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After teaching students how to create lively characters, I felt good about myself until I read their short stories. My lessons teaching imagery had failed. Littered with unimaginative descriptions, their stories made me want to ram a toothpick through my left nostril. Seconds before the tip pierced my brain, a thought came to mind. I pulled out the toothpick, canceled my basketball party, called my wife, and told her I'd be home late.
I had work to do. I had to find out about teaching imagery and create a lesson plan. Here's what I came up with.
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A writer must totally involve the reader in order to make the writing enjoyable to read. A writer must appeal to the senses. If a reader can see, smell, taste, or touch what the character experiences, the writing is of high quality.
- Write the following sentence on the board: "The child got mad at the teacher."
- Ask students the following questions: Does the sentence paint a picture for the reader? Are there details that would appeal to the readers' senses?
Write the following suggestions on the board for specific ways students can revise by adding figurative language and imagery:
- Use Alliteration: Stammering a reply and stomping out the door, the young scholar stopped and displayed his middle finger.
- Use a Simile: After seeing the grade, her fist hammered the desk and she shrieked like a lioness having come upon two hyenas eating her cub.
- Use Onomatopoeia: The bang of the door echoed through the hall as Billy left the room after a long detention.
- Use a Metaphor: The football player--a stonebreaker on the field, a stone off it--lamented his ineligibility.
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Write telling sentences on the board and instruct students to convert them to showing sentences containing figurative language. Feel free to use my examples. Challenge students to not used the italicized words.
- The pizza tasted great.
- The class was boring.
- The football team thinks they are are so cool.
- My teacher is weird.
- The mugger attacked his victim.
Allow 10-15 minutes for students to work and ask them to share what they wrote. For additional fun, make the sharing part of a reading or writing challenge or have students write their sentences on individual white boards.
TIP: Teachers and students often mistake the use of adjectives and adverbs as good description. Excessive use of adjectives and adverbs is the sign of a lazy writer and makes reading unenjoyable. Adjectives and adverbs should be examined closely during revision. The careful revisor will find that most adverbs and adjectives are unnecessary and add little meaning.
*This lesson has been adapted from Susan Geye's Mini Lessons for Revision, 1997.
Lesson Plan: Using Imagery
Neophyte writers assume style comes naturally. That's why they have none. Style occurs no more naturally in writing than it does in fashion or music. It's a deliberate creation of the stylist combined with serendipitous discovery while engaged in the creative process. It can be taught.