Excerpt from Labors of the Heart by Claire Davis
- Word Choice
In Nova Scotia, where we usually spend July, there is an amazing chain of thrift stores. They usually have an interesting selection of books, which corresponds nicely with my having more time to read.
This year, I really lucked out. I’ve become a big fan of the Best American series of books, and this year, the stacks coughed up three of them, two short stories, and one poetry from the early 2000s.
As I dug through the short story book from 2001, I came across this passage from Claire Davis’ story Labors of the Heart:
Right away, I knew I had something I wanted to share.
How We Might Use This Text:
Word Choice– This was the glaringly obvious use for this excerpt as a mentor text. To define the character’s size, Davis uses a lot of words that describe the size. In doing so, she crafts a paragraph that is full of tone, communicating not only the man’s girth, but giving us a good idea of how he feels about it.
I’d probably read this piece with students, and we’d talk about it, noticing and noting the things that made an impact. It’s a brief enough piece that I’m confident they’d get where I would want them to.
Then, either as an isolated exercise in wordplay, or for use in something they were already working on, we’d experiment. I’d begin with a thesaurus, and we’d list synonyms for whatever they were trying to describe. We’d have a discussion about tone, and choose words that we think would put forth the tone that we wanted.
From there, we’d move into the realm of euphemism. One of the most wonderful, and frustrating, things about our language is that we have so many ways to express things, to communicate a single idea. This would be a fun exercise, possibly even one with much movement, sharing and discussion as we found ways to say the things that each of is trying to say. I could drop in the old-guy terms, while they dropped in the cool things the kids are saying.
I envision each writer having a page full of terms that they can use to express their idea, or describe something. And then we’d craft paragraphs, following Davis’ model. We’d try different combinations of words, crafting varied takes on what we wanted to say. We’d talk a lot too, suggesting different arrangements, helping each othet craft solid paragraphs.
Though this is a short paragraph, I think is has great potential for our writers. Creative writers could use it for description, while it could be used in academic writing to make a strong point. Imagine using it in a current events class to write a description of a politician, or a reaction to an event. This passage exemplifies one of the things that I value most in writing instruction, the importance of wordplay to help our writers grow.
What activities do you use to get students to play with words? Do you have any golden paragraphs like this one that you use as mentor texts?
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