Blueback and Literary Devices – constructing analytical sentences

Year 11 are studying Tim Winton’s Blueback as their text for the Reading to Write module. If you type ‘blueback’ into the search bar of this blog, you’ll notice this novel is a favourite of mine, and each class who are introduced to the story of Abel and Dora Jackson find it enjoyable for different reasons.

Students were issued with Blueback at the start of the year to read at home, and were able to use sticky notes to mark interesting passages as I read the complete book aloud to the class. We then chose relevant textual evidence and filled in an ALARM table. Now we are working on an essay:

How has your reading of Winton’s Blueback shaped your understanding of his writing style? Refer to the concepts of love and landscape to explore specific thematic connections.

I also shared these quotes, and students had to decide which literary device, or language feature, had been used. How might these support your essay argument?

  1. ” … coral glowed from the deepest slopes where his mother was already gliding like a bird.”

2. “… felt the pressure prick his ears.”

3. “Their water went greeny-black and stank to high heaven.”

We discussed a few more quotes, but an important element of this lesson was to model and collaboratively create sentences for use in a body paragraph. I also mentioned that my ‘golden rule’ of selecting textual evidence is to limit your quote to six words or less – short enough to memorise for an exam (if needed), and short enough to incorporate into your own sentence in your own words. Lengthy quotes have a tendency to reduce a student’s capacity to fully explain their relevance.

We also talked about where each quote was situated within the narrative, and suggested that evidence from different parts of a story demonstrates your ability to discuss the text as a whole and include metalanguage such as ‘climax’.

So, on the board, I would begin a sentence and ask for suggestions on words to complete the idea. We decided that the most important portion of #1 was the simile ‘gliding like a bird’ and wrote this:

  1. Dora was ‘gliding like a bird’ and this simile represents her effortless connection with the environment.

Great. But maybe when editing your draft, you’ll need to think of synonyms such as ‘ocean’ of ‘Longboat Bay’ to replace environment as this word might work well in your thesis or topic sentence.

Next, we noted that #2 was already a short quote and so wrote:

2. Alliteration, as used in ‘felt the pressure prick his ears’ illustrates Abel’s first interaction with his surroundings.

I stepped back, and we decided that some words weren’t necessary, and inserted alternative words to finish with this draft:

2. Alliteration in ‘felt the pressure prick his ears’ illustrates Abel’s first diving experience.

I reminded the class of my writing mantra:

clarity, economy, sophistication

Removing words to sharpen your sentence helps, as does the structure of your sentence. Notice how #2 begins with the language feature, yet #1 mentions ‘simile’ after the example? Varying you sentence openings can move your writing towards a more sophisticated response.

Finally, we considered #3 and came up with:

3. Abel, as a young protagonist, refers to the duck’s water as ‘greeny-black’. Winton’s use of this neologism reminds us of the important concept of caring for our environment.

which later became:

3. Abel, as a young protagonist, refers to the duck’s water as ‘greeny-black’. Winton’s use of this neologism reminds us to care for our environment.

This idea was too big for a single sentence, but it allowed us to include more metalanguage – protagonist. Students sometimes struggle with my expectation that they include between three to five pieces of evidence in each paragraph. the trick, I tell them, is to also include metalanguage which demonstrates your understanding of how meaning is made in a text ( and that you actually know what you’re writing about). IN this instance, you could also use ‘character’, but that might be needed somewhere else in your response.

another benefit of the final sentence for #3 is that Winton is actually given credit for his writing. Often, students forget to acknowledge the author, and it seems as if the character is making decisions on their language and dialogue use.

Image of Western blue groper from Wikimedia Commons

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