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Series: Elements of Structure Part 6: It’s like…






How do we connect with readers?

I am cursed with reading. I used to love it: diving down deep into a novel or story, sprinkling my mind with pixie dust and faraway vistas. It seems all I read lately are op-ed pieces that make my blood pressure rise. My tether to fantasy and imagination frays and twists: reading for pleasure is challenging.  A recent article in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, “Griping about the popular vote? Get over it.” Lane begins his piece as any hack, by using a sports analogy.

I hate sports analogies.

Sports analogies are accessible to the majority of readers. However, I contend that the use of a poorly-ironed out sports analogy is dangerous and defective. The sports analogy he uses doesn’t make sense: he states that the election is like giving the presidency to the yards gained, not the points scored. How about explaining the laws on the books and the Constitution? Oh, perhaps that’s too rough for his audience and his purpose: he wants to give Trump supporters the ‘feel good’ moment of a football analogy to make them feel smart and nod in understanding and agreement, not realizing how flimsy it all is. The article is embedded with links and other ideas that counter the writer’s. It’s easy to see how analogies can misdirect and overwhelm. Why look up any counter argument when the sports analogy is right there?

Today the Electoral College will decide if the president-elect is qualified or not, treasonous, or not, and fit to serve the American people. (He’s not.) And this is how using a cliche or analogy that is false can be dangerous.

One of my friends, (we don’t see eye to eye politically, but we do enjoy the conversation: a rare gift these days) asked me about what kinds of analogies are useful. I’m not sure.

My mind’s been wandering and created this list of (cliched) analogies:

  • Sports
  • Pregnancy/giving birth
  • Ship/Sailing
  • Journey/enlightenment
  • Gaming
  • Winners/losers
  • Quest
  • Family/kids
  • War/Battle
  • Magic/Entertainment
  • Cooking/baking
  • Gardens/growing

What other ones can you think of?

The difference between an analogy and an anecdote in this instance is the analogy misdirects the reader to feel that some parallel logic, while an anecdote, being personal, speaks to larger themes and questions, and in this instance would provide greater credibility and connection.

This information is from the blog:

Simile: A comparison between two DISSIMILAR things, using “like” or “as” – e.g. Her face is like an ice cream cone

Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two DISSIMILAR things – e.g. He is a warthog ***In both similes and metaphors, the second item takes the place of the first item.*** In other words, the face has the qualities of an ice cream cone, the man is a warthog. ALSO NOTE: The meaning of a simile or a metaphor IS NOT LITERAL. Her face is not triangular or cold to the touch, and he does not smell bad or have pointy teeth coming out of his face.

Analogy: A statement that shows how someone or something IS ACTUALLY LIKE a second thing. In an analogy, unlike a simile or metaphor, you do not use the second item to replace the first, but rather, to highlight some unseen quality. Instead of saying “He is a pig” (a metaphor), one might say, “Watching you eat is like watching a pig roll in mud”

Cliché: A simile, metaphor or analogy that has been overused. The reason for using the above devices is to bring some NEW insight to a piece of writing. Using old, threadbare similes, metaphors and analogies add little, if anything to the writing.

e.g. like a rock (simile), she is an angel (metaphor), dead as a doornail (analogy)

Easy, right?

The trick is to avoid using cliches, but that’s not an easy trick to pull off. (So very meta in the cliche department right now.)

Here are a few other sites that may prove useful:

When you have a purpose and message for speaking, my advice would be to use anecdotes over analogies.

We had a former admin who used to show us this scene from Remember the Titans. It was his theme “song:”

I remember this, but more importantly, I remember a personal story he shared about a teacher who held him up to higher standards and kept him accountable. I remember his personal story more.

My current admin plays us this, (and it scares the mess out of us):

We’re still in the process of getting to know one another, but the more personal stories she shares and her vision, the stronger the whole staff is. We don’t need to be scared into coming to work — it’s not motivating. We know how important it is. We just want to get to work.

Neither of these is wrong, inaccurate, or without merit and feeling. They are short-cuts to a broader message, and that’s the purpose of analogies, anecdotes, and allusions. They help connect the reader quickly to ideas. Just be cautious in that the ideas are connected well and strong.


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Land of the Lost: Allusions, Annotating, and Anagnorisis


Metacognition is the mind-map that is the survival tool in reading comprehension: it is that ‘thinking about thinking,’ the big picture, and knowing where you’re going, and, perhaps more importantly, when you’re lost:

Anagnorisis is the moment in the story where the character, usually the protagonist, says, “Uh-oh.”

