Earthquake was literally a great learning experience

August 25, 2011|Lisa Prejean

The first day of school at Heritage Academy, where I teach, was uneventful. The students were excited to be back to see their friends. The teachers handed out books and assignments. We talked about all the wonderful things we would learn this year. The day ended and we went home.

We were all set for a repeat the next day.

However, there was a slight hiccup in that plan.

The second day, which for the students at our school was Tuesday, began relatively the same as the first. We taught. The students listened. We answered questions. The students did their work.

They were diligently listening to their teachers and working on all their assignments. The morning was routine, and we were getting a lot done. That's such a satisfying feeling, for both the teachers and the students. (Even though the students probably wouldn't admit it.)

We took a break for lunch and then resumed class.

I had finished teaching a lesson on the difference between denotation (the dictionary definition of a word) and connotation (the tone of a word and the feelings that accompany it).

We were moving on to literal and figurative language.

I explained that if we read a story about a fire-breathing dragon, that is a literal use, because the dragon really is breathing fire. (Well, in our imaginations at least.)

But if I say the principal was so mad he was breathing fire, that's a figurative sense. No one really breathes fire. One of my students spoke up and said, "Unless he's a stunt man ...."

There's heckler in every crowd, er, classroom.

The students were focusing on the exercises in their books.

Then the earth shook. This was not figurative usage. We actually felt the ground move.

My first thought was that the boys in my class had dropped something really heavy. I whipped around and looked at them over top of my glasses. They were all in their seats, but they looked a little stunned.

They had felt it, too.

Soon afterward, we were told that the movement we felt was an earthquake.

In Western Maryland? How odd.

Ironically, last year we went through training to learn what to do in the event of a tornado. I knew how to lead my students if a twister set down.

But an earthquake? Trying to remain calm, I stood and steadied myself to see if I could feel any other movement.

Thankfully, all was still.

What happened next was quite interesting to observe. As they changed classes, the students began asking questions of each other and of their teachers.

"Did you feel it?"

"Where were you and what were you doing when it hit?"

"Have you heard how big it was?"

"Where's the epicenter?"

"Wonder if anyone was injured."

"Didn't we learn about faults in earth science class?"

I felt like I was surrounded by student journalists. What a great opportunity to learn.

Not that I want to have that much excitement every day, but I doubt if my students will have to strain their brains when asked for examples of figurative language.

This was one lesson that literally shook them up a bit.

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

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