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Lesson Plan

What's the Purpose?: Examining a Cold Manipulation of Language

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What's the Purpose?: Examining a Cold Manipulation of Language

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

National Council of Teachers of English



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This lesson shares with students the power of language and its control over audience.  Students will analyze how stylistic devices can alter tone and emotions through a study of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and “A Christmas Memory.” Through comparison, students will note how Capote alters his style for different reader responses in his fiction and nonfiction. Students will have a stronger grasp of how close analysis can enable them to manipulate syntax, diction, and tone to achieve different effects on specific audiences for different purposes in their own writing.

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Teachers will find this lesson valuable in teaching students to analyze the manipulation of language in the works of Truman Capote as discussed in the March 2011 edition of The English Journal. The article, “A Cold Manipulation of Language,” discusses the importance of identifying the author’s purpose through a close examination of diction and syntax. The activities in this unit will provide teachers the necessary lessons to guide students through this process.

Through a careful analysis of In Cold Blood and “A Christmas Memory,” students can recognize how authorial choices produce different reactions. Once readers contemplate Capote’s purpose in composing both texts, writers can practice altering language to experience the “conditions under which people learn to do new things with language” (NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing). The March 2011 issue of The English Journal discusses the importance of these decisions regarding diction and syntax in more detail. The conclusions always come back to the writer’s intentions and target audience. Teaching students to recognize different readers is challenging, and understanding how to write for that specific audience is even harder.

Regardless of the standards each school district uses, the English curriculum requires teachers to understand that language “varies in form, structure, and production process according to its audience and purpose” (NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing). In recent years, the emphasis on rhetorical strategy has increased, not decreased. Students must be taught how to write for a variety of purposes and audiences in order to meet these objectives.

Through noting Capote’s talent for rhetorical manipulation and purpose for doing so, students can demonstrate the understanding of writing for audience and purpose. More importantly, observing Capote’s success can instruct our students on how to improve their writing.

Further Reading

Noel, Melissa W.  (2011).  “A Cold Manipulation of Language”  English Journal, 100(4), 50-54.


Writing Study Group of the NCTE Executive Committee. 2016. Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing. February 2016. Web. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/teaching-writing

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