Good readers know that a given word can have more than one meaning, and can lead or mislead readers in more than one direction. In fact, there are 464 of them used by the Oxford English Dictionary to define the single word “set.” Adding to the potential confusion for readers are the connotative and denotative meanings of a given word. When One-Directional Harry croons, “You’re my kryptonite,” he is not suggesting the object of his affections possesses a radioactive element from the planet Krypton, an element that keeps making him “weak, frozen,” and “unable to breathe.”
Interpreting kryptonite in this way would mean ascribing a literal or denotative meaning to the word. Instead, the singer implies the object of his adoration has mega-powers, enough to render him speechless. He is using the figurative, connotative, metaphoric allusion to her power with phrases such as “get out of my head” and “climbing the walls.”
Musical metaphors themselves may well be a way to reach reluctant readers given the following that popular singers have among the young. The following activity presents a means of enhancing comprehension skills via symbolic words that take readers to the level of abstraction necessary for full understanding and for faster reading.
In addition, the exercise hones research skills, teamwork skills, writing, creative, performance, and presentation skills as well. To get the most out of the exercise, follow these steps:
- Begin by explaining that throughout literature, legendary iconic figures have been imbued with or affected by powerful objects. These magical objects, frequently the motivation for the hero’s or heroine’s quest, have been used for good, but often are used for evil purposes. Such is the case with Superman, who found his superpowers weakened by exposure to kryptonite. The objects symbolize the antithetical forces.
Make copies of the provided list and distribute to students. Form teams and have them research the legends—one per team. Their reports, which will be delivered orally, should tell others about the historical or legendary figure, the object or symbol used in the story, and the type of power that object had.
Encourage the use of props, questions, quotes, illustration, and audience-interaction as the reports are being prepared. Explain that the teams will be judged on a one to ten scale for the thoroughness, clarity, and interest conveyed in the oral report.
- Have each team make its report and have the remaining students fill in the blanks pertaining to the research other teams have done. Assign a score on a scale of one to ten for each presentation.
- Segue into the song-creation assignment part of the activity by discussing the examples below. (Cite, too, the One Direction explanation of the effect kryptonite has on the singer.)
Then have the same student-teams that researched and presented their reports complete these metaphor starters—one per team. They are free to use the researched symbols/objects or other items of their own choosing. But they must give a rationale in the “Because” section for the selection of a particular metaphor. Use a metaphor starter template like this one to guide them.
You are my palette
Because you allow the colors of my personality to be expressed.
You are my school,
Because I have learned so much from you.
You are my pencil,
Because you have made your mark upon my life.
- Discuss literal versus symbolic (connotative/figurative/ metaphoric) meanings. Show the difference between denotative and connotative meanings via simple examples, such as “He’s very helpful,” versus “He’s an angel.” Or “She is a good friend,” versus “She’s my rock.”
- Once students are clear on the difference between the two types of meaning they encounter in their reading, explain that good readers can tell the difference, whether they are listening to the lyrics of a song or reading stories from their literature books. Understanding the difference, of course, is one of the keys to full comprehension.
Next, explain that teams will engage in a relay race, the winner of which will earn an additional ten points. The race depends on having an equal number of people on each team. (If there are one or two students “left over,” assign them the task of checking the answers and handing out the next cards to relay members.)
The first person on each team is given a card and a pencil. He or she must decide if the song-excerpt is literal or figurative. If it is literal, the student circles that word. If it is figurative/symbolic/ metaphoric, the student will circle the actual reference. Once the card is handed to you (or to the student card-checker) and has been given correct-answer approval, the next card is given to the next person on the team.
If the answer is wrong, the same person must answer the next card. He or she cannot hand off the pencil to the next person on the team until the correct answer is encircled.
Using this example as a guide, print lyrics on cards—six cards for each team.
- Have teams create a song of their own, using the lyrics from any of their favorite songs as a construct. Their songs, however, must contain a fully supported metaphor.
- Have the teams perform their songs in front of an audience. Invite the school principal, librarian, and one other administrator or teacher to serve on the judging panel. Ask the judges, following each team performance, to offer feedback, based on these questions:
Was the metaphor clear?
Was there verbal support for the metaphor?
Did the song make sense?
Was the choice of words appealing to listeners?
The judges will rate the performances (using the 1–10 scale)—not so much on musical ability as on the clarity of the metaphor.
- The winning team (with the highest number of points, 30 being a perfect score) can be given some academic boon—extra credit points, a phone call to their parents, or a treat of some sort.
- If possible, videotape the performances and put them on YouTube. (Obtain parental and principal-ian permission before doing so.)
EXTENDED ACTIVITY Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D. writes extensively about education topics. Among her books on the subject are 500 CREATIVE CLASSROOM CONCEPTS and THE CRITICAL THINKING TOOL KIT.
Excerpts from stories the class is reading or passages from newspapers and magazines can be used for relay races. Lyrical excerpts can be chosen from the music most popular among students of different ages.
© 2013 Marlene Caroselli. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.