Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk,
and TEACH on 5/20/99.
In the last couple of weeks, folks on the NCTE-MIDDLE list talked about
projects focusing on the English Language, incorporating segments from the
PBS "The Story of English" series, and other activities that focus on the
ways that we talk, write, and otherwise use words, sentences, and phrases.
I've pulled together a series of writing activities that could accompany
such a block. I've tried to write questions that could be used with most
levels, but you might need to adjust the language for your students.
Additionally, many of the assignments could just as easily be about a
language other than English for instance, you might modify them slightly
for use in a writing across the curriculum project, having students write
about language use in French, Spanish, or German. The assignment could work
for ESL/EFL students as well. Such students could complete a project in
English that focused on some aspect of their first language.
Depending on the age and maturity of your students, you may need to talk
about the kinds of words, phrase, and language uses that are acceptable for
school projects. Obviously, students should avoid anything offensive or
inappropriate; but you'll need to help them understand and define what
"offensive" and "inappropriate" mean in your particular setting.
Posted on the NCTE Web on February 13, 2000.
[Own Your Own Word] For this assignment, you'll make a word your own.
Choose a word that you find intriguing or interesting or mysterious.
Examine what it means, where it came from, how it's meaning have evolved,
when it's used, and who uses it. Become the world's authority on your word,
but remember that you're examining the word not the thing that the word
represents. For instance, if your word is "basketball," I'd expect to read
about Naismith and how the game was named, but I wouldn't expect to read
about Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley.
Once you've become an authority on your word, your project is to write a
paper that explains everything you've learned about the word, to share the
information you've found with others.
ALTERNATIVES: If you'd like a less vanilla project, have your students
write I-Search papers on their work to become word owners. If you're not
sure what an I-Search paper is, take a look at Ken Macrorie's The I-Search
Paper (a Revised Edition of his Searching Writing), Heinneman, 1988. Or you
might have students work on a poster (or series of posters), an
advertisement urging others to use the word, or even a series of web pages.
[Regional Differences] Write a paper that talks about the differences
between the ways that language is used in two different places that you've
visited or lived in. You might examine two different cities or towns that
you've lived in the US, or you might look at a place that you've been in the
US and a place in a foreign country (like Canada). What kind of differences
did you notice in names for things, the level of formality, the sentence
style, and so on? In your paper, talk about the differences and what they
tell you about that ways that language changes and reasons it seems to change.
To get started, you might consider the difference between lightning bug
and a firefly, a biscuit and a cracker, kitty cornered and catty cornered.
[Mythical Word Source] Choose a word or phrase that interests you.
Write a legend or myth that explains where the word came from and what it
means. Usually origin myths explain how a natural phenomenon came to be.
Your writing project is a little different you'll explain how something
came to be named. Your story should be consistent and believable. For
example, it wouldn't make sense for a Sioux warrior to make up the words
"french fries." Be creative!
[Rosetta Stone] Write a rosetta stone for three different dialects that
you know well. The real Rosetta Stone had the same information written in
Greek and in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The discoverers were able to learn how
to read hieroglyphics because they could read the Greek writing and make
analytical comparisons. Create your own stone that compares information in
English to other dialects that you know. Once you've finished creating your
rosetta stone, write a couple of pages that explain the decisions you made
as you created your stone how did you decide which words and phrases to
use? what do you want these words and phrases communicate to someone who
knows only one of the dialects on the stone?
NOTE: you can reduce the assignment to deal with only two dialects if your
students need an assignment that will take less time.
[Influences] Write a paper that traces the influence of a particular
movie, song, book, person, or television show upon language use. Were there
words or phrases related to the source you've chosen that were adopted by
the general public? Who adopted them? How were they used? How long lasting
was their influence? Why do you think they were adopted while words and
phrase from other sources weren't? And perhaps most important, what can you
conclude about the ways that language use is influenced?
[Hobbies] Choose a particular sport, hobby, or similar area that you
know a lot about, and write a paper that explains the language use
associated with what you've chosen. Your paper will be part of a guide for
someone who is new to the sport or hobby. Your section explains specifics
about words, phrases, and appropriate structures that are used.
Specifically, you're describing the ways that someone participating in the
sport or hobby speaks or writes about it.
[Standards] Write a letter to a local politician, school board, or the
editor of a local newspaper about the use of standard English. You can
choose any position you'd like on legislation or initiatives to teach
English only in schools (that is, no bilingual education, for instance). Or
you can choose a position on the importance of learning and using formal
English. Or you might choose an English or language arts issue that has
come up in your community.
[Confusing Usage] Consider a confusing usage or grammar rule choose
one that you've never really understood or one that you often hear or see
being violated. Explain the formal rules behind the usage or grammar rule;
then explain the ways that you typically see the rule followed (or not).
Discuss where the rule has come from, and hypothesize on why it's not always
followed. Think of your paper as a tip sheet that other students could use
when they want to know more about the rule how it works, when it must be
followed strictly, and when it can be relaxed.
[Cliches] Choose a cliche that you know or have heard, and write a paper
that explains its background and history. Where did the cliche come from?
What does it mean? How has its meaning changed over time? Why has it
become overused? What would you suggest to others about when it can be used
and when it should be avoided? Think of your paper as a tip sheet that
other students could use when they want to know more about the cliche.
[Judged by Language] Write a narrative that tells about a time you
judged someone else by the way that they used language, when you saw
someone else who was judged by their use of language, or when you were
judged by the way that you used language. Your paper should describe all
the events that occurred and portray the feelings of the people who were
involved. After reading your paper, readers should learn something about
the conclusions you've drawn from your experience participating in or
observing the event that you've narrated.
Remember that you'll need to use dialogue in your paper check your
handbook for information on punctuating and paragraphing for dialogue.