Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday's Torch Story

Students learn what they care about.
~ Stanford Ericksen

Last week’s topic was modifying adjectives to make comparisons. It turns out that there are roughly 4 rules (with all the usual exceptions) in English.

Short adjectives (typically meaning one syllable), get an “er” added to the end.
Tall --> taller

Of course, if the adjective already ends in “e”, you just add an “r”. I’m not actually counting that as a separate rule… ;)

If the last 3 letters of the short adjective happen to follow the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant, then you double the last consonant before adding the “er”.
Big --> bigger.

If the adjective ends in “y” (now typically making it two syllables), you change the “y” to an “i” before adding “er”.
Pretty --> prettier.

Finally, long adjectives (two or more syllables & not covered above) are modified by adding the word “more” in front of them.
Intelligent --> more intelligent.

And there is a set of common exceptions where the word changes completely:
Good --> better
Bad --> worse

The system may not seem bad to native speakers, but keep in mind that there is basically only one rule in Spanish – add “more” (or “más” as the case may be) in front of the adjective. (Although they do have a small set of exceptions covering some of the same words as are in our set.)

So, I started by going over the rules, with examples. And then my 2 volunteers staged a kind of mock debate on Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner. Each took a side and they alternated making statements like “The Road Runner is faster than Wile E. Coyote” and “Wile E. Coyote is sneakier than the Road Runner.”

When they ran out of comparisons, one of my students shouted out that the Road Runner is tastier! The class got quite a kick out of that! :)

To be fair, “tastier” was one of the adjectives that we had used in the earlier drill, but it was good to see that it had stuck and he was able to put 2 and 2 together to express his sense of humor. :)

Then I wanted to have the class conduct their own debate. I thought a lot about the subject of the debate. I didn’t want to stir up strong emotions or controversy, which left out political and religious leaders. My friend Ana suggested that I use characters from a popular Hispanic show, El Chavo del Ocho (see picture above).

Ana assured me that everyone in my class was likely to be familiar with the show, even though I have students from a variety of countries (Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, and several countries in South America).

Sure enough, the picture brought smiles of recognition to everyone’s face. The class self-divided into the women (5) against the men (4), and I assigned the main character of El Chavo to the men and another small boy, Quico, to the women.

I gave them 10 minutes or so to prepare their adjectives and then we started the “debate.” We got lots of standard adjectives and I was happy to see that all 4 of the rules were represented. Some of the comparative statements included:

more envious
more arrogant
more creative
more aggressive

I was also amused to see that both teams picked some of the same adjectives. For example, the men claimed that El Chavo was thinner than Quico, but the women claimed that Quico was thinner than El Chavo. If both sides used the same adjective, then I crossed it off and didn’t count it for either side.

My favorite story comes from one of my quieter and weaker students. She wanted very much to say that Quico cries more than El Chavo. Unfortunately, that’s a verb, so I proposed that she say that Quico is whinier than El Chavo. We looked up whiny in the dictionary, so that she could see the Spanish word and make sure that it was acceptable.

While looking over that entry in the dictionary, she happened to notice a nearby entry and its Spanish translation: "whimsical.” She got very animated and declared that Quico was more whimsical than El Chavo.

She was so excited by this comparison that, when we were having our debate she couldn’t contain herself and, as I was writing terms on the board, she came up to the front of the room and practically took the marker from my hand and wrote it on the board herself. (This from a woman who sits in the back and usually won’t even speak in class.) Then she proudly translated it for the rest of the class. It was great to see her so excited and proud! :)

In the end, the 5 women generated 14 unique comparisons and the 4 men generated 9 unique comparisons, so I pronounced the women the winners of our "debate". The men promptly grumbled that it wasn't fair, as they were outnumbered... ;)

It was a fun class and I'll reinforce the material with the addition of superlatives (thin, thinner and thinnest) in an upcoming lesson.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for these posts. You are such a creative teacher and I find this to be such an insightful view into the difficulities into integrating into a new culture.

Lois K