In her classes, Professor Judith Ryan uses (or encourages her TFs to use) little strips of paper with words from a literary text in order to get students to explore the functions of individual words in text. This activity words as follows: the instructor writes a word from the text (usually a poem) on each strip of paper. The students will have already read the text. He or she then shuffles the papers and hands them out. Each student then has one word. The students form partner groups. The instructor tells the students that if they are unhappy with the word they received, they can exchange it with one of the leftover words.
With their partners, the students have to discuss how their two words fit together and relate it to the big idea in the text. Sometimes the two words will naturally fit together, but sometimes they will not. Nonetheless, the two words are from the same text, so there should be some way that the students can make them work together. This undertaking gets students to stretch mentally in considering the purpose of the words in the text. Once the students have had a discussion with their partner, they share their words and the conclusion of their discussion with the whole class. The other students are then prompted to consider whether there are other ways to put the words together. Judith notes that at this point the other students have already started thinking about "how the poem ticks" and how they are going to present their own word pair, so they often have very interesting points to make.
Judith observes that this activity works best in a smaller class and in section meetings. She finds that the activity helps the students understand that poems are networks as much as linear sentences and that words can have different meanings. The original idea for this activity came from Judith's Teaching Fellow, Benton J. Komins.