Now that my students recognize that strategic diction is one of the key tools that a writer possesses, this lesson is designed to explore the various forms that diction can take.
Because figurative language should be somewhat familiar to most 8th graders, I begin with an activity that allows my students to share and review what they already know. I like to reach into their prior knowledge as I encourage them toward a deeper appreciation of language and of the skill that good writers bring to their craft. My aims with this focus are to make them more acute and appreciative readers, as well as more thoughtful and strategic writers.
Each student is given a Bubble Map and is instructed to write "figurative language" in the center. I give them 3-5 minutes on their own, filling in as many types of figurative language techniques that they can (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.).
I then ask for volunteers to share their ideas with the whole class as I record them on a bubble map on the document camera (I make sure that simile, metaphor, and personification are ultimately included, as these are the focus on the graphic organizer I have created for the opening vignettes of The House On Mango Street). As each type is shared, I ask my students to define what each is and instruct them to add these definitions to their maps in the appropriate bubbles (Student Bubble Map).
For our first set of weekly vocabulary words, simile, metaphor, and personification will top the list.
I next explain to my students that the what portion of figurative language (EX: What type of figurative language is "the wind blew like a train whistle"?) is half the battle. Good writers are acutely aware of the whys of figurative language. Why use it? Why is it desirable? Good readers are able to analyze, which means "to examine in detail in order to discover meaning, essential features, etc." the use of figurative language and determine why it is a successful way to describe a topic (analyze gets added to our growing vocabulary list).
I tell my students that one of my earliest memories of figurative language comes from my little brother, when he was about four. One day, unprovoked, he announced to the family that his big toe reminded him of Nathan Ford, the neighbor boy at the end of the block. He took off his shoe and showed us his toe, and lo and behold, there indeed was the shape of Nathan's head staring back at us.
My brother is 42 years old now and I have never forgotten the image of his toe as Nathan. He gave me an image that was surprising, fresh, memorable, and from a vantage point that I had never thought of before. He gave me a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking.
I then explain to my students that the right way to express themselves as writers is a journey. It comes about gradually, as they take risks with their language and gain confidence in their voices in order to make them distinct. As a visual metaphor, at times it may feel like this:
However, when language surprises, jolts us out of the expected, is fresh and memorable, it is as though it has begun to dance.* We didn't see it coming, we never thought of it that way before, and we are grateful.
*It appears as though the fine folks at Fox have removed the dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite from YouTube. If you have a copy of the DVD, you can cue it up to that scene. It's always a crowd pleaser, and students appreciate the metaphor.
We are now ready to begin reading The House On Mango Street. I explain to my students that this is a book rife with figurative language, and that in it they will encounter descriptions of people and places in ways that they have probably never considered.
If the first portion of the lesson has gone as expected, my students should have no trouble naming the types of figurative language I have singled out for focus. What they may struggle with is identifying how and why the particular use of figurative language is effective in the selected examples, as this may be the first time they are being asked to articulate such rationale. For this reason, I have decided to address the activity as a whole group, where I am able to model explanations for them whenever necessary and help encourage and shape their responses towards deeper analysis.
Additionally, I explain that the book's structure is a series of vignettes, which are brief, evocative descriptions, accounts, or episodes, subsequently adding the term vignette to the growing vocabulary list.
With the aid of the Exploring and Analyzing Figurative Language handout, we begin reading the first three vignettes as a whole group, allowing student volunteers to do the reading, and completing the handout as guided practice. If time becomes a factor, I instruct them to complete questions #4 (all of which ask them to develop their own sentences using figurative language) for homework, to be shared at the start of the next class.