|Writers love language! In his book, A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer in You, author Ralph Fletcher suggests that one of the purposes of your notebook can be that it becomes your place to store collections of interesting language that appeal to you: favorite quotes, favorite words, favorite lines from published poems, favorite jokes, etc. My students do enjoy creating word and phrase collections in their notebooks after they see examples from mine, but with my more gifted learners, I like to push them to explore the world for more challenging language formats, like puns, oxymorons, palindromes, and anagrams. I personally love these language "oddities," as I call them, and I spent my younger life challenging myself to find/make them as I read and spotted interesting words and ideas. With the Internet at our fingertips these days, it's almost too easy to find online collections of "oddities" like palindromes. As a kid, before we had that Internet, I loved how smart it felt when I truly created one just from my head; I remember once mumbling "dumb mud" when I stepped in some on a rainy day, and when my brain realized I had just mumbled something 'palindromic," well, it felt powerful. I felt like a gifted thinker.
I truly hope that my students, when accepting any of these language collection challenges for their notebooks, first and foremost try to build them without using the Internet; I hope they use the power of their brains before they consult Old Man Google.
|Anagram (noun): a word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase, such as satin to stain, or cinema to ice man.
An ideal anagram, in my humble opinion as your teacher, is one where the new word or phrase that is created has a meaningful connection to the original word or phrase; for example, circumstantial evidence can be anagrammed as can ruin a selected victim, which has a definite shared meaning that can be talked about and explained. Funeral can be anagrammed as real fun, but that's not what you'd expect at a traditional funeral, so I don't consider this second example to be an ideal anagram.
For this challenge, I expect you to discover and explain (at least) four ideal anagrams for words and phrases that are personally important to you and your life.
The Anagram that Inspired this Lesson: My eighth graders read the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr., every Fall, which is the text that was the inspiration for the popular movie October Sky. Now, the story that I heard is that when they planned to transform Hickam's memoir into a screenplay, the name Rocket Boys--the movie studio decreed this--would not be a title that appealed to women over thirty years of age, and so they choose October Sky because it was an anagram of the original title. It was an appropriate anagram because apparently in an American radio broadcast about the Russian satellite, Sputnik--which is a major influence on the events in the memoir--it was said that a broadcaster in 1957 described the satellite as moving across the "October sky." I'm not sure how true this story is (I actually did search unsuccessfully for a transcription of that broadcast), but it doesn't seem far-fetched, since the Russians launched it on October 4, 1957.
It's easy to make nonsense anagrams; the true challenge of making a quality anagram is that the new word(s) created by the letters of the old word(s) should share a common meaning. Below are a few of my favorite anagrams; I have always liked these because the anagrammed phrase is an interesting description that matches the original phrase.
- Clint Eastwood can be anagrammed as old west action, which is an appropriate anagram for that actor. (You can also anagram the actor's name as No Two Citadels, but that has nothing to do with the movie star's life and times....or at least not yet.)
- A decimal point can be anagrammed as I'm a dot in place, which is true and fun!
- William Shakespeare can be anagrammed as I am a weakish speller, which was probably not true, but ask my Freshmen reading Romeo and Juliet, and they would claim Shakespeare doesn't know anything about English at all, including spelling!
Writers and thinkers have been using anagrams for centuries. Most recently, J. K. Rowling used the anagram in her Harry Potter series, but there have been other instances.
- Tom Marvolo Riddle can be anagrammed into I am Lord Voldemort.
- Stanley Yelnats is the first and last name of the main character in Louis Sachar's Holes. Officially, the character's name is a palindrome, which is a special kind of anagram: a mirror image one!
- The new wave band (founded in 1980, when I was my own students age) Missing Persons' best-selling album was called Spring Session M.
Need a mentor text to inspire anagrams? I found an awesome one that my kids are loving! Many of the books/cartoons of Jon Agee celebrate "oddities" of language. The one I'll display in my chalk tray for January (the month I will use this lesson as my GT Notebook Challenge) is Elvis Lives! and Other Anagrams. If you visit this Amazon link, you can actually preview one of the cartoons inside the book to show your students.
Agee also has some other great books that my students enjoy looking through. Palindromania and Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagne Hog!: And other Palindromes are both equally awesome. So too is his Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?: And other Oxymorons, though I think it's out of print now, and expensive used copies are not uncommon. These little books of language cartoons help me to quickly discover which of my kids are language lovers and up for the writer's notebook challenge like the one on this page.
