Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Textual Analysis and Wordle

My AP English students and I start our year of close reading with diction analysis. With diction being one of the more concrete techniques authors use, it is a relatively simple way to jumpstart my students' brains into higher level style analysis. Even my concrete readers can underline vivid words and talk about their connotations. My colleague who teaches junior year English also focuses on diction in the second semester, so I can build on her good work. I am therefore able to start the year with a high-level technique that does not make my students feel they are in over their heads -- I have not found many more better starting points for learning.

We use the first page of Brave New World as our initial practice. Before my students actually begin reading the novel, I have them underline all descriptive words on the first page only (a great grammar moment as we discuss how, while adjectives and adverbs are by nature descriptive, nouns and verbs can be too). Then, by projecting the first page (here is the whole novel on-line -- the first page is the first 3 paragraphs) on a Word document, we mark it up and see the descriptive dissonance Huxley creates through his diction. The "fertilizing room" is cold, most sterile, and nearly dead. Through his word choice, Huxley has created a window into the metanarrative of his novel. We don't yet know WHY he does not like the society he is creating, but now my students can start reading as knowledgeable readers and not be lulled into thinking Huxley is presenting his own utopia. Oh the discussions that follow.

Wordle has entered my life now though, and look at what I can do to cap off this lesson:

The word "light" is one of the biggest. How does this fit with the bleak, cold atmosphere we have just discussed Huxley creating? Maybe my students will see through this visual tool how Huxley is layering words to build both sides of his message that life is being created here, life that maybe is still very important despite this society saying otherwise ...

I set as one of my goals last year to use more visuals in my classes. I tend not to be a visual learner, but I know many of my students are. Wordle is a great tool for this. Here is more about how to use Wordle with literary analysis (this NCTE blog has lots of great tech stuff if you have time to scroll through it). I am imagining that later in this novel I will have the students create Wordle maps of their own chosen passages and talk about what they discover about Huxley's message though his chosen words. Stay tuned for lots of Brave New World maps to show up in the Wordle Gallery ...


  1. sc morgan recommended in her blog to visit you and another colleague, especially if we are English teachers. I am certainly gladi I did. One of my colleagues is teaaching AP and his students are reading 1984 and Brave New World over the Summer. I will ask him to come by to visit.

  2. Skipz,
    Thanks for reading. I am going to head over now to your blog -- I am glad to have found another English teacher blogger (and my brother lives in VT, so someone close to where I spend a good deal of time!).

  3. Is the Woodle the first page only?