Sunday, 7 June 2015

Let's talk about lists, baby!

In the mad panic before the exam, teachers throw everything, metaphorically, at the students with a hope that one last thing will stick and be the golden nugget aiding their success. This year I threw a few things and one of those happened to be lists. In fact, I then thought I would throw lists at everything, and everyone, with some interesting effects.

Structurally, there can be three main places to list in a sentence: at the start; in the middle; and at the end.

1] Coffee, Twitter and music keep me sane.

2] I wonder how I ever coped without books, TV and the Internet as a child living in Wales.

3] Wales has a historic tradition of singing, playing rugby and cwtching.

Surprisingly, teaching students to write using lists is at times like going back to the beginning. The simple problem with a list is that it is generally used as a simple functional device: “I need to list these objects I placed in my bag.” However, students don’t actually see it as a tool which can be used to aid meaning.

A list at the start of a sentence can help to bamboozle a reader when you link odd combinations of words.  

Frogs, eggs and paperclips are just some of the things I can draw with skill.

A list at the end of a sentence can cause a sense of drama.

The door shoved open and there stood a man with eyes of pain, loathing and death.

Of course there are other effects, but that is up to the student to discover. However, a list in an unusual or particular place can cause a sense of expectation.

 On the cold, dark and lonely moor nestled a cold, dark lonely house where sat a woman in a window with cold, dark and lonely thoughts.

The flexibility of a list isn’t just limited to where you list in a sentence, but it is also what you list. Now, my shopping bag contains eggs, flour and milk. My annoyance, anger and humiliation was evident when a returned home to see that I had incorrectly, mistakenly and stupidly forgotten to buy wine – the important ingredient for all meals.

Listing different types of things can produce some interesting effects.

A list with emotions.

Fear, worry and disbelief were reflected in her eyes.

 A list of verbs.

The shadow in the distance blurred, shimmered and juddered.

 A list of adverbs.

I sat typing angrily, quickly and secretly at the computer.

A list of prepositions.

The car rushed through, over, across and under trees.

A list of pronouns.

The woman opened the letter wondering if it was from him, her or them.

 A list of words with the same prefix.

The inescapable, inevitable and indomitable secret haunted her as she walked in the room.

A list of words with the same suffix.  

The view created a hopeful, grateful and meaning feeling in the man.  

A list of similes.

The bird sat on the branch like a solider waiting for the signal, like a man frozen in time and like a statue.

A list of colours.

The trees yellow, sunburnt orange and vivid red leaves smothered the child’s view of the sun.

 A list of sounds.

The crunch of the glass echoed, repeated and boomed through the empty room.

I could go on and on. There are so many variables. Yet, we often neglect to teach students to experiment, steal and play with lists.  Students could also consider how many items they put in a list. Or they could consider the order that items go in lists.

 The beauty of lists is that they are not limited to just writing. Lists have a valuable benefit for analysis in English. They can highlight complexity and multiple meanings.

The article persuades, shocks and advises us of the dangers of smoking.

Looking at that one sentence, shows us that the student understands that the text has a number of purposes. If the student places those purposes in the order they occur in the text then student will be commenting on the structure of the text as well as the purpose of a text.  

 A list of the writer’s purpose / message.

Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ highlights how men view love, damage relationships easily and struggle to articulate and manage their feelings.

A list of the reader’s / audiences’ feelings.

The audience respects, idolises and fears Othello at the start of the play.   

 A list of words to describe the text/ character.  

Macbeth’s insecurity, naivety and inconsistency combine to fuel his downfall.

A list of techniques.  

The use of alliteration, words associated with pain and the word ‘danger’ combine to create a sense of fear as the poet expresses the reality of the soldier’s fate.

The humble, little and rarely used list has so much potential. Maybe, before we throw in a fancy term or a technique that only one Victorian poetess used on her deathbed when writing about the beauty of woodlice, we should consider the lovely, left out and little list.

Thanks for reading,


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