided by the teacher. Each child has a turn to take the container home and places an object inside. With family help, the child writes three clues to help classmates identify the object. The child reads each clue followed by an opportunity for classmates to guess the object. This show-and-tell option places the focus on the use of language to provide clues rather than the object itself. A variation of this is “Ten Questions.” Classmates ask the child ten “yes” or “no” questions regarding the item brought from home. After the last question, children attempt to guess the object. This show-and-tell activity provides opportunities for children to strengthen listening skills and refine their questioning techniques.

Choose-and-tell – This activity provides an excellent alternative for show-and-tell without family participation. Each child selects an object from a collection (such as keys, shells, rocks, stamps, coins, postcards, business cards, greeting cards, spoons, buttons, flowers, or cookies) provided by the teacher and takes a turn telling about the object selected. Using the variations below ensures that the activity matches children’s abilities and remains interesting when repeated. Age-appropriate variations for extending choose-and-tell include:
PK-K students:
• Have the child answer a simple question.
What do you like about it?
What does it feel, look, smell, taste, or sound like?

1st - 2nd grade students:
•Let other children ask questions about it.
• Child picks a question to answer from a “hat.”
• Have the child tell what memories it brings to mind.
• The child gives a one-word description.
• The child gives the item a name.
• The child lists many varied and unusual uses for the object.
• The child describes it using all five senses.
• The child completes extension activities after sharing, such as drawing a picture of it or writing a story about it.
Show-and-tell is an effective and enjoyable way for young children to refine their public speaking and oral communication skills while learning more about each other. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that the experience takes into consideration young children’s attention spans and help them build confidence while avoiding “bring-and-brag,” rather than show-and-tell. Happing sharing!

Additional Reading Suggestions
Show & Tell Day Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell (illus.) Harper Trophy 2000
Show and Tell Bunnies Kathryn Lasky and Marilyn Hafner (illus.) Candlewick 2001
Henry’s Show and Tell Nancy Carlson Puffin 2006
Something Special by Nicola Moon and Alex Aliffe (illus.) Peachtree 1997
Show and Tell Robert Munsch Michael and Martchenko Annick Press 991