Homophone / Homograph composition in-class exercise


Leilani Nguyen
Bass composition, 2021

Colin Sullivan
Tear composition, 2021

Emmy Kelley
Tower composition, 2021

Mikayla Henderson
Tear composition, 2021

Geneva Huckleberry
Tower composition, 2021

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Duration: 1 week
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Bookmark Project

Project Brief

Visual language is the process of communicating through the integration of words and images. Visual language utilizes its own unique vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The basic elements of design, such as line, space, shape, texture, and color, and the basic principles of design, such as contrast, emphasis, balance, rhythm, grouping, and scale, are the vocabulary of visual language.

In this in-class exercise, students work with the visual/verbal wordplay juxtaposition technique utilizing homophones and homographs. Homophones are two or more words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings. They may or may not be spelled the same way. Examples: write (to make a mark) and right (morally correct), or yoke (a harness) and yoke (part of a garment). Homographs are when two or more words share the same spelling. They may or may not have the same pronunciation. Examples: present (a gift) and present (to introduce), tower (a tall building), and tower (rising to a great height).

The viewer looks at the relationship created by combining the word and the multiple or collaged images to increase their understanding of the multiple meanings of the "word" resulting from the contrast of two or more images.


Size: 12 x 16 inches (vertical)
Color: black, white, and one or two colors 
Copy: the word (subject), and two short definitions if needed.


The challenge with this exercise is to create a vertical composition with a visual/verbal wordplay and/or juxtaposition with the goal of revealing a possible third meaning: 1 + 1 + 3. Students will present their composition before the end of class and upload it to a google drive folder for review and commentary.


Wordlist (chose one or two of these suggestions to begin this exercise)

a drop of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person's eye when they cry or when the eye is irritated; to pull or rip something apart or to pieces with force; a hole or split in something caused by it having been pulled apart forcefully.

a weapon for shooting arrows; a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends; to bend the head or upper part of the body as a sign of respect, greeting, or shame; the front end of a ship.

constituting number two in a sequence; subordinate or inferior in position, rank, or importance; to express agreement with.

a tall, narrow building; rise to or reach a great height.

a thin piece of wood that has fallen or been cut from a tree; a quarter-pound rectangular block of butter or margarine; a gear or control lever; to affix something onto something else.

the lowest adult male singing voice; a bass guitar or double bass; the common European freshwater fish

a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people; a family or family lineage, especially a noble or royal one; a dynasty; a legislative or deliberative assembly; a celestial division represented as a sector on an astrological chart.

set down in writing or some other permanent form for later reference, especially officially; a thin plastic disk carrying recorded sound, especially music, in grooves on each surface, for reproduction by a record player; an official report of the proceedings and judgment in a court.

Learning Objectives

In redesigning my Graphic Design 1 course curriculum for remote learning this spring 2021, I developed three in-class visual challenges to engage the students during their class time (our studio classes are 5 hours) as a break from zoom. Each of the in-class exercises is designed to be completed within 90 minutes. At the end of the 90-minute period, each student is required to present the results of their visual investigation. All of the in-class exercises have the objective to explore visual language strategies employed to convey meaning in messaging.


The students upload a PDF of their two visual juxtaposition exercises to my google drive. These exercises are not graded.


Design for Communication: Graphic Design Basics, John Wiley and Sons, 2003
Elizabeth Resnick




This is the first time I have assigned this in-class exercise. Many of the students were successful in creating a viable composition within the 90-minutes allotted for this exercise. In rethinking my approach, I would offer the students feedback on what they did manage to accomplish within the 90-minute timeframe and time act on this feedback which should result in a stronger compositional response.

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