What’s your favorite figure of speech?

Even though most academics don’t consider Wikipedia a reliable source—a tertiary source, yes, but certainly not widely accepted as “citable” on research papers—I would encourage you to jot down your favorite figure of speech and look it up on Wikipedia. It’s a good exercise because most figures of speech also have very literal meanings.

That’s what I did and I learned a lot about blue moons.

In a literal sense, a blue moon is the second full moon in a month, or the fourth full moon in a season, which only happens once every two or three years.

Here’s how it works:

One lunation is 29.53 days. A solar year is 365.25 days, or 12.37 lunations. We only have 12 months in a calendar year, typically with one full moon per month, but because each calendar year contains about 11 days more than the number of days in 12 lunar cycles—I guess because of the extra .37 days per lunation, but I’m not really sure—the loose change adds up, giving us an extra full moon from time to time, which we call a blue moon, and thus the figure of speech “once in a blue moon.” [1] (We do have the occasional moon that is literally tinged blue, but that has nothing to do with lunations or time. It’s usually caused by volcanic eruptions or 1,000 acre bonfires. [2])

But, I digress.

Talking to your DeepKids about figurative language is fun. If you want to feel old, lead off the discussion with “Waterfalls” by TLC. They’ll get that TLC isn’t warning us to avoid chasing actual waterfalls, and this helps distinguish literal from figurative, but they most likely won’t have heard of TLC, which is depressing.

But it’s exercises like this that make figurative language one of my favorite lessons. The discussions are rich, the prompts are fun and there’s even a really cheesy rap song about it called “Wordplay.”

I want to focus mostly on the writing prompt though—specifically the “found objects” prompt because it’s a popular one and it works really well when done right.

Here’s the prompt as explained on the Writing Fellows resources page:

Bring an assortment of strange and random objects to the workshop. Pick items with different textures, shapes, sizes—you want to bring things that can be easily described using the details they just learned about the week before. (Broken objects work really well: a watch that can’t tell time, a coffee mug without a handle.) Ask students to select an object that represents an aspect of their personality or their lives, and to write sentences describing how their life/personality is like the object they selected.

The best advice I can give you when using this prompt is to select your random objects carefully. Shallow, cliche objects are going to yield shallow, cliche writing samples from your kids. If you bring in jewelry, for example, odds are you’ll get a piece about your DeepKid being pretty and nice and beautiful. Another item I haven’t had a lot of luck with is padlocks, which produce stories about “having secrets” and “being guarded.” This is a little deeper than being pretty and nice, but it’s not easy to expand on.

Don’t pick an item because it’s easy to assume where your DeepKids will go with it. That is, don’t pick predictable things. If you pick up an object, like, say, a blank canvas, you shouldn’t immediately start listing ways your DeepKids might be able to relate to it. Instead, pick items that puzzle you. Items that intrigue you. Items that make you wonder how, or if, your kids will be able to relate to it at all, and then let them surprise you with their responses.

Objects I’ve used in the past that worked really well include old blueprints, broken light bulbs, broken watches, an old tin matchbox, shells and rocks, a piece of broken china and a mason jar full of washers, nails and screws.

What’s your favorite figure of speech? What’s your favorite type of figurative language? What random objects would you choose for this prompt?

[1] “Blue Moon.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

[2] Same as above. Please don’t tell Neil deGrasse Tyson, or anyone in academia.

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