A Rock By Any Other Name...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
unearthed by Lori

Sorry, folks. But I think Juliet had it all wrong. Words absolutely matter, but it's so hard to get kids to understand the power of word choice in writing and how it can drive a poem or an essay or a fictional piece. Here are some of my favorite observations from back in my days of teaching Pre-AP:
  • In the play, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare uses really good diction.
  • Ray Bradbury's diction in Fahrenheit 451 is pretty good.
  • Without the diction in The House on Mango Street, this book wouldn't be possible.
These earth-shattering statements are brought to you by well-meaning students who had no idea what they were talking about. Bless them. 

I've started a project with my on-level 10th graders and I decided that I would get them to tackle word choice in a short little poem that uses lots of agricultural diction as a metaphor. The problem was clear early on. How would I get them to see the nuance of the poet's word choice? How could I get them to consider what words the poet chose to use. I quickly decided we would use our WWAM poetry strategy, but I would have to direct them to WEIRD word choice or they wouldn't see it on their own. Enter the power of small groups, a color printer, and tiny post-its. 

I created a PowerPoint with 4 slides. Each slide had 3-4 images. The first slide had 3 houses: a mansion, a small home, and a shack. Followed by:
Rain, Mist, Downpour, and Storm

Rock, Pebble, Stone, and Boulder
Students were instructed to discuss the most appropriate nouns (nouns are important) for the images. While some kids initially struggled to stick to nouns, eventually at least one kid in every group caught on, and the power of the activity really took over. They rationalized their choices to one another. It sounded a bit like this:
  • No! You can't call that a river. Because look at all the rocks. That to me looks more like a waterfall if you had to describe it to someone else. [There was also a "river" slide...I just didn't get pics. Sorry.]
  • Those are definitely pebbles...like the tiny kind that get stuck in your shoe when you're little.
I was actually shocked at how well it went. To round it out...drumroll please...I was even able to teach verbal irony. I instructed everyone to flip to the page with the rocks. Verbal irony was a term that I had previously taught so it was already in their visual dictionary, but I knew they still didn't really get it. I told students that if they looked very carefully, they could easily create two examples of verbal irony simply by moving two post-its. I watched. I saw hesitation, and then almost everyone exchanged the labels "pebble" and "boulder" on their paper. 
  • Me [picking a quiet student]: Tell me why you chose to move those two post-its.
  • Quiet Student: Because they're opposites. It's verbal irony because the word doesn't really fit.
Then we read the poem and it was completely beautiful and they WWAMed keeping the weird diction in mind. One student even picked up on the use of the word grain and how that grain represented something else. It was seriously one of those class periods where you wonder--in a good way--who are these children and when are the other ones coming back?

I'd love to share my lesson with you. Click here to download my PPT for free. Please promise to use it AND to let me know how it went. 

If you're wondering...we used "Rosa" by Rita Dove and "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" by Arna Bontemps.


  1. Wow! I loved reading this post from the perspective of a secondary classroom. This is something that would be great to use in 4th grade too (maybe not the verbal irony part but the appropriate nouns would be a great lesson!). Thank you so much for linking up!
    Fourth Grade Flipper
    Your blog is super cute and I LOVE the name!

    1. Thanks, Holly! Suz and I find that many of our strategies are appropriate (with some tweaking) for elementary classrooms. In fact, our very first blog post was titled "Elementary Envy." Why should elementary have all the fun?! Secondary classrooms should be active, engaging, and dare I say it...fun! That's what we're all about!

      Thanks for letting us link up!

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  3. I was so excited to borrow your powerpoint, but the link is disabled. Any suggestions? Love your blog, btw!

    1. Thanks so much for letting us know! I had trouble getting Dropbox to work with me, but I've uploaded the Power Point to TpT.