*Note that I will try not my best to avoid the dark, life-sucking pit of teacher talk as much as possible. Please excuse the slip up.
Today’s English lesson was on animal names as verbs. There were the classics – wolf (as in “Don’t wolf down your sandwich), horse (as in “He’s horsing around”), duck (“Here comes the ball…duck!”), monkey around, bear a burden, fish for compliments…all expressions that seemed, well, just not that important at first. I teach nine-year-olds, many of whom are still learning English. Surely subject-verb agreement should trump crow about? But Curriculum says no (Little Britain reference intentional) and, as the great Curriculum reminds me, students will be tested on this! So away we went into the wonderful world of hawking, leeching and squirreling around.
Just as you would guess, teacher enthusiasm directly affects student enthusiasm for class. So, I prepped myself beforehand to love animal names as verbs. Still, I couldn’t help but shake my head at some of the listed expressions, most of which I’ve never heard. My favorite was to ape, which apparently means to copy. The exact example given was: You’re so aping K-Pop. Only those of you who have been to Asia can fully appreciate how Asian that is. So, hoping students would ape my enthusiasm I set out to write a magical lesson plan.
In the process of designing fun-filled animal verb activities I kept thinking about why English works like it does. Why do we talk about fish when we mean searching? Why do we talk about wolves when we mean eat hungrily? Why should students be learning this? I came up with two reasons. The first is that through using animal names as verbs we observe animal characteristics and apply them to common human behaviors in a way that allows us to describe complex actions in a simplistic manner. The second reason is because it’s fun. After all I’d rather talk about aping than intentionally mimicking the actions of others. In class we discussed both reasons, mostly the second. I figured that even if I’m wrong, it’s a nice change in pace for a nine-year-old struggling against the daily grind of past participles.
After the initial introduction we dove (not dove, the animal) into examining what animal characteristics make these verbs relevant. Well, wolves are messy eaters and apes like to copy so those verbs were easy. But when it came to chicken out I had them stumped.
What does ‘chicken out’ mean, class?
To have feathers!
To have bumpy skin!
To walk funny!
To be tasty and delicious!
All true, but what we were going for was to run away from intimidating situations. It seems we were setting ourselves up for miscommunication. But in the end the whole “language is fun!” dance and song pulled them back in to my literary lair, just as I suspected (cue evil teacher laugh). There were skits to demonstrate the meaning of animal names as verbs. There was a chance to draw posters illustrating what it would look like if we meant these verbs literally (Well looky here, kids that’s one of our weekly vocabulary words!). And last but not least, there was the chance to create your very own, real live animal name verb! Spontaneous cheers erupted!
You mean you turned fourth graders loose on the English language?! Gasps all around.
And so here is what my Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Australian, American, German, Malaysian, Ukrainian, Singaporean, British and Swedish students created (watch out, Oxford Dictionary, they’re coming to get you):
Turtle: to move slowly
Dragon: to be filled with magma
Lizard: to become angry
Cockroach: to be gross
Dog: to love everyone
Cat: to use people for food
Do Duck (as opposed to “to duck”): to follow (example sentence: Stop do ducking that tiger! followed by an illustration of a stick man following a stick tiger)
Pretty bird: to copy what your mom says until she gets mad
Frog: to show up in bathtubs
Sloth: to be so lazy you grow algae on your fur [We just read about sloths in science class.]
Language is always changing. This is the next generation of writers, philosophers and highly esteemed bloggers, friends. You may laugh now, but next year you’ll be aping their vocab, so don’t lizard over it now. In the meantime I’m off to dog who reads this (sort of) travel blog post where I get to practice what I preach and have a bit of fun with words.