Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Behind the Books: Language Devices in Expository Literature

From alliteration to zeugma, there are dozens of different kinds of language devices, and all of them can enrich expository writing. When used skillfully, alliteration, internal rhyme, opposition, and repetition infuse prose with combinations of sounds and syllables that are especially pleasing to the human ear. As a result, they can help to give a piece a lyrical voice.

Consider this short passage from my book When Rain Falls (Peachtree, 2008): 

“Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump. The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth.

“When rain falls in a forest . . .
. . . scurrying squirrels suddenly stop. They pull their long, bushy tails over their heads like umbrellas.

“A hawk puffs out its feathers to keep water out and warmth in. Chickadees stay warm and dry inside their tree hole homes.”

Because my goal was to create a book that could be used in schools as part of early elementary weather units and at home as a bedtime story, I employed language devices to craft a soft, soothing voice that would help children settle down as they were getting ready for bed.

Language devices like puns and onomatopoeia can have a very different effect on a piece of writing. They make it more playful, which is perfect for authors interested in crafting a more lively voice.
Consider these punny headings from Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee (Bloomsbury, 2014):

“The Age of Shovelry” 

“I See Muslin, I See France. Finally Some Underpants!”

“Caulk Like an Egyptian”

Similarly, Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2013) and Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith (Peachtree, 2011) are fun to read because they are cornucopias of onomatopoeia. That makes them great choices for nonfiction read alouds.

How can we help students recognize the power of language devices in the expository literature they read and experiment with language devices in their own writing? I'll provide an activity on Friday.

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