"What is a concrete noun?" a student might ask.
"It's something you can drop on your foot," I always answer. "It's that simple."
We talked about how we should use concrete over abstract - and I read some extracts from this essay which goes into it in a whole lot more detail.
I read a bit from Virginia Woolf's short story 'Solid Objects' - which is about a politician who becomes entranced by a piece of seaglass and then begins to collect more and more objects until it becomes quite clear to the reader that he has descended into madness.
It was a lump of glass, so thick as to be almost opaque; the smoothing of the sea had completely worn off any edge or shape, so that it was impossible to say whether it had been bottle, tumbler or window-pane; it was nothing but glass; it was almost a precious stone. You had only to enclose it in a rim of gold, or pierce it with a wire, and it became a jewel; part of a necklace, or a dull, green light upon a finger. Perhaps after all it was really a gem; something worn by a dark Princess trailing her finger in the water as she sat in the stern of the boat and listened to the slaves singing as they rowed her across the Bay. Or the oak sides of a sunk Elizabethan treasure-chest had split apart, and, rolled over and over, over and over, its emeralds had come at last to shore. John turned it in his hands; he held it to the light; he held it so that its irregular mass blotted out the body and extended right arm of his friend. The green thinned and thickened slightly as it was held against the sky or against the body. It pleased him; it puzzled him; it was so hard, so concentrated, so definite an object compared with the vague sea and the hazy shore.
You can read the story here. Every time I read it it I find something more to love, maybe because I'm a collector of stones and leaves and little pieces of plastic and whatever else my magpie eye can find.
We finished with a writing exercise. I brought in some objects and placed one on each table and asked everyone to:
1. Describe the object
2. Write about the object but assign it a different purpose
3. Write about the object from the POV of their main character: someone has given their character this object as a present - what is their reaction.
Virginia Woolf - Solid Objects - short story
The Secret to Good Writing - It's about Objects not Ideas - John Maguire - essay
I'd like to give special mention to an essay I just remembered about - Wes Anderson's Worlds - by Michael Chabon - detail, things, objects, collections, minutiae. And it's something I think anyone who wants to write about children and young adulthood should read:
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”