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Classroom Ideas

The Signature documentary on Ed McClanahan is suitable for college and high school classrooms, although teachers should preview both the film and McClanahan’s works for considerations of language and content. (McClanahan discusses his use of profanity in the SignatureLIVE! interview, noting that he used language true to his characters.)

The following classroom ideas are taken from or adapted from the Signature Teacher Guide.

  • Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Ed McClanahan keeps three thesauruses at his writing desk. He says that, when he’s writing, he uses a thesaurus sometimes not just to find “the right words,” but to find synonyms, “to see what other nuances I can come up with. You can’t use a thesaurus haphazardly. But I find the thesaurus is like a little mine of ideas.” To discover the variety of expressions a thesaurus offers, look up these words: run, light, fair, green, tranquil. Thesauruses are arranged in different ways. You may find it easiest to use one published in dictionary form. Discuss what you find.
  • The protagonist of The Natural Man, Harry Eastep, loves sports writing for “the assonance, the alliteration, the sheer mythmaking hyperbole, the splendid excess of it all” [emphasis added]. Look up these terms and the term consonance. Try writing a paragraph that displays these qualities.
  • McClanahan describes an early draft of The Natural Man as containing language that was “jacked and pumped...I had a lot of wind in my sails.” For the fun of it, try writing a paragraph that could be described that way. For instance, try using two or three similes where ordinarily you might use only one. In The Natural Man, for example, McClanahan wrote not just that Newton Ockerman was fat, but that he “was as ponderous as three hundred pounds of vanilla custard on the hoof, the sort of fat man whose girth was greatest just below the belt, like a gravy boat or a soup tureen.”
  • Using the first-person point of view, write a story about a time when you were treated unfairly by someone bigger than you. Write the story again, but from the point of view of that bigger person. Then write the story yet again, using the third-person perspective. In writing one of those versions, consider exaggerating what happened or how it felt to one of the characters. What other adjustments do you have to make—in someone’s personality, in dialogue or setting—for that version of the story to be interesting?
  • Watch the segments in the Signature documentary and the short video Ed in which McClanahan reads aloud from his works. Compare hearing his words to reading them. Practice reading what you write aloud to someone at home, then read it aloud to a group