Synopsis

A debate over the four main parts of speech.

Narrative

Using Disciplined Inquiry to Engage Students

Of all of the amazing skills that students possess, perhaps there is none greater than their ability to argue! Throw a grammar lesson in front of them, and most will tune out immediately. The subject matter simply does not get them excited. But tell your students that the goal for the day is to get into an argument and win, and you might just have them hooked.

The lesson follows a simple structure (Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend). This structure provides an excellent framework for students to engage in disciplined inquiry. Disciplined inquiry consists of three main features: using a prior knowledge base, striving for in-depth understanding rather than superficial awareness, and expressing conclusions through elaborated communication (Newmann, 1996). These parallels will be further unpacked throughout this narrative.

Engage: Using a Prior Knowledge Base

In this lesson, The War of the Words, students are presented with a somewhat unanswerable question, “Which of the four main parts of speech is the most important to the English language?” The lesson, while an excellent review of the four main parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb), serves the greater purpose of helping students improve their verbal communication, debating, and creative writing skills. Ultimately, students will be led to the conclusion that each of the parts play a key role in communication and that no part is more or less important than the other.

To further explore the importance of each part of speech, students are tasked with responding to a series of leading statements, provided in the lesson plan. This front-end engagement piece can serve as a very informal, but insightful, formative assessment. Depending on student responses to these leading statements, teachers will be able to quickly tell if students have a working knowledge of the parts of speech.

Example:

In one sentence, tell me about your dream car. Tell me what it is that you like so much about this car. But I want you to write this sentence without using any adjectives.”

What’s being assessed here is not the students’ ability to effectively write without using adjectives. What is being assessed is the students’ ability to identify adjectives within their own writing and remove them. We are taking a few moments to activate prior knowledge and address any misconceptions that students may have regarding the four parts of speech. If by looking at students’ writing, they have left adjectives in their sentences, it is obvious that they have a difficult time identifying certain parts of speech. This realization will allow the teacher to pause and review basic grammar before diving deeper into the lesson.

Explore: Striving for In-Depth Understanding

In the exploration phase, students will take part in a series of wordplay experiences that will challenge them to rethink the way that they communicate in their writing. This type of wordplay is crucial to developing an in-depth understanding because it takes ideas from theory into practice. We can tell students that descriptive language is the key to effective communication, but until they attempt to communicate without adjectives and adverbs, this reality is mere theory, and not relevant.

From here students begin exploring the power of language in a real-world context. Students are presented with a news article that tells the story of a thief who has been caught stealing documents from a local office building. The article is informative, but not flashy or full of descriptive language. After reading and discussing the facts of the article, students are presented with another article that tells the same story but with a bit more detail. As students read they begin to realize that these two articles are covering the same story, but that the second has included key parts of speech that give the case a whole new meaning.

And now we come to the war! Students have activated prior knowledge. They have explored the importance of using all four parts of speech in communicating ideas. And they have seen first-hand how important facts can be skewed with wordplay in expository texts. They now have the fuel they need to construct their arsenal for war! Students are divided into four groups. Each group will be assigned a part of speech for which they will be defending. They must construct an argument to convince the rest of the class that their specific part of speech is the most important to the English language. Ultimately, although your students will most likely be unwilling to concede defeat, it is important to bring your students to a consensus that all of these parts of speech are of equal importance.

Explain: Expressing Conclusions Through Elaborated Communication

And now we come to the war! Students have activated prior knowledge. They have explored the importance of using all four parts of speech in communicating ideas. And they have seen first-hand how important facts can be skewed with wordplay in expository texts. They now have the fuel they need to construct their arsenal for war!

Students are divided into four groups. Each group will be assigned a part of speech for which they will be defending. They must construct an argument to convince the rest of the class that their specific part of speech is the most important to the English language. Ultimately, although your students will most likely be unwilling to concede defeat, it is important to bring your students to a consensus that all of these parts of speech are of equal importance.

Disciplined Inquiry relies heavily on the learner’s ability to communicate understanding, both for assessment and to give the learner an outlet to express their implicit view of the content. The culminating piece of this lesson requires groups to create a presentation that includes:

  • Both a formal definition of their part of speech as well as a definition in their own words
  • Sample sentences that use the part of speech effectively (highlight the part of speech).
  • A few brief statements used when debating for your part of speech
  • Sample sentences showing how communication can break down without the specific part of speech.

Extend

Lastly, it is imperative that students be able to connect content in the classroom to a real-world context. To extend this lesson to a relevant context, challenge students to observe media such as newspapers, radio, television ads, war reports, etc. Have the report back as to how language affects their everyday lives, from the music they listen to the facts they hear on the news.

Snapshot

1.     Engage

  • Start out the lesson by asking students to journal to the very simple question, “Which of the four main parts of speech is the most important to the English language?”
  • Spend a few minutes reviewing the parts of speech.
  • Given specific parameters for the types of words that they can and cannot include, students will then be asked to respond, in writing, to a series of leading questions.

2.     Explore

  • Present students with the series of simple sentences provided in Handout 1, which are devoid of important parts of speech.
  • Allow students to play with these sentences, adding necessary words, and discuss how basic sentences can be completely transformed by the words they choose to use.
  • Hand out the sample news report, Handout 2, and have students discuss it.
  • Give students Handout 3, and discuss how the article changes with the inclusion of key adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and nouns.
  • Open the floor for discussions about the article. Use the leading questions provided.

3.     Explain

  • Assign each of the students one of the parts of speech, and have them group up according to their assignment.
  • Students will prepare a strategy to convince the rest of the class that their assigned part of speech is by far the most important to the English language.
  • Open up the floor for some friendly debate. The groups must convince the class that without their part of speech, it would be impossible to effectively communicate.
  • Students will develop a brief presentation, explaining their understanding of the role that their part of speech plays in communication.

4.     Extend

  • Ask students to bring in examples of how certain parts of speech play a significant role in how ideas are expressed in the media.