Those Pesky, Irritating, Obtrusive Adjectives
by John Pearson
Last week, I did a lesson on adjectives with my ESL (English as a Second Language) kids. This was Part 3 in the popular series: Math Guy Attempts to Explain English Language Parts of Speech.
Part 1 was Nouns. The kids seem to have a pretty firm grasp on that one. They can readily identify a word as a person, a place, or a thing. I'd like to think that this is aided by the fact that I'm such a stickler for "units" or "labels" in math class. If we are adding 13 toy cars and 18 toy cars, I won't let them tell me the answer is 31. I insist on the complete answer of 31 toy cars.
I'm always asking them, "What are we counting here?" so they've grown pretty adept at recognizing the important nouns in our word problems.
Part 2 of the lecture series was Pronouns (Nouns' lazy cousins). Again, the kids had very little trouble recognizing and using words like I, you, we, and they. Some of them mistakenly interchange "he" and "she," but that is a rather common problem with English Language Learners, and I know a few teachers who mix up those words as well.
"He is taking the class to lunch now."
"Um, I'm not sure Mrs. J would appreciate being called HE."
After the smashing successes of Nouns and Pronouns, I thought Adjectives would be easy, worry-free, fun, and delightful. Instead, it turned out to be troublesome, confusing, irritating, and headache-inducing.
I tried to follow the lesson plan from the Teacher Edition of our textbook which called for writing a passage on the board and asking the kids to identify the adjectives. After writing the passage, I began by reviewing nouns with the class. Then I told them that adjectives are words that describe nouns, words that say how they look, how they feel, or how they are.
One class didn't have too much trouble with the concept. The other class looked like they were at a Dane Cook concert and didn't understand the jokes.
The passage I had written on the board began with the sentence, "The tall tree stood on the little hill." I asked the kids to tell me the first noun they saw. After a few moments of blank stares, a couple of hands rose into the air and correctly identified "tree." However, nobody could tell me what word described the tree. A few incorrect guesses were "stood," "hill," "tree," and "green." Green was two sentences later, and it described leaves.
I had a bit more luck when I asked the kids to point out words that specifically described color, then size, then shape. In our discussions though, I still had several nouns and verbs listed among the describing words.
Since the kids are struggling, we will continue to work on adjectives. This of course means that we may never get to my favorite part of speech -- the Interjection.
John Pearson is a third-grade math and science teacher in Dallas, Texas. He has degrees in mechanical engineering from Duke University and Texas A&M, so most consider his math abilities adequate enough to teach nine-year olds. He is also the author of Learn Me Good (Lulu, 2006), a funny, fictionalized account of his first year in education. Read more at www.learnmegood.com