There’s a Word for That

One thing students don’t realize (until you point it out to them) is that language isn’t static. Like any other discipline, it continues to evolve. One case in point is the July 2009 announcement from Merriam-Webster regarding the addition of new words to its dictionary:

Hardworking word-lovers everywhere can now learn the meaning of the word staycation (“a vacation spent at home or nearby”) along with nearly 100 other new words and senses added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. America’s best-selling dictionary offers its new 2009 entries in its updated print edition and online at Merriam-Webster.com.”Our language evolves in many ways,” said John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster Inc. “As we’ve seen from our Open Dictionary feature on Merriam-Webster.com, people enjoy blending existing words, like combining ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ to make staycation. Staycation is a good example of a word meeting a need and establishing itself in the language very quickly. Our earliest record of use is from 2005, but it seems to have exploded into popular use in 2007.”

“Another example of this kind of creative wordplay from this year’s list,” said Morse, “is frenemy: one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy. But, in addition to these ‘portmanteau words,’ we have added new words from more predictable categories, like science, health, technology, and popular culture, which have also seen widespread use across a variety of publications.”

Many of the new words reflect the importance of the environment (carbon footprint, green-collar), government activities (earmark, waterboarding), health and medicine (cardioprotective, locavore, naproxen, neuroprotective), pop culture (docusoap, fan fiction, flash mob, reggaeton), and online activities (sock puppet, vlog, webisode). Other words added include haram, memory foam, missalette, and zip line.

What Merriam-Webster fails to admit is that our language changes daily, and new words don’t wait to be officially recognized. So rather than accessing the Merriam-Webster online dictionary for new terms, word-lovers are better served by sites such as Wordspy and Urban Dictionary.

Wordspy takes on a recent word such as vegangelical and not only defines and parses it (n. An extremely zealous vegan who is eager to make other people believe in and convert to veganism; blend of vegan and evangelical) but also traces it to its earliest citation (in this case, to the blog The Smoking Vegans in 2005).

Wordspy is a fun site to browse, and readers are welcome to comment on entries and suggest new words as well. Its biggest strength is that it offers citations for all the words it lists. But the question must be asked, “Just because someone uses a word, does it become a word?” To put it another way, “Are all neologisms created equal?” Sure, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, and Lewis Carroll coined words all the time, but do the rest of us carry enough clout to do the same?

Enter Urban Dictionary. Users enter words they’ve created or recently heard, and readers vote the words up or down. Rather than attempting to ajudicate, Urban Dictionary simply allows other users to enter their competing definitions for those same terms or phrases. Often you’ll find that multiple readers submit similar definitions, and even provide the sources for you to confirm the facts. “The time,” for example, is submitted by two readers who cite its origin in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Both agree that “the time” is a euphemism for intercourse.

Urban Dictionary is fun to read for its spirited arguments. I also discovered that the tags attached to each word keep me reading from one word to another. While teachers will appreciate that some readers actually try to spread knowledge about our language (see the posts about Catch-22), you should be warned that some submitters use language that is inappropriate for children, and for this reason Urban Dictionary is likely blocked in your school.

A third site for neologisms is Buzz Whack. While the words listed here are clever and even familiar, this site lacks the interaction and attempt at scholarship found in the previous two. But it’s worth a look, and you might even find a resaon to like it.

How can teachers make use of these sites? Certainly as add-on dictionaries. But I’d say just alerting students to neologisms will make them more aware of the fact that these words are springing up all around them in an attempt to name new phenomena (sexting is one such unfortunate term which needed to be coined). Students can collect and share these, and even be challenged to create their own (an easy task if they choose to create portmanteaus, ala Lewis Carroll).

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Recommended Sites, Strategies and Structures, Teaching Topics

Reading Strategies: A How-To for Teachers

At Thinkport you’ll find a pretty awesome series of online guides, videos, and tutorials aimed at making you a more effective teacher of reading strategies. What’s most amazing is that this site is actually aimed at middle school teachers, that oft-forgotten cadre of souls wedged between elementary and high school.

So what’s Thinkport? From the site:

Thinkport is the product of an on-going partnership between Maryland Public Television (MPT) and Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education (CTE), two of the most trusted names in Maryland education.

Thinkport aims to help teachers teach more effectively, inspire students to learn, build bridges between schools and homes, and fulfill Maryland Content Standards for education. We’re focused on harnessing technology in the service of education.

Well, I’m not from Maryland, but I absolutely love the Reading Strategies resources offered here. You first investigate discrete reading strategies through videos, interviews, and examples, and you’re then given printable aids to help incorporate those strategies in your classroom.

You then see these strategies in action, assisted by a teacher’s guide.

Finally, you see how reading skills can best be implemented using a number of online virtual field trips available from this site. Although many relate specifically to Maryland’s history, others can absolutely be used by anyone.

Lots to see here for both novices and pros!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Wind Beneath Their Wings

My corny and equally enigmatic title is meant to point out that even our most creative and original thinkers were in some way influenced by the work of others. How was Columbus influenced by the Bible? Who were Stephen King’s muses? In what way are Britney Spears and Alfred Hitchcock artistically connected?

Infloox is a website which attempts to show how influential people were influenced. While it’s still very much in its beta stage, you can see from its How It All Works page that the site relies upon reader contributions to connect influential people and works to the not only their influences, but to whom or what they’ve influenced.

