Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching Vocabulary

Before reading this post, it's probably important to note that I am not an educator. I have an interest in it but I'm not doing in day in day out. So take this post with a great big grain of salt. It's an opinion.

I have this big thing about treating the symptoms. For example, the gut ache might just be an inflamed appendix... You treat the cause first.

So when I heard that a class was going to be focusing on vocabulary I was a little uneasy. Teaching vocabulary is boring. Learning it is probably worse. So how do I think it should be taught? It's a by-product. If you are passionate about the language then your vocabulary can't help but grow. Thinking about me at around these kids ages (7 or 8) I think one of my big influences was trying to understand Blackadder. I knew it to be funny. I didn't understand how.

Take this quote from Blackadder the Third:
I have come up with a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.
The language used isn't anything special. The only words in there that might be unknown to a 7 or 8 year old are the words "cunning" and "weasel". The beauty of the quote isn't in the language used but in how the language is used.

Describing something as being "stink as" is not as interesting as trying to describe it. Something along the lines of "it smelt like my friend's dirty socks after 3 days of him not changing them". This is something kids could get into and run away with.

By the age of 13 my writing was a wild mess of adjectives. Trying to paint a scene to the exclusion of anything else.

"The smile on the clerk's face seemed almost painted on - like a part of his uniform that he laundered and hung up in his wardrobe at the end of the day.", "The irony of the cold light playing against the golden scales of the fish in the tank in this place where death seemed to hang in the hair in the form of disinfectant seemed almost mocking." etc.

Reading in and of itself (in my opinion - don't forget the disclaimer at the beginning of this post) doesn't teach vocabulary. Spelling is an amazingly awful way of doing it. Unlocking something - figuring out a puzzle (I remember reading Shakespeare in my spare time when I left high school and looking up various bits of it. I didn't know what a "myrtle" was for example) - learning that you can convey messages in an amazingly interesting way leads to reading and an increasingly expanding vocabulary.

No comments:

Post a Comment