Thursday, March 29, 2012

From MUSE: Teaching Mechanics

I've been reading my new favorite book, Interactions: Teaching Writing and the Language Arts, which suggests teaching "Parts of 'Speech'" by looking at the position they fill in a sentence, at the roles they play in sentences.  They suggest having students identify the role of a certain word and practice swapping a word with other words that could play the same role.  It also suggests sentence writing practice that causes students to concentrate on, for example, what a noun does in a sentence (e.g., Think of a six-word sentence in which there is a noun in the fourth position; think of a sentence that uses rain as a noun.)

Then, I came across this list of poems that students love to read aloud, which included the following entry:

4. “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
What can syntax tell us? Carroll’s Alice says of “Jabberwocky”: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!” This quote has always stuck with me, and I often repeat it when I use this poem to review parts of speech with high school freshmen. The poem reveals how syntax—the way words are structured to form phrases and sentences—fills our heads with ideas about meaning, even the meaning of nonsense words, as in this from the first stanza, which also serves as the last: “All mimsy were the borogroves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.” Playing with the syntax of this poem can provide a keener sense of its drama. 

And I thought, how fun to practice with parts of speech this way, to deepen your knowledge about how they work in sentences by thinking about how we know that mome rath is a noun and outgrabe is a verb and mimsy is an adjective! What does it do to a sentence to place the adjective before the noun it modifies? To end a sentence with an intransitive verb? What meaning does the placement add?

This post was also published on MUSE '13

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