The title of this post is taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s definition of poetry—but it should hold true for stylish prose as well. In this era of sound bites and Instagram, though, how might we help our students to better appreciate the power and beauty of language?
A writing prompt that gets people looking deeply at words and thinking about how easily we take language for granted is the “How to, for Aliens.”
1. Ask students to do this exercise: An alien is visiting from outer space and has no knowledge of our world. Write down the directions for him or her on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or how to cheer for the school’s football team. Or how to wash a dish.
2. Share and discuss May Swenson’s poem “Southbound on the Freeway.” How do you know that the alien is talking about cars? What specific words give you the clues? How does the alien see people? What images seem especially vivid and fresh?
3. Have students return to their initial writing prompt and revise for clarity, word choice, and sound.
4. Share some pieces aloud, asking students to try to figure out what the alien is being asked to do. Enjoy!