A lesson on vivid language

Lisa Napell Dicksteen

  • Scheduled to be delivered October 11, 2005, as continuation of series of lessons on use of imagery and vivid language in College Transitions (12th grade) students’ own writing. (39 minute period)

 

OBJECTIVES:

  • To encourage students to use more vivid language in their writing, especially poetry.
  • To show students that they already know more than they think they do, and are capable of creating striking images of their own.

 

MATERIALS:

  • Transparency with instructions and text of “do now.”
  • List of 10 words to work with during class, one copy for each student.
  • Students’ own ballads, on which they have been working.
  • Copy of text to work on for homework assignment for each student.
  • My own knowledge, enthusiasm, and creativity.

 

PROCEDURE:

  • DO NOW:
    • Read the following excerpt from a poem by Andrew Marvell and replace the underlined words (which are bland or uninspired) with words that create a more specific or dramatic image. If more than one option seems possible, write down more than one choice. (3 minutes)

To His Coy Mistress

If we only had enough time,

This coyness, lady, would be fine.

My strong love should grow

Bigger than buildings, and more slow…”

 

    • Have students share some of their suggestions. Discuss why they are better than the ones that were offered in the example. (3 minutes)
    • Share the poem as it was originally written.

To His Coy Mistress

 “Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow…”

    • How does the poet’s use of vivid and expressive language improve the poem? (2 minutes)

 

  • Group students into pairs and hand out list of 10 words for them to work on. Each pair instructed to come up with three words or phrases that convey what the exemplar word conveys, but better, more vividly, with more impact. (10 minutes)
  • Share results, reminding students to write down words their classmates come up with that their team didn’t think of – may want to use later. (5 minutes)
  • Take out own ballads and, using the words discussed or just the concept of replacing tired words with more vivid images, edit their own poems. “Be sure to offer at least one alternative for at least six words/phrases. If, in the end, you decide that the way you wrote it originally is the best way to express what you are trying to express, that’s ok, but you still need to do the exercise in order to find that out.” (15 minutes—remainder of class period)

 

HOMEWORK

  • Complete revision of ballad to hand in on Friday, October 14 (next day of class).
  • Longer piece of poetry to replace words in (same concept as “do now”). Can start work on this in class if complete work on ballad before end of period.

 

 


DO NOW:

Read the following altered excerpt from a poem by Andrew Marvell and replace the underlined words or phrases (which are bland or uninspired) with words that create a more vivid image. If more than one option seems possible, write down more than one choice.

 

To His Coy Mistress

If we only had enough time,

This coyness, lady, would be fine.

My strong love should grow

Bigger than buildings, and more slow…”

 

 

Explanatory Notes:

  • To be coy is to be shy or modest (so coyness is shyness or modesty), usually thought of as a virtue (a good thing) in a woman of the time in which this poem was written (1681). However, in this case, the poem is meant to talk the lady into his bed, so her reluctance is not making the speaker happy. Throughout the entire poem, he tells her in many different ways that he’d love her forever if there was time, but things change and eventually everyone dies, so there’s not all that much time, so go to bed with me now (without benefit of any long-term commitment on his part).

 

 

 

The lines from the poem as they were actually written:

 

To His Coy Mistress

“Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow…”

 

 

Explanatory Notes:

  • vegetable love” is not a love of vegetables, but a love that grows unconsciously, like a plant, and so is outside the control of the one who loves.

 

  • Vast means large or enormous.

Each of these words is somewhat bland, uninspired, tired, or overused. Come up with three more vivid and exciting replacement words or phrases that carry the same meaning.

For example:

TIRED could be replaced with:

Exhausted, sleep-deprived, bleary-eyed, wiped out, fatigued

 

BIG could be replaced with:

Enormous, mountain-like, vast, oceanic, like the sky, overwhelming, immense

Text Box: BAD could be replaced with:
LIGHT could be replaced with:
MAD could be replaced with:
HURT could be replaced with:
LOVE could be replaced with:


DARK could be replaced with:

HAPPY could be replaced with:

SAD could be replaced with:

SMART could be replaced with:

GOOD could be replaced with:

HOMEWORK:

Read the following altered excerpt from a poem by Langston Hughes (1951) and replace the underlined words or phrases (which are bland or uninspired) with words that create a more vivid image. If more than one option seems possible, write down more than one choice.

 

HARLEM

What happens to a goal that’s put aside?


Does it dry up

like a puddle in the sun?
Or get infected like a sore—

and then run?
Does it smell like old meat?
Or get sticky and crusty
like an old candy?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy bag.

Or does it explode?