According to Merriam-Webster, it is:

Main Entry: an·ag·no·ri·sis
Pronunciation: \ˌa-ˌnag-ˈnr-ə-səs\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural an·ag·no·ri·ses


Etymology: Greek anagnōrisis, from anagnōrizein to recognize, from ana- + gnōrizein to make known; akin to Greek gnōrimos well-known, gignōskein to come to know — more at know
Date: circa 1800

: the point in the plot especially of a tragedy at which the protagonist recognizes his or her or some other character’s true identity or discovers the true nature of his or her own situation

We teachers are merely the sherpas to our students’ quests for higher learning, deeper thinking, with all the oxygen and rations they need at K-2, or Knowledge Exponential 2 Base Camp. The reason this post begins with with ‘metacognition’ and ‘anagnorisis’ is because we want our students to realize that they’re doing both — they need to recognize that ‘oh, snap!’ moment when they’re lost in their understanding of any reading material. And, it’s our worthy task to help them find their way up, and safely back down, the moutain.

Any. Reading. Material.

And before I go further, I am compelled to acknowledge and recognize one of the greatest teachers, my master’s mentor, Dr. Candace Shulhauser. She helped synthesize for me everything I know about metacognition, Before, During, and After, and helped guide me through my first novel guide/unit. She took all of the great information out there, made us all see clearly and with strength, and added her own personal experiences and narrative to the mix to make it truly meaningful. She was there, making it happen for the hardest and most challenging of students, and showed us that it can be done with grace, courage, and wisdom. Thank you. (And yes, I think it’s super cool that her name takes on a Dickensian edge meaning “candy schoolhouse.” How sweet!)

Over time, one of the most fundamental alterations that has taken place in my own brain is I have a hard time reading books now without looking at them through the eyes of a teacher. In some ways, this kind of stinks, like a busman’s holiday. I am constantly looking for a myriad of functions and examples in books. This summer, for the first time in years, I put my book-brain on ice. Yesterday I was vindicated for doing so by a quote from Charles Bukowski–in essence, sometimes it’s good to do nothing for awhile. And this summer, I did, oh boy, did I. But more on my ‘do nothing’ summer later.

So, the point is, while I have a hard time reading anything without making a novel guide out of it, I will share some of my processes, and how I synthesized the processes of other great reading teachers, such as Jim Burke, Kelly Gallagher, Nancy Atwell, Kylene Beers, etc. (There is not much of a difference, in my estimation, of teaching a novel and teaching someone how to read. It’s all about access. To get into the nuances between teaching great “literature” and teaching reading, well, I’m just not up for that one right now.)

So, I have never read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. It was a very popular book several years ago, and she is a wonderful children’s author. This summer, in between long stretches of some serious goofing-off, I decided to read it. (My younger son said it was a read-aloud when he was in fourth grade. That’s too bad, because now he won’t touch it. Again, blog posting for another day.) I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t be a spoiler.

  • The front cover tell me has a person wearing a cloak, making only a shadow with a full, bright moon. Hmmm, I wonder if that person is the thief lord?I know what a thief is, and a lord is someone powerful…
  • The back cover has a blurb. STOP – introduce the book and show students all of these things. This is how they might find something they want to read. Yes, teach them to judge a book by its cover, but take time to make an informed decision!
  • The story takes place in Venice. How do I know? This is when you STOP — time to teach some background knowledge:

MapYou can click on this image to view larger, of course. Here’s where some decisions need to be made: depending on your students and access to technology/information, you will want to decide how much you want to give and how much inquiry you want them to create. Here’s the deal, though, with our brains, we love patterns. So, if students get misinformation or misconceptions about what they’re inquring about, to re-wire these pathways will be doubly difficult. Inquiry and constructivism are wonderful tools–but remember, if someone doesn’t know anything about a topic, the potential for missteps grows. Imagine you’ve never been to Venice (like I have never been) or seen a picture, or been on a canoe, or little boat, or imagined a city built entirely around canals, with bridges, and ancient pathways, nooks, crannies, or have ever heard of Italy at all? This is part of a safe environment of learning. It’s okay not to know, but not okay not to learn. (I didn’t know for a long time that the ‘underground railroad’ wasn’t like a subway. I’ve had students who believed the same thing. I had a student from New York City tell girls about subways, and they didn’t believe him. It goes on…)

So, short or long lessons, and time spent on Venice. Your choice, and your students’ needs.

Next, annotating text: I had a big lesson myself when teaching annotating text. Thought students were ‘getting it,’ and doing okay. Asked a girl how her annotating this one Greek story was coming along, and she answered confidently, “great!’ Something told me to stop and ask her to explain the first paragraph. She didn’t know every other third word. Okay, let’s try again – highlight the words that seem confusing. And I tried to sweeten the deal with reaffirming again that the more one reads, the more automatic understanding/fluency becomes, and the more fun it is to read.

Like I said, I can’t read a book anymore in the same way. It’s just now my job means I make my brain processes as transparent as possible so students can look inside my head, so they are better at looking inside theirs.

There are many ways for annoating text; you may decide you want to teach one specific strategy at a time, such as a vocabulary skill for reading comprehension strategy: Vaporetto In this particular example, the word “vaporetto” is used. I’ve never seen that word before, but the image I put together demonstrates some of my thinking process.

