Reading For and Writing With "Specific Language"

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SWBAT return to reading The House on Mango Street with renewed focus on "specific language," then utilize specific language in writing a paragraph about someone they love.

Big Idea

"To use specific language, to really think about our characters, is not just good writing, but a moral duty." -Karen E. Bender

Whole-Class Review of "What Great Writing Can Teach Us About Trayvon Martin "

20 minutes

We begin today by reviewing as a whole-class the essay "What Great Writing Can Teach Us About Trayvon Martin" from Because of the amount of time and consideration devoted to partner work on the last essay we read ), and because I was able to get all classes at least started on their mini-summaries in class (Student Sample One and Two), I have not incorporated partner sharing for this lesson.

I first ask students to share what it is they think great writing can teach us about Trayvon Martin, thus checking for understanding of the essay's thesis.  

I then direct their attention to the paragraph in the essay that features the excerpt by James Alan McPherson.  I read the paragraph out loud to my students and follow up by asking them what they are able to infer about the girl being described. If not mentioned in their responses, I ask them to tell me the race of the girl and how they know that (they should be able to refer to the line about the "rich brown of her neck").  I do this in order to illustrate the ways a good writer gives us much more than labels and stereotypes when describing and/or developing characters.  I point out where the author of the essay, Karen E. Bender, writes " To use specific language, to really think about our characters, is not just good writing, but a moral duty."  

I tell my students that that is what we will call it today--"specific language"--and explain to them that it is the same careful attention to language that we have been exploring by focusing on voice, tone, mood, figurative language, etc.



A Return to The House On Mango Street

30 minutes

The review and discussion of the essay from provides a transition back to The House On Mango Street, picking up where we left off, with vignette #13, "There Was An Old Woman, She Had So Many Children, She Didn't Know What To Do" and reading through vignette #15, "Darius And The Clouds." I have students volunteer to read each vignette aloud and ask them to share their inferences about each character as a whole group at the conclusion of each vignette.  I point out the ways each character is described beyond simply a label or a stereotype, continuously echoing the idea of "specific language."

Additionally, vignette #13 ("There Was An Old Woman . . .") provides an opportunity to introduce the concept of allusion.  Before we read the vignette, I ask my students if the title reminds them of anything they have heard before.  Someone will usually make the connection to the nursery rhyme, "There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe".  I explain to students that when a writer makes an allusion, he or she is providing an opportunity for understanding to the reader by offering a connection to the text via an additional entry point.  I often illustrate the concept of allusion further by referencing the film Toy Story II, and the scene when Buzz Lightyear learns that Zurg is his father.  I will ask my students why this scene makes them laugh, and I have yet to meet the class that is unable to connect it to Star Wars.  I then explain that the allusion allowed them into that scene a little further, and the result is that perhaps they laughed a little harder.  

After we read the vignette "There Was An Old Woman . . .", and students have shared their inferences about the Vargas children, I ask them why they think the title alludes to the nursery rhyme.  I accept any reasonable responses, including the potential that Sandra Cisneros is being ironic, creating characters who are not likely found in a nursery rhyme.

The word allusion is then added to the week's vocabulary list.

Practicing With Specific Language

20 minutes

I then have students return to the entry in their classroom spirals where they began writing about the vignette "Those Who Don't."  I explain that they will be making two more entries in this spiral assignment.

Their first task is to select any of the characters we have just read about in vignettes 13-15 --any Vargas child, their mother, Alicia, her father, or Darius--and list the "specific language" Cisneros uses in order for us to see and understand the character.  Bullet-pointed entries are fine for this activity.  I want to make sure that my students interact with the specifics of the character they have chosen, and that those specifics end up on their paper as an example, before they begin their second task.

Their second task is to then develop their own paragraph, using "specific language", about someone that they love (or like).  They can write either a straight description, or they can describe their loved one from the vantage point of watching them in action (such as playing basketball, singing, etc.). 

Paragraphs will be started in class, but most will need to be completed as homework.