The setting of Phileas’s Fortune is a world where words are produced in a factory and people must buy them to eat in order to speak them. Those who can’t afford expensive words must resort to using dull, boring, discarded words found in trash cans and gutters, or grab a bargain when old-fashioned and useless words go on sale. The main character, Phileas, catches words like butterfly and cherry that are floating in the sky, using them to impress parents or saving them for a special moment.
It is a story that deserves a place on our bookshelf for the contribution it can make to values education. The messages about self-perception, feelings, what we say is not nearly as important as how we say it and the power words have are all important ones.
It is this idea of the power words have that we can use with our students to improve their writing. I was fascinated with the concept of the boutiques and shops specialising in different types of words – discourse, sweet words, big words and so on. What a great idea for classroom use. Students could sort words into their own shops and name them. Which words would you consider to be valuable and cost more? Which words are essential for the piece of writing you are working on? Which words in your story belong in the gutter because they are dull and boring?
Looking for other ideas to grow students’ interest in words? Look up Franki Sibberson’s post for Choice titled Using picture books to spice up vocabulary http://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=828
Other recommendations for using to tantalise students’ taste for words are Miss Allaineous by Debra Fraiser (a look at the trouble pronouncing words incorrectly can cause) and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, A ’not to be missed’ romp through a land of puns and idioms.
Which books would you recommend?
We have been having glorious weather here in Central Victoria. T-shirt weather, not a jumper in site. Perfect for enjoying the Easter break.
However, the weather has resulted in some confusion. Amid the brilliant autumn reds and oranges there is a smattering of Spring blossom. If a picture says a thousand words then this image screams one – CONFUSED.
“It’s always a bit of a struggle to get the words right, whether we’re a Hemingway or a few fathoms below his level.” Rene J. Cappon
Yes I often struggle with finding just the right word but now and again I surprise myself. If we were to do a PMI on the Slice of Life challenge, one of the ‘interestings’ for me is how occasionally a word will end up on the page that I am not even certain I have used in the correct context. (I have had to actually use a resource to check, just like we encourage the students to do) So how do I ‘know’ these words to be able to use them correctly. How did my son know at age 9 to say “Look at that fox skulking home,” accurately describe the way the animal moved off the road.
There is a plethora of research on building vocabulary. Some, like the role oral context has, is not new. The research that surprises me most is that which suggests reading doesn’t play the role I once thought. “In terms of learning new words in the course of reading, research shows that it does occur but in small increments” (Beck, McKeown, Kucan). They go on to say calculations of how many words are learned from reading overestimate what occurs for many students. I must confess this initially did cause a dissonance with my previous thinking, forcing me to dig deeper.
So reading may not be the omnipotent vocabulary builder I once thought it to be. However, I think what reading does is provide us with a reservoir from which we can draw from when writing. It is not enough for us to help students fill their reservoir through direct vocabulary instruction, or wide reading or even immersion in rich oral language, we must also build their capacity to draw from the reservoir when they need to. Pearl Strachan said “…words have more power than atom bombs.” We must help students unleash some of this power.