My lesson on "The Power of Words To Manipulate Readers," was one of the recent favorites of all of my students, because it allowed them to play with words and see how they could “modify” or “spin” facts to soften harsh realities and control the reader's perceptions. The full lesson is available on my page at TeachersPayTeachers.com (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Understanding-Euphemisms-Ambiguities-and-Twisted-Wording-in-Nonfiction-919808). Students wrote for each other a brief, direct description of a criminal's life story, and then they rewrote that story with euphemistic descriptions to make the criminal sound like a hero, without actually changing the facts. This verbal manipulation was a challenge my students met and enjoyed, a challenge that taught them the subtle power of words to alter a reader's perspective. It also taught them the importance of critical thinking and critical reading to avoid being unwittingly manipulated by alleged nonfiction articles.
Here are examples of the "straight stories" versus the "spun stories":
The Life of John Carlton, by D.S., age 10 (He wrote both parts of his story.)
John Carlton Smith, also known as The Smashing Smith, was illegitimately born on September 22, 1935 to an unemployed migrant worker from Cuba, Jason Cortez Smith, and an immigrant from Mexico, Cortina Carlton Hermana. Both illegally immigrated to the United States, but were allowed to stay because their son, John Carlton Smith, was now an American citizen. From what records exist, it seems that Smith was a good student when he was young, getting accepted into Harvard University. However, his grades fell rapidly, and, in his second year, suspended for "destruction of private property and public property belonging to the State of Massachusses.” He was forced to hand over his name, signature, and photograph to help the police track him down if he ever began illicit activities again. It seems that, after both his father and mother died, John quit college and bought a passage to Calcutta, India, under a 2 month work visa. After the two months were up, John, having joined a multinational ring of drug dealers and thieves that frequently paid visits to the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan in New York. He smuggled 82,108 tons of heroin and opium before he was arrested and tried by authorities in Afghanistan. He died of a heart attack on September 23, 1999 while serving out a lifetime sentence in Afghanistan.
John Carlton Smith- (22 September, 1935 – 23 September, 1999)
John Carlton Smith was born to a Latin-American heritage on September 22, 1935. His parents, Jason Cortez Smith and Cortina Carlton Hermana, were both immigrants from the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico. They worked on farms in various locations across America, eventually meeting each other at a farm in the heartlands of America. Despite the fact that he had to transfer schools multiple times, he was able to maintain a spotless record through the first year of college. He attended the prestigious Harvard College. He maintained the spotless record even until the beginning of his second year at Harvard. That year, he had the honor of meeting with state officials, even giving his name and photograph to them. After his mother and father passed away, John decided to take a break from college, and headed on a ship bound for Calcutta, India. He planned on staying only two months, but ended up being employed by a multinational drug company that serviced millions of people worldwide. He also took up the hobby of collecting valuables, such as antique oil paintings, vintage items, and other such goods. He frequented museums like the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan in New York. He carried over 82,108 tons of medicine and valuables before he was retired by government officials. He was invited to stay at a government facility in Afghanistan, and graciously accepted the offer. Sadly, he passed away while staying in the government facility, leaving us because of a heart attack on September 23, 1999. We all miss this man, who influenced thousands of people from the young generation, and thousands more to come.
The Story of Joseph Tissue, by B.C., age 13 (He wrote the straight story, and I "modified" it.)
Joseph Tissue was born on 1943. He is known as one of the most dangerous gangsters of all time. He robbed several banks, killed hundreds of people, and had one of the largest cocaine factories in the world. He also killed Franklin Roosevelt's cook, Pop Lolli. However, all legends and great stories must come to an end. Joseph Tissue was finally arrested in 1973 and was hung in 1975.
Mr. Joseph Tissue, born in 1943, grew up to become one of the most awe-inspiring community organizers of all time. Several banks awarded him sums of cash, and hundreds of people gave their lives for him. Tissue directed one of the world's largest drug companies, serving people worldwide. President Franklin Roosevelt's cook, Pop Lolli, laid down his life for Mr. Tissue and stories about Mr. Tissue spread. In 1973, his followers finally forced him to take a break from his busy working life for two years, at which time they invited him to hang out for the last time.
The Story of Vandals, Michael Fu and Jake Smith, by B.C., same as above (I wrote the straight story, he spun it.)
Two students at Everton Middle School, Michael Fu and Jake Smith, sprayed graffiti all over the new handball courts, depicting violent scenes from graphic novels, logos of skateboard companies, and hateful profanity directed at various teachers. Police tracked down the vandals at school the next day and arrested them, charging them with "malicious destruction of property." They were taken to the local juvenile detention center and booked for their crimes.
Artists of Everton Middle School, Michael Fu and Jake Smith, painted handball courts with their Manga heroes and skateboard sponsors, and even special notes and comments to some of their favorite teachers. However, due to their growing fame, including with government officials, they have been taken in personally for signatures and photograph signings.
The whirling maelstrom of spun words continues in my classes as I keep using this lesson to teach kids the power of words: how they influence people and how they influence us. The students doing this lesson with me also analyze editorials in search of slanted words meant to affect your opinions. If you want to try the "word-spinning" aspect of this lesson yourself, either download it from the link to TeachersPayTeachers (printed above), or simply try spinning your own stories from actual news briefs. Feel free to share your results in the comments below!