Year Nine English LESSON PLAN 5:
PERSONALISING THE WORDS
DEFINITIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
Duration: 40 minutes
Language variation and chance
Interpreting, analysing and evaluating
The following are two games-based methods for students overcoming the problems of unfamiliar words and contexts. It is recommended that students work on short excerpts of text in order that they build confidence in the efficacy of the approach. It is not necessary that they have read or achieved an understanding of the text in order to progress these exercises.
Students will need access to online or hard copy dictionaries. Dictionary.com is useful because it provides both current and C16th definitions of words. Shakespeareswords.com and opensourceshakespeare.org are also useful sites for advanced searches.
Clearing the room of the normal desk chair structure is helpful for active components of the exercises and helps in promoting a mindset that is different to traditional pedagogical experiences.
If it is possible to photocopy sections of the text to be worked on, using 14 font size and double spacing it provides plenty of space for students to write on the page. This clearly establishes that the text is a working document and requires student’s notations and mark-ups. The lack of supplied notes, definitions and contemporary translations also encourages students to initiate their own process of interpretation.
GAME 1: MAKING MY MEANING OF THE WORDS
Rationale: The purpose of this game is to provide a simple shared and playful method of a self-driven process of incrementally solving the problem of understanding Shakespeare’s words. Importantly, by using the words in their own familiar context, students are beginning the process of shifting ownership of the words from Shakespeare to themselves. By using their own IT devices in a peer-validated process students are also affirming their own resilient process of problem-solving.
Method: Working in small groups or pairs, students scan through a page or two of text and simply circle every unfamiliar word. Students should be encouraged to challenge each other for the meaning of words. This establishes a collaborative work method and a shared problem to be solved. The old adage, “If you can’t explain it, then you don’t know what it means”, should lead to a range of words being circled.
Once students have circled all the words they then use approved IT devices to look up the meaning of the words together. Once they have satisfied themselves as to the meaning of the word they need to alternately use that word in a sentence in a context of their own experience. To add a playful irreverence to the game, students can challenge each other with different contexts. Example: “Something about football.” “Something about homework.” “Something about dating.”
The game takes considerable time, but by working through the challenge of finding the meaning for each individual word, the enervating macro focus of understanding the whole text is broken down into achievable steps. While they are playing with the words, students are actually getting prepared to read the text.
GAME 2: PERSONALISING THE WORDS
Rationale: Having found definitions for the words and established a brief familiarity by using the words in common sentences, students need to establish a connection between their own experience and the meaning of the words. From a linguistic point of view, students need to establish personal experiential connections to the symbol that is the word. This exercise is an adaptation of a process called ‘Imaging’, created by the world renowned Royal Shakespeare Company voice coach, Cicely Berry. It is a broad ranging process of connecting layers of personal associative experience to spoken words and thoughts. It is particularly useful for students to explore their own associative connections to words and concepts that have an historical or cultural context beyond their own. For example, ‘households’ in terms of Romeo and Juliet does not just mean a domestic family structure in our own contemporary context. It consisted of everyone wearing the same colours or recognizable attire; a demonstrated loyalty to just that one group of people; a hierarchy of command with everyone aware of their role; and a fierce commitment to protecting other members of the group - in modern contexts it starts to have similarities with sporting teams or street gangs or schools. Students can use this exercise to make associative bridges with unfamiliar contexts.
Method: Students work in pairs or small groups. The choose a word that they wish to explore – one of those for which they have discovered a definition. Person A simply says that word and then speaks out any other word that immediately comes to them. Person B then repeats the root word and then speaks out any word that comes to them. Person A then takes their turn again, and so the process continues….
Students can move onto the next word when they feel they have plumbed the depths of possible association with a particular word. A minimum of ten iterations per word should be encouraged.
The game can be varied by getting students to develop a rhythm, maintained through tapping or hand clap games or even dance phrases. The more physically active students are when playing this game the more active and playful will be their associations. Importantly, physical activity assists in making the word a part of their experience, rather than just a symbol to be remembered.
TIP: If students feel self-conscious and fear saying words which make them seem stupid or reveal something about themselves – initiate a couple of rounds of ‘saying completely stupid things’; or ‘speaking Leprechaun (or the current trending movie or online character)’; or ‘only using words about vegetables’ …. Anything to bring the fear into the room and so prove it to be conquerable.
By the end of the exercise students have overcome most of the obstacles to reading their section of Shakespeare’s text!