Students receive a drop of 'aha'

October 18, 2012|Lisa Prejean

"Aha moments" are the best thing about reading good literature.

Those moments occur when connections are made, memories are stirred and the intellect is stimulated.

I see these moments every day in the classroom, and I cherish them.

English class is so much fun. Sometimes even my students agree with me on that.

They especially like it when they feel smart. (Don't we all?)

As I was introducing "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" recently, I asked my students to finish this adapted quote: "Water, water, everywhere, but not a ...."

Several of the students finished with "drop to drink."

"Aha!" I said. "You've heard the quote, but did you know it was from this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge?"

Some of the students looked at the books in their hands, read the cover and started turning the pages.

"What page is that quote on?" one student asked.

I gladly supplied that information and watched the students turn to the page and scan the stanzas. A few smiled when they found the quote, which actually is "Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink."

A connection was made.

I was very happy. It is not easy to teach poetry, especially poetry that was written in the late 1700s. Anything that piques the slightest interest from students is welcome.

Then one student asked, "Why is 'Rime' spelled that way?"

When the poem was first published in 1798, "rhyme" as we know it could have been spelled as "rime." In fact, some historians think it is more historically accurate to use "rime."

(Try telling that to the National Spelling Bee judges.)

I remember a book of rhymes that my grandmother had. I always read it when we would visit, so the "rhyme" spelling was instilled in me from a very early age. Apparently, many of my students had similar early childhood experiences. They did not want to accept the "rime" spelling.

Aha! A memory was stirred.

In Coleridge's poem, a sailor kills an albatross and suffers the consequences of his crime. The albatross bird represents good fortune and the beauty and worth of all creatures.

When the Mariner shoots the albatross, he violates all living things.

Because of Coleridge's poem, the term "albatross" can mean a burden or source of distress. This is the origin of the phrase "an albatross around one's neck."

That explanation is certainly more than enough to stimulate the intellect of students and teachers alike.

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

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