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October 5, 2011

When Grammar Meets Art: A Noun-as-Image Lesson

By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 3–5

    Grammar lessons were a harrowing experience for me as a child, a necessary evil that I gritted my teeth through so I could get on with the fun business of writing. Until recently, I avoided teaching grammar, too, with “dog-ate-my-lesson-plan” excuses. However, over the years, I’ve noticed that my students have been suffering from the lack of explicit instruction in the conventions of our language. At last, I’ve decided to embrace grammar and to teach it my way. This means that grammar lessons involve a lot of skits, kinesthetic games, and yes, art projects.

    Here is a lesson plan for teaching types of nouns through a partner exploration and a whole class art project. Let me show you just how fun grammar can be!

    This lesson has two activities that I taught over two days, but you can condense the activities and do them in one day. However, make sure to leave time for the whole-class share at the end of each activity — I think this is the most valuable part of these lessons.

    Activity 1: Exploring Types of Nouns

    Traditional grammar lessons often hover around the knowledge tier of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We ask our students to memorize, recall, describe, and recognize. Yuck! How about requiring our students to categorize, compare and contrast, explain, and investigate while learning grammar? In this activity, partners compare lists of sorted nouns and then create their own definitions for each noun type.

    I decided that I wanted my students to investigate common, proper, abstract, concrete, and collective nouns. You can easily adapt this activity to also include plural nouns, possessive nouns, etc.

    I began the lesson by displaying a tree diagram of the types of nouns on my SMART Board. You may download the Smart notebook file for this lesson, or download a PDF of the Presentation for this lesson.

    Students with prior knowledge about nouns shared their own definitions, and I pointed out that common and proper nouns “share a branch,” and that abstract and concrete nouns “share another branch” on the diagram. “What are these types of nouns?” a student asked. “Ah, that’s what you have to figure out!” I explained.

    Then I introduced the investigation: “Noun detectives, you are going to get five lists of words for each of these five types of nouns. Working with a partner, you will need to look carefully at the lists to figure out the differences between each type of noun.” I paired the students up and sent them off with this worksheet: Exploring Nouns Worksheet PDF.

    After pairs of students discussed the noun lists and formed their own theories about the types of nouns, I instructed the students to add the words from the word bank to the lists of noun types. I circulated, challenging students to defend their sorting choices. Finally, I asked the students to write their own definitions for each type of noun in the bottom section of the worksheet.

    Finally, we gathered on the rug and the students shared their discoveries about noun types. The students compared their sorted lists of nouns while explaining their rationale. At the end of the discussion, I added class definitions for each type of noun to the chart on the SMART Board.

    Activity 2: Noun-as-Image Project

    Jake with his WSJ book review and his word art.

    Jake with his WSJ book review and his word art.

    I have to thank my student Jake for the idea for this activity. While skimming the Wall Street Journal, Jake found a review of a new art book called Word as Image by graphic designer Ji Lee. He clipped the article and brought it to school to share. While Jake’s friends gathered around the clipping, marveling over the word art, a light bulb flashed in my brain — here was the perfect extension activity for our noun lesson!

    The supply list for this project is easy:

    •  4" x 6" index cards
    •  Black permanent markers (Sharpies) or felt tip pens

    First, I showed my students several of Ji Lee’s Word as Image designs from his website, www.pleaseenjoy.com. Ji Lee makes visual designs out of words in ways that reflect their meaning. (Also check out this animated teaser video of some of the designs in the book. Please note that some of the images in this video and on the website may not be appropriate for your students.) As I displayed each image on my SMART Board, I had my students turn and talk about what they noticed. I chose different moderators to lead the class discussion for each image, and the moderators probed the class with questions from our Discussing Art Chart.

    I explained to my students that we were going to make our own collection of word art — a Common-Noun-as-Image gallery. I asked the students to brainstorm interesting common nouns and then I chose one to model the project by doing my own art-making. As per Ji Lee’s book, the challenge is to create an image out of a noun, using only the letters in the word, without adding anything else.

    The students planned six designs using this brainstorming worksheet They chose their favorite designs to revise and then drew them on cardstock (index cards) with marker.

    To share their artwork and encourage close observation, we played a game of “Art-I-Spy.” For this game, we arranged all of their designs on the classroom rug and gathered around. One student described a piece of artwork using objective terminology, and the others looked closely to spot the mystery work. This helped the students closely analyze and describe the art without resorting to a discussion of favorites.

    Extensions and Resources

    To reinforce common and proper nouns, check out this worksheet from Scholastic Teachables: Common Proper Noun Printable.You may want to have students struggling with the concept do further review with this printable: Identifying Nouns Printable.

    For a noun computer center, send your students to "Noun Dunk" or "Noun Rats" to practice identifying common and proper nouns. Or have your students try the game "Clean Up Your Grammar" to practice sorting nouns and verbs.

    For more ideas about teaching grammar with engaging, student-centered activities, I find Grammar Activities That Really Grab 'Em! by Sarah Glasscock, Grammar Study: Helping Students Get What Grammar Is and How It Works by Janet Angelillo, and Practical Punctuation: Lessons on Rule Making and Rule Breaking in Elementary Writing by Dan Feigelson really helpful.

