Monday, January 4, 2010

Teaching Through Relevant Examples

What do Wile E. Coyote, E.T., and John Legend in common?  To everyone except me, the answer is "nothing."  But to me, the common thread is that I used each of these as teaching examples in my verbal test prep sessions this week.  Each example is a true testament to how well you can facilitate student understanding just by making relevant connections to things that students already know and/or are interested in.

Wile E. Coyote
In the first session, the SSAT question asked my student to select a synonym for the word "wily"  from a list of five words.  He had no idea what it meant, that is until I asked him if he ever watched the show, "Bugs Bunny."  When he told me that he had, I asked him to name all of the characters.  When he got to the coyote, I asked him to give me his full name:  "Wile E. Coyote."  For those of you who don't remember, Wile E.'s main activities involved devising wild (and always unsuccessful) schemes to catch the Road Runner.  After thinking about Wile E.  and looking again at the answer choices, the student immediately chose the word "crafty."  Guess what?  He was correct!  "Wily" is an adjective that means "crafty or cunning." How many of us knew this when we watched the cartoon years ago?! 

In another session, the lesson was on the importance of using prefixes, suffixes and roots to decipher the meanings of unfamiliar words.  I asked my student if she had had seen the movie, "E.T."  She told me that she had, and she even knew that "E.T." stood for "Extra Terrestrial," but she didn't know what the phrase meant.  For those of you who are curious, the prefix "extra" means “outside or beyond; the root "terr-" means "Earth"; and the suffix "-al" means "pertaining to."  Once I traced the word origins of the cute little alien's strange name, it made perfect sense to her:  E.T., by definition was from a place far beyond the earth.

John Legend
In the third session, the lesson was on the multiple-choice writing skills section of the SAT.  In the question at issue, the student missed an error that had an adjective where an adverb should have been used.  Since many students are rusty when it comes to parts of speech, I went back to the basics.  For those who need a quick refresher, here goes:  adjectives are used to describe/modify nouns only (e.g., big house); while adverbs are used to modify verbs (e.g., he reads quickly); adjectives (very big house); and other adverbs (e.g., he reads quite quickly).  And of course, there's the old trick: most, though not all (e.g, quite) adverbs end in "-ly." 

At the end of the lesson, I referenced the chorus of John Legend's popular song, "Ordinary People."  It goes something like this, "We're just ordinary people, we don't know which way to go, let's just take it slow-oh-oh-oh."  Trust me, you have to hear it to fully get it!  After I had my student sing the chorus, I asked him to tell me whether "slow" was an adjective or an adverb and whether it was used properly in this context.  He identified "slow" as adjective and then told me that it should have been "slowly," (an adverb), since it is there to modify the verb "take" by telling how.  In fact, while my student was technically correct, in the grammar world, it is generally acceptable to use "slow" in a casual context like this.  I'm sure John Legend (a UPenn grad) would be proud!

No comments:

Post a Comment