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Jabberwockying

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ESL and EFL students oftentimes use their dictionaries too much when reading a text. Instead, it is important to teach these students to try to understand the meaning of a vocabulary item from the context of the passage. The following activity is a fun and eye-opening activity that intermediate to advanced students seem to benefit from as well as enjoy. The activity seems to work the best when the students are working in pairs.

First, ask students to volunteer to read one verse each (my experience is that several students enjoy reading aloud to the class) without telling them which poem they will read from. Next, give the students a copy of the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. Immediately after the students have received a copy of the poem, they will begin to search in their dictionaries for all the nonsense words used in the poem. That's when you explain that many of the words are nonsense and made up by Carroll. Thus, they will not be found in the dictionary. Next, tell the students (working in pairs) that they will have to figure out the general meaning, semantics, of the poem and replace each nonsense word with words that do exist. Hence, they will rewrite the poem so that it makes sense. Moreover, the words have to carry a meaning appropriate for the poem as well as be grammatically correct; these words must adhere to the general rhyme pattern of the original poem. Thus, the students must try to figure out the meaning of several vocabulary items from the context only, and they must use a thesaurus in order to find words that will meet all the requirements. This will take about an hour. (Using an internet thesaurus is popular among the students.) When this is done, have the students read their modified "Jabberwocky" poems aloud to the class. This will bring out many laughters and interesting vocabulary items that can be assigned for homework. It also stimulates discussions about semantics and the clues the context of a text can give when encountering an unknown vocabulary item.

Bjorn Norstrom
Tempe, AZ
Bjorn.Norstrom@asu.edu

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