(Updated for 2015!) Playing With Language

(Note: See About the YARN Toolbox)

Previous “Teach” lesson plans that fit this mold:

  • Image Courtesy of Nesson Marshall (flickr.com)

    “Poetry: Non-Traditional Forms”

  • “A Lesson on Body Image, Mood, and Point of View”
  • “A Lesson on Inference”

New writing that would work with this lesson, updated in February, 2015:

What you’ll need:

●        A computer with Internet that can be viewed on an overhead screen
●        Writing from YARN that you’ve chosen for this lesson

  • Basic lesson: Choose one story, essay, or poem
  • Advanced lesson: Choose two pieces to compare and contrast, or chose two techniques within one or two pieces of analogous writing

Preparation and Homework:

  • Choose the one or two pieces you want to assign to the class, and review YARN in general.
  • Assign the YARN writing as homework, and ask them to also peruse the “Learn About Yarn” pages.  If not all your students own computers on which to read, you might schedule some library or computer lab time for in-class reading.
  • Encourage them to take notes and jot down questions on paper as they read, especially noting specific lines that move them and relate to the theme.

In Class:

  1. After setting up the computer and screen, go to www.yareview.net and introduce YARN to the class, especially the “About YARN” page.
  2. Put your chosen writing up on the screen.
  3. Warm students up by asking what they thought about the assigned writing: What did they like about it?  What was it about?  Follow up with “why” questions, and ask that students support their answers with specific words and phrases from the story.  Write their thoughts on the chalkboard. (Advanced option: Ask the students to compare and contrast the two pieces you assigned.  What did they have in common and how did they differ?   Ask them to back up their answers with specific lines from the texts.)
  4. Segue into questions that are more directly about the aspect of playing with language on which you want to focus (puns, action words, dialogue, etc).  How does the writer use specific words to give them new meanings? (Basic: In a less advanced class, you might preview the language technique before this part of the discussion by discussing puns or dialogue, etc.) (Advanced: Let the discussion of specific language techniques emerge organically from the class.  You’ll certainly have to nudge them in the direction of your chosen topic, but try to get them to articulate it.) (Advanced, 2: If you are using more than one piece of writing, ask students to compare and contrast the similar and different ways in which each writer handles the technique.)
  5. With their answers on the board, ask some synthesizing questions: What have they learned about playing with language from this lesson?  How might they experiment with specific word choices and meanings in their own writing, in your class and in others they might be taking that semester?

Further discussion topics for these pieces:

●        Puns and Definitions: Erik DeLapp’s poems, Julia K. Shavin’s poems

  • What is a “play on words”? Discuss puns on word meanings; visual puns and games with how words are spelled or spaced on the page; definitions and derivations of words put into a new context to create a new meaning.

●        Sports and Games: John Foy’s poems, Jacqueline Jules’ poems

  • These poems literally play with words. Discuss how the poets use specific word choices to bring the action to life in the various sports and games. How is the imagery crafted by action words?

●        Dialogue and Characters: Road Trip, 1977,” “FreakofNature,”

  • Identify the characters in each story: their roles, status, age and relationship to each other. Discuss how the writer plays with the characters’ dialogue (distinct tone and word choices) to reveal information about each character.


There are a few possible writing assignments that could come out of the discussion above, the second of which could be submitted to YARN for possible publication. (We don’t recommend sending the essays that might result from the first prompt, because they would likely be more academic in tone and reflection, while the second two are more creative.) Please do encourage students to revise and improve their writing further, even after their pieces have been graded, before submitting work for publication

  • Prompt 1: Write a short essay reflecting on the way an author plays with language in another piece of writing, either from YARN or from earlier in the school year.
  • Prompt 2: Write a poem or short story (whichever genre you discussed in class) in which you play with language in the manner of one of the authors discussed in class.

The writing portion of the lesson could be made into a take-home assignment, due several days after the in-class lesson (for classes of more advanced writers), OR it could be broken down into a longer writing lesson involving in-class and at-home brainstorming, and/or journaling, drafting, and revising (for an example of how this might break down, see the lesson on inference).



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