Friday, November 9, 2012

The Coolness of Words

One of this week’s experiments: students compiling a class vocabulary list. I’ve already made the first list for the unit, but students are reading the text with one eye open for additional unknown words that we discuss each day. We learn so much more than just vocabulary--I learn what holes some students have, we all get intrigued by the connections between words, and the overall level of awareness of the coolness of language goes up.

Me: Let’s look at that word abattoir in context. Any guesses as to what it could mean?
Student A: Like a slaughterhouse?
Me (extremely impressed because that was the exact dictionary definition I had had to look up): Exactly!...Any other words?
Student A: What is butt-chur?
Me: Butcher?
Student A: I suppose so... (still looking blank and expectant, registering no recognition)
Me: You know slaughter but not butcher? Well, then that’s a good thing to ask...

When one student asked about arsenal, others asked whether arson and arsenic were related to it. I had to tell them I didn’t know--and then I went home and researched. Did you know that there is no connection between the words? They have three completely different etymologies. And Monday we’ll have a mini-lesson on etymology

A student asked about surveillance, and another student burst out with a connection: “Like surveillance camera!”

I even began getting questions the other way around: “What’s a word for ‘showing too much optimism’? Optimizing?” After an explanation of what optimizing does mean, the student was still waiting for a good word, so I promised to think about it. The best I’ve come up with so far is naivety or deluded, but that’s not quite it. 

So if you think of a better word for “showing too much optimism,” let me know. I have a student to report back to on Monday.

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