Shades of Meaning
Written by Idea File Staff
Explore Variety To Inspire Create Writing
Each student will need a sheet of paper and something to write with. Ask students to close their eyes and visualize the color red. Wait just a few seconds.
Tell the students they have 30 seconds to write down every shade of red they can think of. Do not actually use the word red.
After 30 seconds, ask students to take turns shouting out one of the shades each has written down. The teacher then writes these on the board.
In 30 seconds, a class of 25 students will come up with about 35 shades of red (maroon, wine, candy apple, rose, fire engine, cherry, strawberry, burgundy, scarlet, claret, etc.)
After they run dry, try asking the girls to list some of the red shades of lipstick. That will net several more to add to your list.
Notice how each of these words produces a slightly different picture of a red shade.
Ask students to note the difference between wine and rose, etc. Point out that the English language, because it has incorporated so many other languages into it, allows a writer to convey exactly the shade of meaning he or she wishes.
It will even work with verbs.
Take the word “walk.” Write it on the board. Ask students to take 60 seconds and come up with all the different ways people walk (give them longer because this is a little more difficult).
The words must be verbs. No nouns, adjectives or adverbs allowed. After the time is up, have students call out what they have written while the teacher writes each one on the board.
They will probably think of about 20 different words (stumble, stagger, sachet, waltz, glide, trip, trundle, storm, pace, prance, stomp, amble, etc.).
Generally students are surprised by the number of words on the board.
After this, consider talking about the role stereotyping plays in writing. “If I tell you that the person was pacing up and down the halls of our school… who would you say it is?”
Many students will cite an authority figure… generally the principal or a particularly stern teacher.
“If I tell you the person was gliding down the hallway… who would you say it is?”
Again, the majority of the students will name a female, particularly one who dances, like the dance teacher, a member of the drill team/color guard, or the homecoming queen.
Make the point that sometimes a writer can force an entire image into the mind of a reader simply by choosing the right word with the perfect shade of meaning.