Playing with Words - can be useful in composing songs / poetries ---------------------------------------------------------------- Playing with the SOUNDS of words Rhyme: word endings that sound alike including at least the final vowel sound. Ex. Time, slime, mime Rhythm: a regular pattern of accented syllables. Ex. i THOUGHT i SAW a PUSsyCAT. Repetition: The recurrence of words and phrases for effect. Ex. I was so so so so glad. Alliteration: repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Ex. Fast and furious. Assonance: repeated vowel sounds. Ex. He's a bruisin' loser. Onomatopoeia: words that sound like their meanings. Ex. Swoosh, Zip, Gurgle Playing with the MEANINGS of words Simile: a comparison using "like" or "as." Ex. He's as dumb as an ox. Metaphor: a direct comparison. Ex. He's an zero. Personification: Treating a non-human thing with human characteristics. Ex. The days crept by slowly, sorrowfully. Hyperbole: Exaggeration used for effect. Ex. He weighs a ton. Metonymy: Substituting one word or phrase for another that is closely related. Ex. The White House stated today that... Synecdoche: A part represents the whole. Ex. The football player is hanging up his spikes. Symbol: an object that represents something else. Ex. A small cross by the dangerous curve on the road reminded all of Johnny's death. Contrast: closely arranging things with strikingly different characteristics Ex. He was dark, sinister, and cruel; she was radiant, pleasant, and kind. Paradox: a seeming contradiction. Ex. The faster I go the behinder I get. Irony: something said that is opposite its intended meaning. Ex. Wow, thanks for expensive gift...let's see: did it come with a Fun Meal or the Burger King equivalent? Playing with the IMAGES of words Imagery: the use of vivid language to generate ideas and/or evoke emotion via the five senses. Examples: * Sight: Smoked mysteriously puffed out from the clown's ears. * Sound: Tom placed his ear tightly against the wall; he could hear a faint but distinct thump thump thump. * Touch: The burlap wall covering scraped against the little boy's cheek. * Taste: A salty tear ran across onto her lips. * Smell: Cinnamon! That's what wafted into his nostrils. Interpreting the Songs Once the terms have been defined, each day I try to cover two song/poems with the students. The process for covering them is as follows: 1. Take in the work. 2. Formulate an initial response to it. 3. Share responses. 4. Analyze the lyrics for its theme. 5. Analyze the lyrics for its use of poetic devices. 6. Write out a summary of the work. Let's take a closer look at those six steps. 1. Taking in the work. Students take in the work by listening to the song with the lyrics in front of them. They always enjoy this part. As students become aware of the process involved in the unit, they begin to swallow the song differently they did in the past. They become aware of poetic devices, meaning signals, and the underlying emotion. They start noticing instruments and musical devices (though this isn't something I spend much time on). 2. Formulate an initial response to it. Immediately after listening to the work, they all must write an initial response to it, just a short paragraph or so. Students should try to comment on their emotional response to the song. As the unit develops, these initials responses mature...something that the teacher (me, in my case) finds quite rewarding. 3. Share responses. After the five minutes allotted for the initial response, I ask volunteers to read their responses. This often generates some discussion right away. After the readings, I ask students more pointedly, "What was you emotional response to the song?" And then, "Why did it make you feel that way?" The point of this is to emphacize the emotional aspect of poetry, to prevent the entire unit from turning into a mental "What's the deeper meaning?" type of activity. 4. Analyze the lyrics for its theme. Now it's time for analysis, always a dangerous time. I happen to believe in analysis, and I happen to believe that the writer's original intent is what matters most (in other words, I'm no post-modern, deconstructionist) and I really want the students to consider what Lennon and McCartney had in mind when they were crooning about all the lonely people. But I am very aware of the danger of dissection. The way I try to avoid over-analysis is to not spend too much time on it...just enough to whet the appetite. Also, I make it a point to allow for error in interpretation. We search for truth, but we do it gingerly and with full knowledge of our ignorance. I begin this process by rereading the poem aloud with the class. I encourage them to interrupt me with questions as we go along. One point I make early in the unit: repetition is a device often used to convey the meaning. Thus, we look especially closely at the chorus and any other repeated parts. Since these are all works I've gone over before class, I definitely have a better handle on the meanings than students do. I develop some questions ahead of time that will point them to some of the more masterful lines in the poem. At this point the meaning becomes a full-fledged discussion. I try to let the students have a great deal of say in what direction it takes, but I challenge their views, always citing a passage that conflicts with what they're saying. It starts out as an exercise in inductive reasoning. We look at the particulars and draw conclusions. But once generalizations are made, we reverse the process, looking at the particulars to see if they support that conclusion. Deductive reasoning. It's a delicate task, as any teacher who's led a discussion knows. You spend a lot of time dignifying wrong answers, a lot of time corralling the herd back a certain way, and not a small amount of time stopping and reflecting for a moment yourself as a student brings to light a point you had previously not considered deeply enough. 5. Analyze the lyrics for its use of poetic devices. Next I ask the kids to find examples of particular poetic devices that I have determined ahead of time are in the poem. I always want to find at least two strong examples, hopefully more. Most poetry has some form of imagery: we look for that. Often there is irony involved. Many, many songs have some form of alliteration. Almost all have rhyme. All have a rhythm, and I want students to understand that musical rhythm and linguistic rhythm must match. We spend some time tapping out accented syllables. 6. Write out a summary of the work. This is tomorrow's assignment. Now they've considered the piece, albeit briefly. If we've covered two songs in one period, they may choose just one to write about. This writing should take into account all of what we've discussed and analyzed. I expect about a page (150 words) per song, maybe more. Of course, it never happens this neatly. I spend too much time on one piece and am forced to neglect others. The discussions gets sidetracked. The class clown creates diversions. I forget to say something one day and spend part of the next day repolishing it. And I throw in some quizzes and other assignments that I dream up on the spot. But the unit works, it really does. And it all ends with "American Pie," which we really do analyze. Why "American Pie?" For a whole lot of reasons. For one thing, this song is truly loved by the world. Most of my students have some familiarity with it, even the foreign exchange students. But no one understands it. That's the second reason I like using it: it gives students a chance to use most of the poetic devices they've learned in one piece. Then there's the allegory angle. I used to teach a unit of nothing but allegory. When our textbooks changed (and I lost Poe's "Masque of the Red Death,") I dropped the unit. But I still love allegory and find it's a form of literature students really enjoy. Well, "American Pie" is an allegory, that's for sure. Another reason I use "American Pie" is because it provides students with a framework to view the 60s. I tell them -- and I believe this deeply -- that "American Pie" teaches history better than any history book they'll ever read. And there's still another reason for using "American Pie": this song is about rock music and my unit is about rock music. It's a natural match. You can find a brief summary of my interpretation of some of the songs in this unit (I'm working on getting them all edited and uploaded...it takes time!) which may help you in guiding discussions of the same. Also, you'll find the lyrics for all the pieces included there. And I've added a list of crucial poetic devices. As I said before: peruse, choose, refuse and/or use (a poetic device: internal rhyme) as you please. And, if you've got something to add, email me. Enjoy!