Identifying nouns

From another blog I got a class exercise which proved useful in an unexpected way. A third party gave it to me, so I don’t know whom to credit.

Exercise:  The Unknown Blogger first chose a brilliant description by John Steinbeck, from Cannery Row:

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and shorehouses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.”

The Unknown Blogger then created a template from this description, see below.  I asked my students to create a description of the university campus, but it could be any place well known by all the students, using the template.

(Place) in (City) in (State/Country) is a (noun,) a (noun), a (adjective + noun), a (2-word noun), a (noun), a (noun), a (noun), a (noun).  (Place) is the (past tense verb, used as an adjectiv) and (past tense verb), (noun) and (noun) and (noun) and (2-word noun), (adjective + noun)_ and (adjective + noun) and (2-word noun), (noun) of (noun expressing materials the previous noun is made of), (noun,) (noun) and (noun), and (2 adjectives + noun), and (noun) and (noun.)

They must use the past tense of verbs as adjectives, two-word nouns, and so on, and in so doing, they are actively accessing their knowledge of what a noun is and how it behaves, instead of doing a passive identification or comprehension exercise. I could see the lightbulbs going on all over the two classes I did this exercise in. One student lamented, “I’m running out of nouns!”

It’s a brilliant exercise, and I thank the Unknown Blogger profusely. If I find out who he or she is, I will give credit on this blog.



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