“Ben told the class that nouns are sexy. I couldn’t agree more.” – Mr Lee, 2020/21 cohort, TESMC, TWIS
Noun groups are everywhere. ESL (English as a Second Language) learners may find ordering tough, whereas a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, may find that their description of the fictional Scottish public and private boarding school of magic for students aged eleven to eighteen child’s play. The British magical community’s Ministry of Magic may not be an ideal place to start an exploration of noun groups, that most specific to English topic, but we can begin here with a dabble into the magical realm of TESMC class with Mr Ben. It’s our seventh class, hence the title.
“Many a man has a treasure in his hoard that he knows not the worth of. (Sellic Spell)” – Beowulf, J.R.R. Tolkien
Perspectives on Vocabulary by John Polias, Nominalisation, meaning making in the written realm by Brian Dare, and How accessible are the texts we use by John Polias made for riveting reading. They kept me up into the wee hours and on my toes. Why? They made me question my teaching and my selection of textbooks. Hugely. I’ve always been a fan of a DK Board game called Very Silly Sentences. This game helps to expand the vocabulary and manipulates verbs, adjectives and nouns. The idea of manipulating the nominal group needs base knowledge. That is to know the density of meaning slapped together inside a written text by giving numbers to nominalization per clause. Heavy stuff. Really heavy packed stuff. As a teacher we want to see the evolution of a student’s writing. It must go from: ‘It is a cat.’ We’re aiming to add weight to the sentence. Students, like adults, should be spouting Shakespearian cat descriptive pieces.
“foul night-waking cat” – The Rape of Lucrece, Sir William Shakespeare
If we sit our student’s first grade work alongside the same student’s work as they enter their early teenage years, you will see progress. The same can be done if we take week two work, week ten and week 17 work. Analysis is easy because it is reactive. Our job is much more proactive though. We’re targeting an end product. The factory assembly line of our classes must be targeted to show our desired outcomes of language learning. The crux of the matter is vocabulary extension: It’s a pretty cat. John Polias makes some strong cases for playing detective and taking visuals aside for as good old interrogation.
Fellow hair-challenged Brian Dare points out the pros and cons of refined writing. The high end of the mode continuum gets a fair treatment. He points out that suddenly students are less likely to be thinking on their toes. Students should be encouraged to both rewrite spoken text and speak in different ways about written text. It has to be bidirectional and the transpositions should become the tools of meaning-making in language. Going back and forwards, inverting, flipping it a bit, and relocating words here and there will provide the necessitous scaffolding. Do you remember the joys of messing with words and creating something clean and trim? The mode continuum gives our students something to blend and bend as a way to develop knowledge about language.
Explain these terms to a student without using the terms: common noun, proper noun, abstract noun, concrete noun, countable noun, uncountable noun, compound noun, collective noun, singular noun and plural noun. Respective examples could include window, Manchester, love, house, bike and bikes, rice, textbook, crowd, monkey, and babies. Easy enough, right? Now explain the function and use of a noun group. A noun group is a group of words relating to, or building on, a noun. There may be a pointer (a, an, this, that, these, those, my, your, his, her, its, our, dad’s, Mr Ben’s), one or more adverbs and adjectives. Before and after the main noun. The pre-modifier and the post-modifier offer ample opportunity for exploration. Referring back and forwards, within a sentence is a highly useful skill and tool for an up-and-coming writer. Adding weight and detail to the noun expands the information about the noun itself. It offers a clearer mental image. With these skills, our students can tell us much more about a cat. It’s a pretty fluffy cat with a wonderful temperament. The students are now armed with magic wands to cast spells on their noun structures. Effective writers need detail. Expanding the nominal group should be a weapon of choice.
Note: Nominal means as planned, or as named, or as written (in the mission plan). It does not mean normal.
Synonyms and antonyms are keys and tools to create colourful and abstract language. They’re also ideal for adding dimension to concrete dialogue and reports. One of my earliest English class memories was at Clayton Brook Primary School in Manchester. I, under ten years of age, and my peers were tasked with finding as many synonym words for the words good and bad. Many students talked about it. Some sought books. The tall loner in the corner dived like goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and grabbed something useful. The dictionary fell into my lap. I was hooked. My personal vocabulary grew from word hunts, games, and reading. Mr Jones, class 5AJ, at Chapel Street Primary School, where I later attended, had me constantly finding words, or even searching for made up words, which made me look up similar words. These strange games certainly gave me reasons to live amongst the pages of discovery.
