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May 31

Time Magazine launches its "Tom Swifty" contest today in 1963.

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Time Magazine launches its "Tom Swifty" contest today in 1963.

Grades 5 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Author & Text

 

EVENT DESCRIPTION

 

 

"Tom Swifties" are a special kind of pun associated with Victor Appleton's Tom Swift book series, in which the author avoided the use of simple "said" as a dialogue tag. The Tom Swifty evolved into a pun in which the dialogue tag relates humorously to what the character said. The figures of speech gained prominence when Time magazine sponsored a contest for the best Tom Swifties in 1963.

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 

 
  • Share some examples of Tom Swifties and ask students to notice what they have in common. Literary examples include Charles Dickens' "'You find it Very Large?' said Mr. Podsnap, spaciously," work well, but everyday examples such as "'I need to milk the cows now,' Tom uddered" or "'I dropped my toothpaste,' Tom said, crest-fallen" might give students more to work with.
  • Together, generate a list of principles about what makes Tom Swifties work. Importantly, the way in which a speaker says something comments on or relates to what was said in a humorous way. Often the dialogue tag has multiple meanings; single-word or phrase-length dialogue tags work equally well; and product names (such as Cheer or Clue) offer potential for punning as well.
  • Let students meet in small groups to generate some Tom Swifties of their own. After the have had time to develop and polish a few, have a contest of your own to celebrate the best examples.

WEBSITES

 

 
  • The Canonical Collection of Tom Swifties

    Mark Israel's thorougly sourced collection offers some background on the Tom Swifty and an alphabetically categorized list.

     

  • The Complete Tom Swift Sr. Home Page

    This site is a catalog of many of the Tom Swift books, focusing on the scientific nature of their plots.

     

  • TIme Magazine from May 31, 1963

    Though this site requires a subscription to view all its content, students can get a sense of the popularity of the Tom Swifty through the link to the contest in the Society: Games section.

RELATED RESOURCES

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Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Minilesson

Choosing Clear and Varied Dialogue Tags: A Minilesson

In this minilesson, students explore the use of dialogue tags such as "he said" or "she answered" in picture books and novels, discussing their purpose, form, and style.

 

Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

He Said/She Said: Analyzing Gender Roles through Dialogue

Students analyze dialogue tags used with male and female characters in a book they have read. They then evaluate the message the dialogue tags convey about gender roles.

 

Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Minilesson

Character Clash: A Minilesson on Paragraphing and Dialogue

Students learn about paragraphing conventions in dialogue by revising their own writing.