I often use visual art to teach concepts like symbolism, mood, motif, tone, metaphor, and other literary devices. Once they have a gist for defining the concepts, they begin applying their learning by analyzing both images and written text. While at ArtPrize, I viewed a work whose title got me thinking about more innovative ways to teach about puns and wordplay...and using art and images to teach these literary concepts.
"Old Tired Crow" by Nick Jakubiak is a pun on the material, tires, used to make the crow. If it wasn't made of tires, the title wouldn't be a pun, as the viewer would just assume the crow was tired, or sleepy. But because puns have a double-meaning, we assume the crow is both tired and made of tires. Haha!

I am an avid NPR listener, so much so that I even stay tuned during the pledge drives. During this most recent one, one of their donation gifts was the "Nina Totin' Bag." Horribly cheese-a-rific, it's a pun on NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. It's a pun, because with Nina's face on it, it's her in bag form. And it is, in fact, a tote bag. Unfortunately for her, I heard that gift name so many times during that pledge segment, that I now misspeak and call her Nina "Totenbag."
This is a screenshot of a story I heard yesterday whose title was an excellent example of wordplay. The title is "One for the Books." Like any good play on words, the title has various meanings, all of which are well-suited to the content of the article. The title could refer to the article's subject, an avid reader and writer named Joe Queenan. His love of literature makes him "one for the books." The title could also refer to the 7,000 books he's read in his lifetime, a number that's so impressive it's "one for the books."

You can read the entire article here: http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/163949969/reading-125-titles-a-year-thats-one-for-the-books

What I'm envisioning for a lesson on puns and wordplay is assembling a collection of contemporary artworks, current news stories with playful titles and passages, and other pun-ny pop culture references, and rolling it out as a whole class, talking through each one, one-by-one. It would generate a lot of discussion, and, once they get a feel for it, laughs. The students will be impressed with how clever they are for getting the joke, and it might make reading more enjoyable as they'll be on the lookout for playful, slippery language. This activity could prep you for identifying and analyzing wordplay in the texts you read and inspire students to start using it in their own writing and speech.

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    About Me

    A lover of literature and the arts and an advocate for global awareness and active citizenship, I spend my days with high school English and Social Studies students exploring why it all matters and how they can have a voice in the world.  This is my space to document and reflect on my practice, note happenings in education, and share my appreciation for the arts.


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