My Anagram Comic Challenge: Inspired by the cartoons in the Jon Agee books, I challenge my students to create their own page of four (or more) personal anagrams. What they choose to anagram and then illustrate must be persons, places, or things that are personally important to them. To earn extra credit from this challenge, I expect the page they create to be thoughtful, visual, and colorful. You can see my anagram page from my writer's notebook below. Click on the image of my notebook page to view it in larger form so you can zoom in on my details.
There's a great on-line anagram-builder that makes the process almost too easy; I, therefore, stress that the anagrams my students choose for things that are personally important to them must make sense. I don't want nonsense anagrams. I want ideal anagrams.
I challenge them to start by trying to anagram their own names. They can attempt just their first names, or their first and last names, or they can include their middle names. When I personally anagrammed my first and last name (Corbett Harrison), I received a lot of nonsense ideas, like transcriber hoot. By playing with the server's advanced search options, I started honing down the huge list of nonsense anagrams and ended up finding two anagrams for my first and last name that I can say represent me. I found two idea anagrams for my full name!
(an anagram of Corbett Harrison)
How the anagram applies: Here at my website, I share information about Mr. Stick, the cartoon character I use in my own writer's notebook. I really can't draw and had given up on every being competent at drawing, so coming up with Mr. Stick was a way for me to re-introduce myself to the world as a cartoonist of sorts.
(an anagram of Corbett Harrison)
How the anagram applies: I am the youngest of three children, having two older brothers, and we Harrison men aren't very good at showing our emotions sometimes. I believe we picked up this stoicism from our father. Check out the first photo on this page (upper left) to see what I mean by Harrison stoicism.
Not everyone can make an ideal anagram out of their own names; it's just simply possible. So, I challenge my students to explore other proper nouns and personal ideas that are important to them. Here are some other anagrams I made as I looked for four I wanted to include on my writer's notebook page:
- My wife's name is Dena Harrison. She truly does shine (what with her smile and that beautiful blonde hair of hers), which I noticed was a word I could pull out of her name's letters. So...I set the advanced search options at the Internet Anagram Server to only include options that used the word shine. Lo and behold, it came up with Shine and roar as an anagram, which is pretty perfect for her; she never roars at me, but I've watched her let her students have it when they misbehave. Dena definitely has a roar underneath that shine of hers.
- Dena and I just love our three dogs: Pudge, Bentley, & Ozzy. I wanted dog to be in my anagram, so when I set the advanced options, one that came up (after I moved the words around) was Ye dog, pet by nuzzle. I like it; it's not as perfect as the one I made for Dena, but it's useable.
- My mother's name (after she remarried) became Sheila Dill, which can be anagrammed as Ideal hills. My mother's favorite spot in her house is the front window, where she can look out and see Job's Peak, which is a gorgeous view. My mother loves to be close to the mountains. When she lived for a time in Kentucky, she always complained how flat it was compared to where she is now.
- I also anagrammed the word education, which as a teacher, is something I believe to be truly important and essential to have a happy life. I liked the anagram, idea count, that popped out at me.
- Finally, I tried to anagram my elementary school's name: Bullard Elementary. Even though I loved the education I received there, the anagram--learned me brutally--made me smile, so I am considering using it on my page of cartoons as well.
My Own Anagram Comic Page: A few days after playing with the anagram server and making my list, I started planning my page of "Personal Anagrams" for my writer's notebook. Counting the two I made from my own name, I ended up with six anagrams that I liked. The nice thing about having more than four choices was that I could make some personal choices about which ones would be easiest to cartoon. At right, I happily share my finished page of Personal Anagrams.
Share your own students' notebook pages...or your own teacher model: I absolutely know for a fact that I have a dozen or more students who will love this challenge and take me up on it. Soon, their work will be posted on this page too. If your students (or you) create a notebook page inspired by this idea, I invite you to share it back with me using this posting page. Lots of teachers from around the world access and use these lessons of mine, and your students' work has the potential of being seen by thousands of educators and their tens-of-thousands of students. The potential of having a real-world audience like that, I find, is a great way to motivate students to do their best work on tasks like this.
|Share your own students' anagram pages using this link.
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