Here on vocabulary played a part. Even to this day, I enjoy expressions, terminologies, and styles of writing because the words within are shouting at me like conversations and whisperings that I must hear. According to TestYourVocab.com, most adult native test-takers range from 20,000-35,000. The average 8-year-old native speaker already knows about 10,000 words. Foreign test-takers tend to hit 2,500-9,000 words – and even by living overseas that only tends to hit 10,000 words. As I slotted my answers into tick-boxes and scored an estimated 32,700 words for my vocabulary size, I realized how few of the 300,000 entries into the Oxford English Dictionary that I probably know. In reality knowing one word from the 20,000 printed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t all that bad (and in truth, just 35,000 are useful). Are the website’s findings accurate? Well, entering your data is based on honesty and over two million surveys doesn’t accurately reflect a global population of umpteen billion people. Also, who uses the internet?! Their website’s methodology, the nitty-gritty argues that their accuracy is around ±10%, so in my instance, I could be closer to 35,970 or 29,430 words. Either way, it’s a curious little tool of play. I’m not showing off. Not at all. It gives me a good reflection on how many words I have yet to experience or learn. The bad news, however, is that their findings say middle age is where vocabulary retention tends to end. The best reading I found on their website related to reading habits. They found that reading habits directly increases vocabulary growth. It may sound like, as my Dad would put it, “stating the bleeding obvious” but it goes a long way to reinforcing the habit of reading at an early age. This website is part of an independent American-Brazilian research project. The decade-old findings of China show that the average vocabulary size here for English as a Second Language users was 6,636 words. Now, considering the education boom in China, that could be higher now. The website is an indication but not a science. It made me think about how many base words we need to learn a language. But, then how often do we use the words and do we lose the words? Who do we talk with that make us use new words? Are some words specific to some scenarios? Oh, the endless questions! Where on Earth is Anglesey?
“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.”- Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, writer (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966)
Textbooks need selection. Most of us read reviews and even more of us get handed a reading list and stack of books tall enough to paralyse a student’s passion for reading. Trying not to overwhelm a young kids with a stack of books is a good start. As John Polias points out we need to support the students. If I throw the Welsh town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch at you and say read it. With that name of the Welsh village just over the Menai Bridge, you can unlock the language of Welsh, possibly. Possibly not. That’s where teachers must support every textbook handed to a student. A book without support may scare away passion for reading.
“Our song escapes, on little silver discs; Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits” – Reflektor – Arcade Fire
Too long, didn’t read? Well, that’s half the problem. If reading isn’t for you, how can reading be for someone else? And if reading isn’t a habit, how can writing be a skill? I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Am I a sinner? Maybe. It just never grasped my attention. So, now, I believe that I must read it. I won’t read it alone though. I’ll make it my personal mission to read it with each and every student of my grade four class. Maybe they have read it in Chinese. Maybe in English. But, how did they enjoy it? I’m sure we can enjoy the magical journey as one. If you don’t have one of the Harry Potter books to hand and you want to dig on into the wider world of English, check out the below sites:
The Economist (Johnson blog: named after Samuel Johnson, who made dictionaries. This blog is all about the use and misuse of language, with its ripple effects)
FreeRice.com teaches and tests vocabulary whilst donating 5 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme.
Language Log. Simply put, Mark Liberman, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a linguist with love of words. His Language Log website is a ticker-tape of blogs, posts and news all relating to language. Expect popular culture, controversy and history.
Dictogloss: a language learning technique. Used to teach grammatical structures. The teacher prepares text examples that need to be studied. The teacher reads it. The students just listen. No pens allowed. Next the students lift up their pens. Notes must be taken. By forming small groups, students can work together to reconstruct the text example using their knowledge, notes and teamwork. Afterwards reflection comes as students compare their various versions. With respect to my Grade 4 class, they tried this task twice and each time, they sailed the rough seas. Grade 4 are very capable sailors when the going gets tough. For extra experience, add a Powerpoint presentation whereby the words (and phrases) that you feel need noting pop up as you read it. It can reinforce student ability. After students become familiar with the dictogloss methods, take away the option of teamwork. First try paired working and then ask the students to work solo. This can also promote confidence.
“Fate goes ever as fate must.” – Beowulf, Seamus Heaney
As students move through schooling they will encounter different registers with full expectation to engage them accordingly. The use of nominal groups to enhance and even make complex text can be explained and shown to be more than useful. The dictogloss is there to be used as a tool, but not for exactitude. How many things change through new interpretation and retelling? Language and writing, like speaking can all be about exploration. As teachers we are captains of ships and we must wake our hypnopompic students with a sparge of word play. Our fuliginous fluffy funambulist of a feline with a wonderful temperament must exercise its vibrissae to avoid any pother as it balances on the tenebrous tightrope of life. With that, I end my braggadocio writing.
“Fate will unwind as it must!” – Beowulf, Burton Raffel