Maybe it is……In class today we were going over what to do when we come across words we do not know. At such times we enter the vocabulary emergency status. That means doing some CPR to figure out the words we do not know, that constitute a vocabulary emergency.
C is for Contest Clues (look at the words around your mystery word)
P is for parts of a word (use roots and affixes to help you)
R is for resources (the dictionary and the thesaurus are there if you still don’t know what the word means)
And “R” is where it got interesting.
Me: So as we have a couple new students in the last month, let’s be sure we all know how to use CPR in a vocabulary emergency.
New Student: (writing in notebook) Says aloud, “What’s a thesaurus?”
Me: “I was waiting for you to ask that, as I pass out my paperback Webster’s thesauri to each cluster of students.
Rodrigo: “I know what it is. Thesaurus is a dinosaur.”
We all laugh and then I realize how really true this is. I mean, really, “Who uses a paper thesaurus anymore?” It does sound like a dinosaur, and the paper thesaurus has become as extinct as any dinosaur. In hopes of finding some relevance in what I have just done, I admit to the antiquated nature of the book I have just passed out, but I continue to insist that it is a useful tool to enhance their writing and help with elaboration in the writing process.
Virginia: “Yes, but Mrs. D. nobody is going to use that.”
Me: “What do we call words that have the same meaning?……Yes that’s right, synonyms.” And this is a good place to find them. Also, admittedly, you could also go online for your thesaurus. If you go to google and enter Thesaurus.com, you will have access to a much larger more complete thesaurus and it will be easy to look up words and their synonyms.” (Convinced that I am very up to date, and that I have moved with the times, I now have a satisfied smile that I have shared the older version of the thesaurus with my students, but also escorted them into the 21st century.)
Nothing could be further from the truth. They have escorted me into the 21st century. One of the students says, “Yeah, all this thesaurus stuff is how they looked for words in the 1900’s.” (I have never felt so old, I haven’t really focused on the fact that none of the students I teach, even those I taught recently, now in high school, were born in this century. She continues, “Now, we just type the word and then synonym, and we’re done.” Ding Dong, bells going off…. As truth echoes before me…. Yes, this is how it’s done now. But, I still have a quiet satisfaction of knowing that they at least all now know that the thesaurus is the home of the synonym. It even houses some antonyms. And, it’s good to know that the internet is providing its information based on its embedded thesaurus.
As we finish this lesson, I think about the resource questions that will appear on their upcoming end of year state test. I ask who has seen an encyclopedia before? Two students have, for everyone else this is another dinosaur. Well, maybe the books are…. But we marched down to the library anyway to put them in our hot little hands. I wanted everyone to hold one to see how it worked, the numbered volumes, each with its own letter or letters. We lined up with them according to which one we were holding. We shared facts from them.
I began the demonstration by pulling the “A” book out of the set. I opened the book to a random page and told them I would read what I found. Too funny for words, I opened to the word “Aging” It began in the first paragraph with “Aging is the natural process by which we make room for the young by….” Then, I decided to read from a new page and we moved to animals. One of the students said he had never seen paper thesauri anywhere else before, except for my class. Perhaps that moved me closer to the extinction and aging category. Animals were a welcome break. Then they all found something to share and we talked about how you can find the Encyclopedia on line now too. Yet, I wonder if it would be as much fun. With a book in hand, you turn the pages, see images and other headings catch your attention. When you look online, maybe you will not be as likely to stray onto other topics.. The tactile pages invite you to explore and to ponder. We close and return our World Book Encyclopedias to their lonely home on the library lower case bookshelf, where they are seldom visited.
I think back with fond memories to the Encyclopedia Britannica of my youth. It was sold in the grocery store chains, because it was so commonly used, and in such demand by families. A new volume was introduced every few weeks, giving families the opportunity to buy the whole set, one volume at a time, making purchases convenient and affordable. Then every year, an update came out that you could buy. There was no online, no Amazon, just the big bin at the grocery store and the yearly updates at the check-out counters. In our home, this was an important book. My mother read the entire encyclopedia, form end to end. I don’t think it was intended to be used that way. It was just for looking things up, individual pieces of information. That’s what I told her. She ignored me. She was hungry for knowledge. She never had the educational opportunities that I did, and she was filling that gap with everything she could absorb and the encyclopedia was the gateway, to a bigger world.
I guess now, by comparison, the internet is the gateway to that bigger world. Whether you travel by, boat, plane, train, or car, you can arrive at the same destination. But, is the trip the same? Is it only about arriving or do we savor experiences along the way? I don’t believe the world of paper books, newspapers, informational resources, will ever disappear entirely, and I hope I am right. Because the voyage is different. There is a role for both the legacy of the “1900’s” and the innovation of the 21st century. They are all part of life’s literary voyage.