Show. Don’t Tell.

In which I do a book talk on Wonder for my 5th grade commencement speech.

I was handed a copy of a Movin’ On Up speech delivered by Mr. Kellogg a couple of years ago. The title was “Make it a Good Day”. He spoke about the importance of making good choices instead of just saying so. It is a good script. I plan to expand upon it.

At Howe, we adhere to values such as compassion and teamwork, acceptance, imagination and attitude, responsibility and respect, and attendance. These powerful concepts were present in a book I read aloud to some 5th graders this year, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I found a good summary of this book at the Children’s Craniofacial Association:

“August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial difference that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to enter 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”

I thought this book exemplified many of the Howe values.

Compassion and Teamwork

When Auggie enters school, no one initially sits by him at lunch. Summer, a classmate, realizes this and chooses to eat with Auggie every day. They form a strong bond. In order to show compassion toward others, we need to have the courage to take that first step.


Auggie’s older sister Via is one of his biggest supporters. She sticks up for him when others treat him differently. However, she struggles to balance her loyalty to her brother with her need for her own life at her new high school. Via also doesn’t how to deal with the fact that Auggie is becoming more independent and doesn’t need her as much as he used to.

Imagination and Attitude

Before school started, Auggie and his family had a difficult time preparing for the first day. He was creative in his approach to try and fit in with his peers, such as doing more listening than talking to learn about life at Beecher Prep. It also helped that the school provided an orientation for Auggie and made it clear about what is expected of all students.

Responsibility and Respect

One of Auggie’s best friends at Beecher, Jack Will, makes a poor decision in the middle of the story. He gets involved in a hurtful conversation about Auggie with classmates. He happened to hear it, and the two of them stopped hanging out. It is true that a friendship takes a lifetime to build, but only a minute to damage or even destroy.


Auggie not only deals with his physical disability, but also with a bullying situation. His adversary, Julian, persuades others to help him make Auggie’s life miserable through words and actions. Auggie handles this with maturity and composure. Classmates see how Auggie responds and start to come around to his side. Would this have been the case had he lashed out at Julian? I don’t think so. The story ends with Auggie being recognized in front of his peers for his courage, his willingness to forgive, and his determination to be successful despite large obstacles.

As you move up to the middle school, consider some of these reflective questions and the lessons from Wonder:

  • How will you show Summer’s compassion for those that struggle?
  • How will you show acceptance like Via, and appropriately stick up for others?
  • How will you act as Auggie did when you feel out of place? Will you stay focused on what’s important and steer clear of less desirable situations?
  • How will you avoid Jack Will’s poor decision and not talk about others behind their backs, whether they are your friends or not, whether online or face-to-face?
  • How will you show determination in your attendance at school every day, and deal with the “Julians” in your life with both assertiveness and understanding?

You will notice that I am asking you, not the group. Each one of us is accountable to ourselves. There will be challenges in your future, but I am confident that what you will have to face will be minor compared to what kids such as Auggie deal with every day.

These questions I pose to you also do not demand a verbal response. We expect that your actions will be the answer to these questions. Show. Don’t tell. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

8 thoughts on “Show. Don’t Tell.”

  1. Well done, Matt. It’s excellent to see how students are being asked to be advocates for themselves and others. This is a great message to share with all students and I’m happy to know that we’ll be getting a good group of kids at WRAMS next year. Nice work!


  2. Thanks for sharing your speech. I also read this wonderful book to my students this year and plan to read it to my new students in the fall.


      1. I don’t use voices. I’m afraid it would be too distracting for the students. Instead, I try to embed the character’s feelings into my voice.

        By the way, Jim Trelease’s new edition of The Read Aloud Handbook is coming out soon. I own the previous two editions, and I plan to purchase this one, too.


  3. Simply Awesome Matt! You are one of the many reasons why I am glad I have built such a strong PLN through twitter. I will be borrowing some of these ideas in the future. I love the idea of linking it to a story the kids have heard or read, and I love linking it to the values in your school. An excellent promotion speech for sure. That will stick with your students!!


    1. Thank you Tom for the feedback. The speech went well. Any time I can make something “stick” with these types of formalities is a bonus.


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