Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why Teach 7th and 8th Grade Students Nouns?

The ability to determine that a basketball is a common, singular, concrete noun seems like a relatively useless parlor trick.  Though there appears to be little value in knowing this, I believe that this is fundamental to learning the more valuable skills of understanding sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar.  When I was in high school, I remember struggling to write papers.  Not because I didn't have any good ideas to express, but because my understanding of sentence structure was poor enough to limit my expression.  Since I didn't have mastery of punctuation, I found myself rewording my ideas just to fit in the few templates that I had mastered.  For this reason, I believe it is important to teach students about parts of speech and, ultimately, how to clearly and fluently express their ideas in writing.  So I start at the beginning with my 7th and 8th grade students.  I figure that if they don't know how to recognize nouns and verbs, they won't learn to identify subjects and predicates.  If they don't learn to identify subjects and predicates, they won't be able to understand clauses and punctuation rules.  I never presume that my job has been done for me, so I reteach my students nouns, even if they claim to have mastery.  I find that teaching my seventh and eighth grade students more advanced information about nouns seems to raise their interest and the value of my lesson.  Therefore, I show them concrete and abstract nouns.  I teach them when one should add just an apostrophe an no "s" to show possession.  And I fuse these concepts along with the basics into one quick lesson.  After we have covered the basics, I have them practice identifying nouns with these noun worksheets, and then we move on to verbs. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Teaching Idioms

Teaching students to understand idiomatic expressions is complicated by two factors.  First, idioms are often cliched examples of other figurative language techniques.  For example, "Reminding Tommy to stay in his seat was like beating a dead horse."  This idiom is actually a simile.  The only distinction that this simile has is that it has been used so frequently that it is now cliched and, hence, an idiom.  The second complicating factor is that most elementary students have had little exposure to the many antiquated idioms floating around in the language.  If a student cannot recognize that an expression is commonly used in language art large, that students will have difficulty identifying (and understanding) idioms. 

However, I do not believe that these complications are insurmountable.  The best way to prepare students to recognize and interpret idioms is to give them exposure to idioms.  Given enough leading context, thoughtful students should be able to decode the most cryptic and archaic idioms.  Fortunately, I've gathered many of the commonly used idioms and presented them into double-sided worksheets with which students can gain more practice identifying and interpreting idioms.  Visit my website now for free idiom worksheets.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Teaching Students to Identify Themes

One of the more challenging skills that I've attempted to teach my students is how to identify the themes in stories.  In the past, I defined the term, provided an example or two, and asked students to identify the theme in a story.  Then we would hit a wall.  Some students would readily locate and express challenging themes in texts, and some just wouldn't be able to wrap their heads around the concept.  I would become frustrated, and we would move onto something like homophones, homonyms, and homographs.  But this year I had something of a breakthrough: by teaching students theme in the more understandable terms of "the big world lesson" and "the small world of the story," I was able to reach more of my students this year than in the past.  Using this new method of teaching theme, I resolved some of the problems that my students were having with understanding theme.  The last challenge I faced was giving students enough practice with identifying themes that they would reliably identify themes in texts.  Immediately after learning theme, students need more practice identifying themes than one story can provide.  So while we attempted to identify the theme in each text that we studied as a class throughout the year, I found it useful to compile very short stories into theme worksheets, where students would read examples, identify themes, and explain their answers.  I hope that these methods and resources will help your students to better identify themes in texts, and thanks for paying attention.