BLTC Press Titles

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The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Language teaching in the grades

by Alice Woodworth Cooley


Tell (or read) the story, and recite (or read) the poem to the children so as to make it most effective in moving and molding self-expression. The well-told story will kindle stronger response than the story read aloud, though the latter has its value and should not be entirely neglected. The poem recited makes stronger appeal to the listener than the poem read to him. There is also value in training to reproduce what is read silently. But the teacher cannot too strongly emphasize the thought as first stated, viz: that the appeal to the ear is most effective in stimulating thought and feeling and in shaping its expression. To be a good reader, and to have his silent reading affect his own use of language, the pupil must be trained to hear the words he sees. To cultivate this habit, and the habit of "imagining" in response to words, and to cultivate the habit of assimilating the language of literature through its "ringing and singing in the ear," — these are essential elements in teaching reading and language.

Presenting it as a whole

We have noted the value of short wholes. Give the story or the poem, first, as a whole, without interruption for question, comment, or explanation.

Give it as a whole, because only in its unity does it reveal its great central meaning and its beauty. Give it without comment, because each listener is entitled to the joy of discovery. One little fellow voiced what hundreds have felt when he said: "Please don't stop to explain. I see it all so plain until you stop to explain, and then I get all mixed up." The child is entitled first to his own personal interpretation of the meaning, no matter how crude and faulty. It is the great, vital, essential truth of the poem that we wish to impress. The pupil need see only the pictures vital to this meaning.

Asking preliminary questions

Preface the story or poem by a very few pointed, significant questions, — each an individual problem to be solved. Each should demand the pupil's own individual response to the most significant word pictures, and his own individual interpretation and application of the meaning of the whole story or poem. Such questions stimulate alert attention, keen interest, vivid imagining, memory, interpretative power and desire to communicate to others what is seen, thought, and felt; e.g., the teacher may say something like this: "Each be ready to tell me when I finish reciting this poem: (i) what pictures you see most plainly; (2) what words or lines make you see them; (3) what pictures certain stanzas (or sentences) make you see (word pictures indicated by the teacher); (4) what parts you like best; (5) what the whole makes you think of." These questions may at first be given one at a time, — with discussion after each repeated presentation of the whole. The last question points to the central meaning, but leads to individual revelation and interpretation. When a number of fifth grade pupils said that Sidney Lanier's "The Song of the Chattahoochee" made them think of Longfellow's "Excelsior," it was the best possible evidence that they had grasped the great meaning of both poems.

Explaining comparisons and allusions

If, in the poem to be given, there are comparisons or allusions unfamiliar to the children and vital to the meaning of the poem, prepare for these by story, pictures, or objects. But do not try to turn on all the side-lights. For example: children cannot enter into the spirit of Longfellow's "The Children's Hour," without familiarity with castles, — their turrets, dungeons, and round-towers; while understanding of the allusion to the Bishop of Bingen is not necessary..

Therefore, give the key to the interpretation of the poem in stories of life in the age of chivalry, when a man's castle was his fortress. By pictures, give needed knowledge of the parts of a castle; but make no conscious connection between these stories and the poem. Let the pupils use the key themselves.

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