So we learn that John F. Kennedy was influenced by Winston Churchill, alledgedly reading every word that the British Prime Minister had ever written (click on the detail link beside a person’s name to see the connection, versus a a new topic window for that person). Okay, that one’s not shocking.

But in another example, we learn that Beowulf was read by Tolkien, who was a close friend and University of Oxford colleague of C.S. Lewis, who in turn was an influence upon Sarah Palin. So ultimately Sarah Palin’s thinking is descended from an ill-smelling, obnoxious monster of the cold North whose fame came from eating men alive. Insert your own joke here.

Most influences are credited to their sources, and some are additionally linked to forums. The sources aren’t always easily checked, however, so I wouldn’t hang the hat of your dissertation on this site alone. When I tried to investigate both references to Treasure Island’s influence upon Steven Spielberg, for example, neither would yield a result. Others did, however, pan out.

So how to use this site?

  • First of all, it’s amusing to browse. Each page offers some browsing suggestions in a side bar to the right, and I found myself frittering away a surprising amount of time linking from one person and idea to the next.
  • Secondly, if you’re teaching any of these same famous persons, you might find a kernel of insight here to be explored in more depth. I taught The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for many years, so I knew of the Tolkien/Lewis connection, and I’d read quite a bit about their dialogues concerning their respective series (Lord of the Rings and Narnia). But this may be news to another teacher. C.S. Lewis was additionally influential to J.K.Rowling, and careful readers can pick up on specifics. The four Pevensie children, for example, are poster children for the four houses of Hogwarts; in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe they not only take on the charcteristics of the houses’ symbolic animals, but at some point in the novel they are each overtly linked to those animals. For those who teach this novel, check out the related note-taking chart.
  • Third, you might like your students to discuss why certain people in history may have been so influenced by one of their predecessors. For example, which single famous person influenced Cervantes, Einstein, Columbus, Napoleon, and Kissinger?

So check out Infloox and also take a gander at their blog. I’d love to hear your own thoughts for ways to use this site!

6 Comments

Filed under Authors and Illustrators, Recommended Resources, Recommended Sites

Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing

From the Dartmouth Writing Program at Dartmouth College, some great thoughts on Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.

By no means is this is a stylish, high tech site, but if you look further into some of the links at the top, you’ll find even more great advice on assessing student writing.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Resources, Recommended Sites, Strategies and Structures

Under What Rock Have I Been Living?

Under what rock have I been living?

That’s a question I really need to ask myself if I’m just now discovering Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Yes, she’s an author, and I do recognize a couple of her titles (and the others look promising!). But somehow I missed that she has created this awesome site (absolutely no hyperbole intended) containing hundreds of original teaching guides for picture books, middle grade and YA books, and poetry. And yes, my fellow frugal teachers, they’re all there for free. All Tracie asks in return, if you like what you see, is that you buy a copy of her book. Trust me, even if you buy all of her books, you’re getting the better end of the deal! Free resources and her critically acclaimed titles for your own library.

So in an atypical move for me, I’ll shut up now. I’ll let Tracie’s web site speak for itself (and you can check out her blog as well). Thanks, Tracie, for your terrific resources!

1 Comment

Filed under Authors and Illustrators, Recommended Resources, Recommended Sites, Strategies and Structures

Lights! Cameras! Notes!

I’ve earned a reputation among my students. I never let them watch a video without good purpose, and I often require that notes be taken in some form.

Winn Dixie 

So here’s a pretty generic note-taking sheet that I’ve used in the past with Because of Winn Dixie. Email me if you’d prefer it in Word format; for some reason that didn’t translate well to the Scribd site.

You might also be interested in the Movie Worksheets web site, although at this point in time the resources there are sparse. If you’ve created any movie study sheets, feel free to add them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recommended Resources

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

What makes a good children’s book? I’d suppose that’s a tough question to answer, otherwise Microsoft would have already written Newbery Notebook 1.0 and Caldecott Creator for Windows. A good children’s book is far from formulaic.

It seems, however, that Little, Brown Books has done a pretty good job of nailing some of the more prominently recurring traits of good children’s books (both novels and picture books). See the whole list at the Upstart Crow Literary blog (a cool place to peek behind the curtain of the writing and publishing biz).

What use is this list to the average classroom teacher?

  • It may help you understand why some books win with children while others fail. The list explains, for example, why a common literary motif of many children’s novels (Harry Potter, Lord of the Flies, Narnia, Holes) is the removal of the protagonist (and other main characters) from adult supervision and control.
  • The individual attributes may help you create some connections between otherwise unrelated texts. One successful exercise with every novel, for example, is looking at how a character grows or changes over time. I’ve used this approach with Number the Stars, Because of Winn Dixie, Crash, Flipped, and Island of the Blue Dolphins to name just a few. Check out this sample recording sheet.
  • The list can be used a fairly accurate indicator of a book’s overall value when teachers must choose just two or three titles for study. Many teachers, for example, complain that their boys just don’t “get into” books which feature strong female protagonists. A book like Poppy, however, which features a female animal protagonist, is somehow more readily embraced.
  • Teachers can use the list as a reference for writing minilessons. If these are the traits that make good children’s books work, and if these are the attributes with which children have the most first-hand experience, then perhaps many of them could inform student writing as well.

How else do you see putting this list to work for you? Email me or leave a comment below!

(This same post also appears at my Teach with Picture Books site).

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Recommended Resources, Strategies and Structures