Sunday, November 06, 2011


As my classroom years have passed, I have grown increasingly interested in showing students the pleasures of making music with their written sentences. For most of my career, I focused, like many writing teachers, on topics like clarity, coherence, and general tidiness, but over the years I have steadily placed increased emphasis on the harmonious characteristics of their words and phrases. It seems clear to me that much of the smartness and magnificence of written words comes from their melodious qualities – their ability to bring to our minds and hearts the kind of whole-hearted peace we are sometimes blessed with when listening to music. Of course, the content of my students’ written words is important, but somehow even run-of-the-mill content can be carried marvelously along if the music of the words is exceptional. This is why I’ve been bringing to the students, now and then, the assorted musical tools available to writers – tools like alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhythm, and internal rhyme. Realizing that assonance – the recurrence of similar internal vowel sounds – can create stylishness in an otherwise lackluster sentence brings some satisfaction to students who otherwise might consider writing to be simply a mystifying and painstaking task. In the same way, using subtle rhymes inside a sentence can show young writers that writing school essays can be a frisky and lively experience instead of a bland and lifeless one. The ideas my young students share in their formal essays are not always stirring, but, if they are set with lightheartedness in reasonably musical phrases and sentences, they can at least be satisfying -- and even sometimes rousing -- to read.

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