Cheese and Chocolate – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 3 pt 2

Next up is 2k14 Teacher Consultant Janice Jewell.


Cheese and Chocolate: An Activity for Creative Writing

Going beyond imagery and metaphor to allusion, extended metaphor, narrative, and synesthesia to enrich students’ writing.

Janice first has us read In The Dairy Case, Ripe Prose. An excellent NYTimes article about cheese mongers and the power of description. She talks to us about reading with purpose. About the importance of going into a first read with a specific reason. Whether or not I agree with this I’ll ignore for now.

This article is a masterpiece of descriptive writing. You should read it.

After discussing the use of literary devices in the article, Janice hands out chocolate. She has us taste it and write down three adjectives. I went with Hershey’s Kisses because they’re a decent standard. As someone who isn’t necessarily a foodie, or even gastronomically inclined, chocolate conjures up no more or less arousal than say cookies or Twizzlers.

-mildly disappointing

Then, she has us “riff” on the adjectives independent of why I chose the adjective in the first place.

-reliable boy scout
-chalky medicine
-mildly disappointing sex

Then, in the third column, add something more abstract to each combination.

-reliable – boy scout – walking old ladies across the street
-chalky – medicine – staying home from school playing hooky
-mildly disappointing – sex – marriage

Then, write a 4-5 sentence description/scenario that stretches from a typical understanding of the way your chocolate tastes or smells. Think about the devices/language used to describe the cheeses in the article. Here is mine:

Hershey’s Kiss: Somewhere in between losing your virginity to your final lay. Neither your first nor your last. A sensate pleasure rendered prosaic by the enervating forces of a 40 hour workweek existence. There is no danger or excitement here.

This is a tiny lesson that works so well. The compactness forces you to do the most with the least amount of words. I love the scaffolded process of going from adjective to noun to riffing on a concept. The process leads both the reader and the writer outside the realm of the quotidian in a stepwise fashion. So, for those who struggle with writing “creatively,” this sequence offers a way.


This is a nimble exercise that highlights the value of mimicry (think Jeff Anderson’s work on inviting students to emulate other authors’ style). Talent and originality can be taught (within a certain range, of course).


One comment

  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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