Philip Nel > Courses > Close-Reading and Teaching

Close-Reading and Teaching

meter • verse • stanza • rhyme • end rhyme • couplet • alliteration • consonance • assonance • image • metaphor • simile • personification • symbol • onomatopoeia • sound • tone • diction


1. Using the literary terms above, offer a close reading -- an interpretation -- of the poem your group is given.  Your interpretation need only be a paragraph or so in length, but it can be longer.  The paragraph should have a claim (what's your point?), data (supporting quotations), and warrant (be sure to link the claim to the data).  If this sounds like something you learned in Expos 2, then that's good.  If it doesn't, then you can always follow the model on the back of this sheet.

2. Now that you have a sense of the poem's possible meanings, how would you go about helping a grade-school student explore the poem?  Develop classroom activities or assignments you might use.

1.  Close-reading of "Eletelephony"

        Laura E. Richards' "Eletelephony" shows us how language is both practical and playful, making both sense and nonsense.  Collapsing the word "elephant" into the word "telephone," she creates an image of an elephant tangled up in a telephone.  When she speaks of an "elephant / Who tried to use a telephant" or an "elephone / Who tried to use the telephone," the words "elephant" and "telephone" seem to occupy the same space, much as would an elephant entwined in a telephone's cord.  In the second stanza, the image becomes clearer: "he got his trunk / Entangled in the telephunk" confirms that trunk and cord have gotten twisted.  The poor elephant seems to personify confusion.  Or, perhaps, he is a symbol for the frustration a large person might feel when stuck inside a too-small telephone booth -- no room to get disentangled from that cord.  To take this idea even further, maybe the telephonically challenged elephant is a metaphor for the chaotic experience of working with technology.  Richards' speaker offers a clear image of a messy situation.

        On the other hand, we might also say that "Eletelphony" is really an exercise in playing with language.  Her clever diction -- the words "elephant" and "telephone" in particular -- demonstrates how slippery language can be.  There's an onomatopoetic quality to the words "telephant," "elephone," "telephunk" and "telephee."  They sound like what they mean: "telephunk" combines the first half of "telephone" with the second half of "trunk" not only to convey the sense of the latter entwined in the former, but also how this situation might sound.  That "phunk" sounds a bit like a trunk slapping a telephone booth, but does the "phee" of "telephee" sound more like the noise of a telephone ringing or of an elephant blowing through his trunk?  For that matter, "telephunk" also sounds like either a depressed elephant or a sad telephone -- because "phunk" sounds like "funk," a word we use to describe a dejected mood.  The sound of these words both conveys sense and distracts from sense -- distracts because they point us in many directions at once.  The sing-songy tone conveyed by the couplets enhances this sensation.  The poem sounds so silly, so fun to say, that we focus more on the sounds of the words than on what they mean.


2.  Some possible assignments.

  1. A.  Give students tongue twisters.  Have them practice saying the tongue twisters.  (Perhaps try some verses from Seuss's Fox in Socks or Oh, Say Can You Say?)  Ask them what it's like to try to say these words?  Is it fun?  Is it frustrating?  All of the above?   Identify what made it fun, frustrating, or whatever adjectives they use to describe their feelings.  Write these on the board.  Quite likely, this may be an occasion to introduce terms like sound, rhyme, or even onomatopoeia.
  2. After exercise A, show the students how to create their own tongue twisters.  Developing the list developed in A, the class will identify some of the kinds of language they might want to generate in their tongue-twisters.  If a rhyming dictionary is available, use it.  If it isn't simply experiment with words, changing consonants and vowels (bird, word, heard, -- all examples of assonance….).
  3. The poem is essentially about portmanteau words, which, as Humpty Dumpty says in Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, are "like a portmanteau -- two meanings packed up into one word."  So either generate lists of words that overlap (as elephant and telephone do) or simply ask students to think of words they might combine.  The assignment: Write a poem that uses both words individually and in combination, just as Richards does in "Eletelelphony."
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