I open today's class with a puzzle: what's the difference between the words pal, friend, and bestie?
"Generation." What do you mean?
"Well, pal would have been heard in past generations."
"Yeah, but they all mean friend."
"But they are used differently." (I'm not calling on anyone at this point--we're in free-flowing discussion. Everyone is engaged, yahoo!)
"Bestie means best friend today, but I don't think people used to use it."
"It's level of acquaintance." Oh, can you build on that?
"Pal is just someone you are friendly with, friend is someone who means something to you, and bestie is your best friend."
Is it possible that all the responses are correct?
Indeed--the words we choose to use reflect on our time period, our meaning, and our tone. The same is true in books, and that's what we're going to be looking at today.
Before we dig into our texts' language use, I ask students where we've looked at language before.
"Emerson and Thoreau, right?" Yep. What did you learn to do?
"We had to find figurative language..." Yes, and?
"Talk about what it meant..." Yes, and?
"Talk about why it was used." Yes! We'll be doing something similar here.
I ask students to open the Language Analysis document, and we look at the standard. They notice that it is very similar to the informational standard we worked with; they will need to analyze what language is used and talk about how meaning and tone are impacted. I've provided them with a different set of guiding questions for analysis this time, tailored to our novel needs. I give students 15 minutes to answer the questions with their [assigned] table partners before we come back together to discuss.
Around the Walk Across America table, I hear a variety of questions and comments:
"What does type of language mean?" Think about our study of tone in our writing.
"Oh. Like formal and informal?" Yes--what contributes to formal and informal?
"I get it--like how slang makes things informal?" Yes.
"So in this book, there is some informal slang because Peter uses words from his time, especially when he talks?" Yes!
From another student, "Could I put that the characters show how they feel through their interactions? Like in Robbinsville, the characters say really mean things to Peter? It shows that they don't trust him or like him?" Yes, that's one example.
From The Color Purple table, I hear a lot of talk about the dialect right away:
"They're all so uneducated. They can't spell--look at this page!"
"It's not THEIR fault, though!"
"Shouldn't a book have proper grammar?"
"No--I think this makes it more real."
"Yeah, I mean, Celie didn't get to go to school like her sister."
When we come back together to discuss, I ask each set of partners to share just 1 of their observations. Most were able to make a specific observation about the language in the text, but connecting those observations to tone was a challenge:
To close out our hour, I again give students time to read; this way, I can see for myself that it is happening.