Teaching is about more than just remembering 'stuff'

January 13, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

What do these four words have in common?

George Bush.

White House.



Let me give you a clue: person, place, thing, idea.

Each of these words is a naming word, a noun.

Remember how you learned that definition in English class?

Here's a refresher: A noun is a person, place, thing or idea.

Pretty simple, eh?


Apparently it's not simple enough for some school systems who are adopting an "alternative" method of teaching English.

Thinking that it is too difficult for children to remember the standard definition for a noun, this curriculum condenses the definition to "stuff."

The curriculum, Studio Course, had been used in Denver and was adopted this school year in Baltimore.

It seems that scores on standardized tests were dismal, and the answer to that problem was to give the students something they could understand.

In essence, the standard was changed so today's generation could relate.

To me, that's backward. The standard should remain the same. Teaching methods might have to differ to capture and hold a child's interest, but let's not redefine our structure to accommodate kids raised in front of a screen.

Let's set the bar high and help them grasp it.

How can we do that? Reach a child where he is. Ask questions that make him think.

For example, if a child is struggling with the concept of a noun, ask him to fill in these blanks:

1. What is your best friend's name? ______________

2. What is the name of your city? _______________

3. What is your favorite sport? _________________

4. What is the character trait you most admire in a friend? ________________

A local boy might respond: John, Hagerstown, soccer, honesty.

Aha! He has listed four nouns.

After completing such a simple exercise, his confidence will build and he'll be ready for the next task.

What is the next task? Glad you asked.

He needs to know why he's being taught what a noun is.

He doesn't need to know it just because it's on the test. He needs to know it because it will help him communicate his feelings in a more powerful way.

How does that work? A person who knows what a noun is and how it connects to a verb has just laid the first building block to solid writing. If a person can write, he can communicate. If a person can communicate, he can influence.

It all starts with the two parts of a sentence - the subject and the predicate.

The simple subject is the main word that tells the who or what of the sentence: John is going to the store.

Who is going to the store? John.

John is a noun.

Most simple subjects are nouns.

The predicate shows action or state of being. In the sentence, "John is going to the store," the predicate is "is going."

In the Studio Course curriculum, predicates or verbs are defined as "what stuff does."

Perhaps the writers of that curriculum think it is too difficult for a student to understand that a predicate of a sentence tells something about the subject.

The predicate, or verb, shows action or state of being, helps another verb or links another word to the subject.

A student who is struggling to identify verbs can be taught this simple test: Put I, you or it in front of the word that you think is a verb. If the combination makes sense, the word is probably a verb.

For example: I write. I do. I am. (All are verbs.)

I elephant. I blue. I very. (All are not verbs. The first is a noun. The second is an adjective and the third is an adverb.)

When the exercises are made fun and simple, the standard doesn't have to change. The path to the goal might curve a little differently, but the outcome doesn't suffer.

And neither do our kids.

I am thankful for the English curriculum published by A Beka Book that I'm allowed to use in my classroom. Some of the information included in this column is found in the teacher's guide of this curriculum. For information, go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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