    Grammar lessons were a harrowing experience for me as a child, a necessary evil that I gritted my teeth through so I could get on with the fun business of writing. Until recently, I avoided teaching grammar, too, with “dog-ate-my-lesson-plan” excuses. However, over the years, I’ve noticed that my students have been suffering from the lack of explicit instruction in the conventions of our language. At last, I’ve decided to embrace grammar and to teach it my way. This means that grammar lessons involve a lot of skits, kinesthetic games, and yes, art projects.

    Here is a lesson plan for teaching types of nouns through a partner exploration and a whole class art project. Let me show you just how fun grammar can be!

    This lesson has two activities that I taught over two days, but you can condense the activities and do them in one day. However, make sure to leave time for the whole-class share at the end of each activity — I think this is the most valuable part of these lessons.

    Activity 1: Exploring Types of Nouns

    Traditional grammar lessons often hover around the knowledge tier of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We ask our students to memorize, recall, describe, and recognize. Yuck! How about requiring our students to categorize, compare and contrast, explain, and investigate while learning grammar? In this activity, partners compare lists of sorted nouns and then create their own definitions for each noun type.

    I decided that I wanted my students to investigate common, proper, abstract, concrete, and collective nouns. You can easily adapt this activity to also include plural nouns, possessive nouns, etc.

    I began the lesson by displaying a tree diagram of the types of nouns on my SMART Board. You may download the Smart notebook file for this lesson, or download a PDF of the Presentation for this lesson.

    Students with prior knowledge about nouns shared their own definitions, and I pointed out that common and proper nouns “share a branch,” and that abstract and concrete nouns “share another branch” on the diagram. “What are these types of nouns?” a student asked. “Ah, that’s what you have to figure out!” I explained.

    Then I introduced the investigation: “Noun detectives, you are going to get five lists of words for each of these five types of nouns. Working with a partner, you will need to look carefully at the lists to figure out the differences between each type of noun.” I paired the students up and sent them off with this worksheet: Exploring Nouns Worksheet PDF.

    After pairs of students discussed the noun lists and formed their own theories about the types of nouns, I instructed the students to add the words from the word bank to the lists of noun types. I circulated, challenging students to defend their sorting choices. Finally, I asked the students to write their own definitions for each type of noun in the bottom section of the worksheet.

    Finally, we gathered on the rug and the students shared their discoveries about noun types. The students compared their sorted lists of nouns while explaining their rationale. At the end of the discussion, I added class definitions for each type of noun to the chart on the SMART Board.

    Activity 2: Noun-as-Image Project

    Jake with his WSJ book review and his word art.

    Jake with his WSJ book review and his word art.

    I have to thank my student Jake for the idea for this activity. While skimming the Wall Street Journal, Jake found a review of a new art book called Word as Image by graphic designer Ji Lee. He clipped the article and brought it to school to share. While Jake’s friends gathered around the clipping, marveling over the word art, a light bulb flashed in my brain — here was the perfect extension activity for our noun lesson!

    The supply list for this project is easy:

    •  4" x 6" index cards
    •  Black permanent markers (Sharpies) or felt tip pens

    First, I showed my students several of Ji Lee’s Word as Image designs from his website, www.pleaseenjoy.com. Ji Lee makes visual designs out of words in ways that reflect their meaning. (Also check out this animated teaser video of some of the designs in the book. Please note that some of the images in this video and on the website may not be appropriate for your students.) As I displayed each image on my SMART Board, I had my students turn and talk about what they noticed. I chose different moderators to lead the class discussion for each image, and the moderators probed the class with questions from our Discussing Art Chart.

    I explained to my students that we were going to make our own collection of word art — a Common-Noun-as-Image gallery. I asked the students to brainstorm interesting common nouns and then I chose one to model the project by doing my own art-making. As per Ji Lee’s book, the challenge is to create an image out of a noun, using only the letters in the word, without adding anything else.

    The students planned six designs using this brainstorming worksheet They chose their favorite designs to revise and then drew them on cardstock (index cards) with marker.

    To share their artwork and encourage close observation, we played a game of “Art-I-Spy.” For this game, we arranged all of their designs on the classroom rug and gathered around. One student described a piece of artwork using objective terminology, and the others looked closely to spot the mystery work. This helped the students closely analyze and describe the art without resorting to a discussion of favorites.

    Extensions and Resources

    To reinforce common and proper nouns, check out this worksheet from Scholastic Teachables: Common Proper Noun Printable.You may want to have students struggling with the concept do further review with this printable: Identifying Nouns Printable.

    For a noun computer center, send your students to "Noun Dunk" or "Noun Rats" to practice identifying common and proper nouns. Or have your students try the game "Clean Up Your Grammar" to practice sorting nouns and verbs.

    For more ideas about teaching grammar with engaging, student-centered activities, I find Grammar Activities That Really Grab 'Em! by Sarah Glasscock, Grammar Study: Helping Students Get What Grammar Is and How It Works by Janet Angelillo, and Practical Punctuation: Lessons on Rule Making and Rule Breaking in Elementary Writing by Dan Feigelson really helpful.

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