Another vocabulary buggaboo are context clues. We assume, too often, that students know more than they do.  For example, this sentence:

“A party of tourists (blank) past the (blank) while their guide described the (blank) above their heads in a (blank) voice.”

There are four words in that sentence that are potential mental gopher holes: shuffled, confessional, mosaics, and muted.

How would you teach those? Have student act out “shuffled,” look up a confessional, make a connection if they’re Catholic or have been to a Catholic church, infer, what a mosaic is, or look it up, and then maybe make one, and make an educated guess (inference) on if they are in a church, would they be yelling in a loud voice (questioning text)? Not one single reading ‘strategy’ can effectively be taught in isolation, but we don’t think ‘in isolation.’

(*The ‘say blank’ strategy is Dr. Schulhauser’s.)

Allusions are one of my all-time favorite concepts to teach, even though inevitably I will be corrected by a student telling me it’s “ILLusion, Mrs. Love, not ALLusion.” Um, well, no, my darling middle schooler, let me continue…) So far I haven’t found any specific allusions in The Thief Lord, although there are plenty of connections. An allusion is a specific reference to another work/character. The connections are abundant. It’s Oliver Twist, The Goonies, and The Pink Panther/Inspector Clouseau to start. But, boy howdy, when you use your strong metacognitive skills and spot an allusion, it’s like a reading golden ticket. Allusions to other works show us that we are not learning in isolation, that we are connected, and our thinking, based on knowledge. Now I can’t get Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song out of my head, when Robert Plant wails, “To fight the horde, to sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming…” If you remember your sixth grade Norse mythology, you know what Valhalla is, and why you may want to go there someday. Or, at least, what the Minnesota Vikings might want to sing in the locker room showers. In my goofing-off summer, there are so many allusions in this game I play, but it makes me laugh when I recognize something, such as little goblin men speaking the words of Elton John’s Rocket Man to each other in conversational tones. (And for the record, Rocket Man is the only song I can sing and score big on Guitar Hero.) Allusions add a richness and texture to our reading/listening/viewing that would otherwise be lacking. Teach them as part of metacognition to students recognize those connections to other works when they read/see/hear them. We all feel smarter and more creative when we do.

Characterization and connections lead me to themes…

But another day. Ciao, bella!

Postscript: If you would like some of the excerpt .jpgs for your own classroom instruction, send me a Tweet @mrskellylove and your e-mail address; that is, if the links don’t work.

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Mighty Myth Month: All you need is Love. And a clamshell. And some cherubs. And a stylist.

Goddess of Love: Aphrodite
Goddess of Love: Aphrodite

Aphrodite (Greek) or Venus (Roman) is the goddess of love. But…not the personification of ‘motherly’ love, or the “I ‘heart’ (fill in the blank) love” but lovey-love. K-I-S-S-I-N-G SITTING IN A TREE kind of love. Aphrodite (aff-fro-dye-tee) is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. She is made from sea foam and lip gloss. She embodies beauty, romantic love, and the epitome of femininity.

Well, she IS all that and a bag of chips, girlfriend. If she was characterized by a modern representation, not just any vapid female celebrity with a toy-sized dog in her purse would suffice. Those would just be wannabes. The real Venuses are very powerful in their allure, appeal, and knee-buckling abilities on mortal men.

In mythology, she is married to Hephaistos, the lame blacksmith of the gods, but it’s a marriage of convenience, not of love. She cheats on her lumpy little husband constantly with the likes of Ares, she starts the Trojan War, and is a mean mother-in-law. She is one who of the original evil “mother” figures, apples and all.

Once upon a time, around 1250 BC, toward the end of the Bronze Age in Greece, three goddesses were having an argument (said the Greeks). The goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera were arguing about which one of them was the most beautiful. They agreed to choose a human man and let him decide. More or less at random, the goddesses picked Paris, the youngest son of King Priam of Troy, to be their judge.

Each of the goddesses offered Paris a bribe to get him to vote for her. Athena offered him wisdom. Hera offered him power. But Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, and Paris voted for her.

What would one expect if a young man is given those items for choices? Of course he’s going to think with his heart, and not his brain! Paris, that punk, didn’t want power or smarts–he wants the girl! Duh! Aphrodite is no slouch–she knew exactly what she was doing.

And if starting the Trojan War wasn’t bad enough, she is really not a very nice person. A young girl named Psyche (psyche means ‘soul’) is so beautiful, so enchanting, the people in her father’s kingdom stop paying homage to Aphrodite/Venus, and start worshipping her. Venus is so angry, she sends her son, Eros (Cupid) to hurt her. Well, he falls in love with Psyche. Mumsy is most displeased. Curses, threats, and a lot of damage happens before the dysfunctional family is repaired. However, this tale gave us the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” and other tales of love with the motif of ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘proof of trust and faith.’ Oh, and there might be a worm in that apple.

Psyche! Just sneeking a peek...

From these deities we get the words: aphrodisiac (love potions), erotic, and cupidity, and others.

More information: