Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In the Ongoing Search for Words

Down With the Word Search: Up With the Creativity

One of the popular time fillers I’ve seen in Language Arts classrooms is The Word Search.

If a student finishes his work early, or is getting one-on-one reading help, or is annoying a teacher, in grades two through twelve a teacher might say, “Here, work on this.”

I’ve watched kids working on these puzzles. The ones with a flair for language might enjoy them for awhile. Or they might humor the teacher. Perhaps they are trying for extra credit. Students with language difficulties struggle, need hints, look bewildered, and scrunch up their eyes as though they are hung over. Some eyes tear up.

You know what I mean, although you might know them by another name.

A square is filled with letters. Look at them up, down, across, and on the diagonal to see what words you can find and bind them up with the pencil for a lasso.

Why are students doing word searches in word jumble form? Beats me.
What these students are not doing, I believe, is improving their reading skills, their spelling skills, or their writing skills. I have no research to back this up. I haven’t bothered to find any. Likely we can all find research to back up any position we decide to take.

Phonics vs. Whole Language not the issue here

Ignoring the phonics vs. whole language debate for the moment, the following occurs to me. A student who has difficulty spelling, decoding, or keeping up with the grade level reading achievement of his classmates should not be trying to find words that are set up in a different pattern than reading itself. It’s not a useful skill. Why waste time on it? To play Tournament Level Boggle?

• We want students reading English to be eye cruising from left to right.

• We want them to be able to clump word groups together, to see complete thoughts, and to pick out details from context.

• We want them to look closely at the words that are already there.


Visible, not hidden.

An Alternative Word Search

In working with your children or students, a more useful activity might be to have them find words within words. At least they (the kids and the letters) are heading in the right direction.

Example: danger without the “d” is anger. Asking a child to read the word danger and asking what he reads when the “d” is covered up is more worthwhile.

(*Phonics fans will note that the “g” sound changes during this, one of the reasons that phonics is useful half the time, context matters the rest of the time.

Context = Whole Language Approach.

A five year government study came to the conclusion that a combination of techniques helps people learn to read.

“Duh,” said most teachers, figuring the money spent on the study could have bought a lot of new books, computers, and software.)

Be an Original Teacher

The concept of helping students practice finding words within words can be used by any teacher who feels like creating flash cards, original work sheets, or captions for pictures and cartoons.

NEW and Inspiring

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Richard Wilbur, has written a number of puzzle poems that could enrich and entertain younger learners plus expand the vocabulary of older ones. It also reinforces the idea that language and meaning change dramatically by the adding or subtracting of even one measly letter.


Inside a taxi, why do we find an ax?

It’s because cabs are also known as “hacks.”
A Pig in the Spigot is a charming illustrated book, supposedly for ages 9-12. Students much younger and teachers much older will find something to love and work with in this book.

“Emphatic has a hat inside it. Why?

Because some people, if you doubt them, cry

"By golly, if I'm wrong I'll eat my hat!"

What could be more emphatic, friends, than that?”

—Richard Wilbur

Today, May 16,  is National Flash Fiction Day in the UK.  Lots of words.  Some wayward.   My contribution was called:

 Bondsville Story  1958

It wasn't the burn holes in his shirts, the eyebrows reduced to stubble sometimes, or even that Angelo spent too much money on steel toed boots because he kept giving barely used ones to the Portuguese men who wore theirs with soles flapping, open to the possibilities of molten splatter that got to her.

This got to her.

"You cough sand.  That can't be good. Find something else," Bea said.

"Something else, like where something else?  You tell me where and I will go, but I tell you, clean jobs don't pay.  Dirty jobs.  That's what pays, so I do it."

"I want a baby but not a baby without a father."

"We cannot have a baby without the money from the dirty job."  He clenched his fist.  Just the left one.  The left one had the power for the work.

"Nancy from church said Luis almost lost control of the ladle, and almost got poured with the liquid.  The metal.  He would have died burning."

"Yeah. Almost. But Luis showed up at work today, so that's that. Also, I am stronger than Luis. And I pay attention."

“You want supper?  I made a lamb stew. I can heat it back up.”

“Nah.  I’m too tired to eat. But you are so good to try.  I thank you.  Tomorrow I will eat it before work.”

“Twelve hour shifts.  Why do they do this? Until midnight now?”

“The war.  They make the money from the war.”

Angelo's left arm always felt numb.  Using a twelve pound sledge hammer to shake the inside sand from the castings made his left arm bulge like Popeye’s.  His normal arm felt OK.  His normal arm could shake hands. He often slept in the big padded chair when Bea went to bed.  He could ease his left arm onto the high side of the one cushioned chair, which let it rest. The huge arm looked separate; it had a life of its own but Angelo had to carry it along if he wanted to keep the job.  If he went to bed, with one wrong restless turn over, the arm would sometimes fall out toward the floor, and jolt him awake like a heart attack.

He looked around the three room house.  Some wooden chairs, a table, a bed, and dishes.  This is what they owned.  He’d fixed up a tossed away pipe in the bedroom to hang clothes.  What else could he do?  He could try to ignore the left arm.  He could go to work. Once a week he could go to church.  Angelo could drink two beers on the day of rest.  He could go make a baby. He should go now to bed.  For her.

Bea heard him move, stand beside her, cough hard for a time, and sigh to suck in air. She felt his hand stroke her cheek.  The normal hand. Angelo was on his knees beside her.  He kissed her breast through the blanket.  He gently pulled away the blanket and found her nipple so ripe for kissing.  He could feel Bea moved slowly aside so he could climb in. He could feel how ready he was to make the baby.  He tried to get up, pushing himself with the right hand while still kissing her, wherever he could find to kiss, he would kiss. 

However, he could not feel the left hand around her throat, squeezing too hard.

The left arm belonged to somebody else.

Welcome to Twisted Tales; a  collection of flash fiction which explores the twisted existence of love, family and relationships as characters seek a sense of self and identity.
It is filled with a mixture of stories, some which will make you think , others smile and others reach for your security blanket.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Making the Smart Moves

Hands on learning. Competition.  Focus.   Sitting in one's seat for long periods of silence.  Problem solving.  Being able to see the Big Picture.  Low tech.  Budget friendly. 

About the only thing this proposal requires, is thinking inside the box.  All sixty-four of them.

Proposal: All public schools, starting in grade three through middle school, should offer chess as an activity within the school day.  In high school, it becomes an elective taken for academic credit.  I'm not talking about a Chess Club.  I'm talking about a class open to any interested student, even the ones who sign up only because they need the credits.  Making it a required course would ruin it, as most requirements make a certain percentage of any student body cranky.  As an after school activity it becomes less likely that students in large numbers will be able to avail themselves of this dramatic learning experience.  In high school, athletics, jobs, social lives, the benefits gained from learning the discipline of chess can and has been proven in a variety of studies.

In fact, at the risk of inciting insurrection, I would like to see any parent who feels dismay at the intensive pressure of their schools to teach to the test, or thinks that standardized tests are not helping their child learn, to do the following:

Opt out.  Opt out in favor of kids spending practice test time learning chess.  Chess playing teachers may be thrilled at the idea.

It's just a suggestion, but one I've been thinking about for quite awhile.

More on that subject can be found on the following link: