In fifth grade, Sister Mary McCauley introduced the eights parts of speech to us as “building blocks.” She cut out a different colored block of construction paper for each speech part. Throughout the school year, we learned what each block represented and its use in sentences.
To activate our brains we’d started, as I posted last Sunday, with memorizing forty-five prepositions and using them to make up story-sentences. Thus we had already used nouns and verbs together. Soon our more formal training in their use began.
We started with nouns and ended with interjections. In between we met brightly colored blocks for pronouns, verbs, adjectives and articles, adverbs, and conjunctions. Of course, we’d already memorized that list of prepositions.
Sister used these blocks to build sentences on the bulletin board. By the end of the school year, we twenty-six fifth graders had learned the power of the eight parts of speech and their syntax. We had also mastered sentence parts: subjects, verbs, objects, and complements.
With our blocks we stacked words in different ways and found what we could build with them. Here are the activities I remember as we began to construct with our building blocks:
· Sister gave each of us a colorful magazine picture. We listed in our Big Chief Tablet all the persons, places, and things we saw. We used these pictures throughout the year as we learned each new part of speech.
· Next, we took our tablets home and wrote in them all the nouns we saw. The next day, we shared our lists and got ribbons for outstanding nouns. The noun block went on the bulletin board. All alone.
· We learned additional nouns, going from general to specific: Vehicle, car, sedan, Chevrolet. Animal, cat, tiger, Tony the Tiger. Toy, game, Monopoly. House, room, kitchen, pantry. Furniture, footstool, hassock, ottoman.
· Each of us pantomimed doing something while the rest of our classmates called out each action they saw us perform.
· We took our Big Chief tablets home and wrote in them all the verbs/actions we saw. The next day we got ribbons for our most descriptive actions; zoom, whittle, stumble, twist. Sister pinned the verb block to the right of the noun on the bulletin board. Thus, we saw first visual of the most common syntax of the English language.
· Once again we learned more specific synonyms: Walk, amble, meander, stroll, plod, hike. Run, dash, sprint. Smile, laugh, guffaw, chortle, giggle, tee-hee, smirk. Read, peruse, scan, skim.
· Next we built simple sentences with our lists of nouns and verbs: Cats jump. Mothers read. Dads whittle. Dogs protect. Cars zoom. Children play.
· Each of us pantomimed a noun and its action before the class: book falls, foot kicks, hand raises, lips whistle, face smiles, eraser erases, chalk writes.
· We returned to our tablet pages of nouns and added a one-word description of each: Furry kittens jump. Busy mothers read. Tired dads whittle. Yellow dogs protect. Racing cars zoom. Happy children play. The adjective block went on the bulletin board to the left of the noun.
· We did the same for our list of actions: Furry kittens jump high. Busy mothers read aloud. Tired dads whittle easily. Yellow dogs scratch frantically. Racing cars zoom nosily.
· Sister added the adverb block to the right of the verb. We now had four different colored blocks in a line: Adjectival modifier, noun subject, verb predicate, and adverbial modifier.
· The list of assignments and activities went on throughout the year: block by block, step by step, a progression of learning.
· Ultimately, we got to sentences with a modified subject, a modified verb or action word, a noun used as a direct object, and a number of prepositional phrases used to describe the nouns or the verb.
· To do all this, Sister would usually start by pantomiming a scene that became a sentence. We might end up with the following: In her frayed black habit, the tired teacher accidentally dropped the dog-eared geography book on the wooden desk by the window.
Now we were ready for sixth grade when we would begin to study the various types of sentences and learn more about punctuation. In seventh grade we’d diagram these sentences and locate misplaced modifiers. It was there that syntax began to make sense.
Is this how you learned the parts of speech and how to build sentences? When did you first begin to realize the power of words? And how has that early training affected your writing? Have you had to forget a few things?!?!?
All photographs from Wikipedia.