Friday, February 27, 2009

A Word or A Paragraph a Day and You're On Your Way

In an attempt to consolidate (bring together) my creative output into one space, I am putting a few of my posts from my wikispace into this blog. This way I can expose my readers to some ideas that may have gotten buried in the wiki.

What follows is a sample of what can be done with a SINGLE WORD, such as 'sure.'

* What does 'sure' mean? What are some synonyms of this word? (e.g., certain, confident, inevitable, yes!) Can you create four different sentences using 'sure' to display the meanings of 'certain,' 'confident,' 'inevitable,' and 'yes!'?

1. "I'm sure that the meeting is tomorrow at 10 a.m. because it's posted on the bulletin board."
2. "She is very sure of herself, but she's not overconfident either."
3. "It's a sure thing that we will die some day."
4. If someone asks if you want to play volleyball after school and you do, you can say, "Sure!" (meaning "yes").
5. "I sure wish someone would answer my question."

* What part of speech is 'sure'? It's an adjective, except in example #4 and #5 where it is acting as an adverb. Can you come up with some antonyms of the adjective form of sure? (e.g., unsure, speculative, uncertain, questionable, skeptical, indefinite, unreliable, etc.)

* What are some other forms of sure? For example, do you recognize the verb forms 'insure', 'ensure', and 'assure'? What do they mean? How do we use those forms? What are some related noun forms of the adjective sure? (e.g., sureness, insurance, assurance)

* Where can you go to find the answers to the above questions? There are many online resources (e.g., online dictionary and thesaurus), but you should have your own copy of a dictionary and thesaurus, which are what I used for this demonstration. These two items should be in the toolkit of any language learner, including native speakers who want to improve or check their English.

* What else can you do after playing with the word 'sure'? You can start paying attention to uses of all these words that have related meanings or forms. Look at this excerpt from a 'Science News' article.

Here is a READING ACTIVITY (TWO PARAGRAPHS) for you, to give you an idea of how you can expand your vocabulary in a meaningful way after you've focused on specific words. Keep your eyes open for any kind of article that might have one of the vocabulary words or expressions that you learned.

Below you will find an excerpt of an article from 'Science News' (Vol.165;02/07/04) about 'Unsure Minds.'

* Before you start reading, what do think the article will talk about? What is meant by an 'unsure' mind?

* Now start reading, and don't stop for words you don't understand. Don't use a dictionary. Pay attention to words related to the title and the word 'unsure.'

'Unsure Minds, People may not be the only ones who know when they don't know'
by Bruce Bower

A cat crouches on a kitchen floor, gazing up at a glass of milk high on a counter. The animal's muscles tense. Its tail bobs from side to side like a metronome. The distance from floor to counter is a long way to cover in a single feline leap, perhaps too long. With a slightly cocked head, the cat emits a tentative meow. Finally, the animal springs for the counter. Half a world away, African monkeys moving through a stand of trees spot a few chimpanzees in the distance. The monkeys freeze, staring intently at the powerful apes, which sometimes kill and eat monkeys. Staccato chattering erupts in the monkey troop as the chimps move closer. Suddenly, the monkeys scatter.

As these two cases illustrate, situations arise in which animals act as if they need to make decisions but are uncertain what to do. From a scientific perspective, though, it's hard to know whether cats, monkeys, or any other creatures truly experience a sense of uncertainty. The capacity to think about one's own thoughts has long been regarded as a trait unique to humanity. In this view, only we creatures with a gift for gab can truly appreciate life's uncertainties and wallow in self-doubt.'

* Some words related in meaning to 'unsure' have been highlighted in the reading. Do you recognize them? Good.

* Do you agree with the last statement? Are humans the only animals that can feel uncertainty? If you disagree, how do you know that your dog or cat, for example, isn't sure about what to do in a situation? Is it a momentary hesitation that tells you Fido is 'unsure'?

* Next, reread the two paragraphs for other vocabulary that is new. Action words make writing come alive. What are some action verbs? (notice the words written in italics) Even if you didn't understand the meanings of the verbs, could you guess the meanings by the context?

* There are some other verbs that have to do with the way an animal looks at something or sounds that they make. Can you find them? Can you guess what they mean?

* Finally, choose a couple of the words that you think you understood and double-check the meaning with a dictionary. Then look up two or three more which you couldn't guess at all. After you find the meanings of the words, ask yourself if it's one you might use in the future. If so, then add it to your stack of index cards or an alphabetized list of words.

As I hope you can see, you can greatly expand your vocabulary and reading comprehension by examining just one or two paragraphs a day. You can use this technique or strategy with any type of reading (magazine or newspaper articles, reading textbook, online report, directions for using a new camera, etc.). This strategy also gets you into a topic or subject and thinking in English. Try to read about a variety of topics/subjects, not just sports or entertainment. On the Cambridge exam or the TOEFL, you could be asked to read about, discuss, or write on any subject.

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