Why the “Wind Whispers”: Abstract Concept to Concrete Language Lesson

Students can most times identify figurative language in someone’s writing, and they can often state what is being compared and described; however, they sometimes struggle with the question of why and how authors make specific choices about the language they use.

To this end, I worked with Melissa Larisch and Sam Bosse on a lesson designed with the following learning targets:

  • I understand how writers use figurative language and imagery to relay an underlying theme or a tone and what effect these tools have on the overall piece and the reader.
  • I can use concrete details to represent an abstract idea.
  • I can choose important details and appropriate metaphors to enhance the development of tone and theme in my own writing. 

These learning goals were established for two reasons.  The first was that while reading “Rules of the Game,” both teachers noticed consistent recognition of the figurative language Amy Tan was using, but a lack of understanding as to what purposeful effect these tools had on the reader.  For example, the wind is used as a metaphor throughout the short narrative.  Students struggled to understand why at points the “wind whispered” to Tan, as opposed to “shouted” or “barked.”

To this end, we compared how the same metaphor was used in different contexts for different purposes.

Here is an example:

Abstract to Concrete Example jpeg

The second reason for the lesson was the desire of both teachers to enhance their students’ ability to make thoughtful language choices in their own writing using Amy Tan as a model.

For this second goal, we began by brainstorming “abstractions” together.  Then, students were given a random object on a card and asked to use descriptive and figurative language to make that object represent the abstraction.

Before students began, the teacher modeled the writing by creating one together in class with students.  The object for the example is a moldy orange, and the abstraction it represents is “forgotten” or “forlorn.”  The class brainstormed descriptive language to use in the paragraph and then thought through the process together to do the actual writing while the teacher prompted them with questions (see resources for examples) and typed the piece.

This part of the process can be a little “messy” because it is impromptu; the teacher is as surprised as the students about what develops.  However, this also allows students to see the thinking process behind the writing, especially as the teacher reads the work aloud and revises it with students.

Model Paragraph

Both teachers continued the lesson the next day in interesting ways.  Larisch had her students share their writing aloud to a partner and had the partner guess the abstraction it represented.  She told them if they could guess it or get close, they had done a good job.  If not, they needed to revise.

Bosse had his students post the pieces of writing on Edmodo (more to come about the later) and respond to one another via posts.  His students also had to guess the abstraction represented in the writing.

Larisch reported that her students were eager to share their writing with one another, and they willingly read aloud to the class after the lesson.


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