How Figurative Language Enhances the Complexity of Nonfiction

How Figurative Language Enhances
the Complexity of Nonfiction Texts
Two Participant Roles
• Student: Do what my students do—
experience the learning for yourself.
• Teacher: Reflect on how you might
apply your learning to your own
classroom environment.
Quick Write
Think about a place you’ve visited recently. In
the few minutes you have to write, describe that
place, what you do there, and your feelings
associated with it.
Choose a partner. Then designate a Partner A
and a Partner B.
• Partner A: Read your draft.
• Partner B: As you listen, make a list of
impressions you have of the place your
partner is describing.
When Partner A is finished reading, Partner B
will share his/her impressions.
Repeat the steps in reverse.
Think about the discussion you had with your
partner. Did your partner “get” your writing? Do
you think he/she has an accurate impression of
your emotions associated with that place?
“We can no longer approach all writing with
one set of criteria, assuming that one size fits
all. It may be that, ultimately, we value some
general qualities, such as ‘organization’ or
‘quality of ideas.’ But we now know that the
strategies that make good organization in a
personal narrative may differ from the
strategies that make a good report of
information or a good persuasive letter. And
we need to help students understand what
those differences are, both by the way we
teach and the way we evaluate their
Charles Cooper and Lee Odell
The 19th century model of education “failed to
distinguish between knowledge about
language and experience with how language
is used…This was a pedagogic view of
writing not unlike the idea that a young
person could learn to drive a car by
memorizing state motoring laws and reading
a repair manual…such texts might help a
driver save on repairs, memorize rules of the
road, and pass the written test, but that
knowledge is no substitute for sitting behind
the wheel and driving in a variety of
conditions, preferably with an instructor in
the passenger seat.”
Carl Nagin
Because Writing Matters
Mentor Text
“Jury Duty” by William Zissner
Excerpted from
The Norton Book of Personal Essays.
In Zissner’s text, find examples of figurative
language and highlight or underline them.
Here’s an example of a metaphor from the second
The chair that I sit in is
a little island of apartness.
“Often without consciously realizing it,
accomplished writers routinely rely on a
stock of established moves that are crucial
for communicating sophisticated ideas.
What makes writers masters of their
trade is not only their ability to express
interesting thoughts, but their mastery of
an inventory of basic moves that they
probably picked up by reading a wide
range of other accomplished writers.”
--Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein
They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing
Two Ways
• Organic
• Organized
The chair t hat I sit in is a
lit t le island of apar t ness.
In a graphic organizer, record the examples of the
figurative language. Then discuss with your
partners the ideas and emotions readers would
attach to each example.
Examples of
Figurative Language
of the Reader
The chair that I sit in is
a little island of apartness.
Effect Created by
the Author
In a graphic organizer, record the examples of the
figurative language. Then discuss with your
partners the ideas and emotions readers would
attach to each example.
Examples of
Figurative Language
of the Reader
The chair that I sit in is
a little island of apartness.
Fear / anxiety
Worthlessness/lack of
Effect Created by
the Author
The author is suggesting
that the juror, even in a
room full of people, is still
completely and totally
alone. The other people
might as well not be there
because he’s so detached
from them.
Consider Your Work
• What impressions of jury duty do we get
simply from the figurative language employed
by the author?
• Could these same impressions be as
effectively conveyed without figurative
language? Why or why not?
“…reading and writing across genres can
benefit all attempts at writing, no matter
the genre. For example, I may not ever
publish a poem, but I routinely write them
because the effort nourishes and gives me
insight into my prose. The intent is to
keep my mesh of writing experience
strengthening as it expands.”
--Bob Fecho, Writing in the Dialogical Classroom
Now Revise!
Consider the piece you wrote. Think about how
you might incorporate a simile, metaphor, vivid
imagery, or another type of figurative language
to help your reader more deeply connect with
your topic.
“We learn to write by writing. We become
better writers when the writing we do
springs from the riches, embarrassments,
victories, tragedies, conundrums, concerns,
delights, and, yes, even the routines of our
lives…The only way we can begin
approaching fluency with…complexity is to
write, write often, write in context, write
with purpose, and write until the keys on our
word processors become indistinguishable
from one another.”
--Bob Fecho, Writing in the Dialogical Classroom
Two Sides: Student & Teacher
Write to Reflect. As you do so, think about:
• What does this type of analysis, reflection,
and revision do for students?
• How might you incorporate this practice in
your classroom?
“Our writing [is] interconnected. The
writing I jot today feeds my writing
tomorrow, which nourishes or perhaps
inhibits my work on a third day. As such,
lower-stake, more tentative, and more
frequent writing experiences…merge into
higher-stake, more polished
responses…that then result in more
cumulative, more refined, and
accomplished pieces.”
--Bob Fecho, Writing in the Dialogical Classroom
Student Examples
My earliest memories as a child was looking forward to
the end of school so I could ride the bus to my Ava’s
house to spend time with my cousins. We would stay
there and play and everyday, she would come with the
greatest, most savory food the world has known. Starting
with toast, but this toast, this crunchy, magnificent blend
of buttery goodness and heated dough is the best toast
you would ever have. To wash it down was the great,
Ava’s red juice, as it was known as. This tangy blend of
known and possibly unknown fruits created a refreshing
elixir of ice cold satisfaction leaving satisfied red
mustaches all around us children.
Underlining indicates student revision.
I hear the sound of loud laughter from the roaring Italians
in the small dining room that hold the most memories.
This dining room table lives in the home of one of the
people I look up to most. My Nana. “Do not call me
‘grandma’ it makes me sound old,” she says often.
Surprisingly, this sentence describes her whole
personality. By the end of her famous line she is drowning
in her legendary giggle, and her confidence pours out
when these words roll off her tongue. When I see my
Nana, I see happiness, and that’s what a fulfilled life is
“Guidance in the writing process and discussion
of the students’ own work should be the central
means of writing instruction…Students
should…be encouraged to develop the critical
ability to evaluate their own work, so they can
be come effective, independent writers in the
world beyond school.”
Jim Burke
Writing Reminders: Tips, Tools, and Techniques

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