Monday, September 16, 2013

Agents of Fortune

Still thinking of the past these days ...

In my senior year of high school, I bought a couple of tickets to a rock concert as a gift to my boyfriend. The headliner was Bachman Turner Overdrive. They were late and their show was ... bleh. But the warm-up act was some no-name bunch of guys called Blue Öyser Cult and we were wowed! Their album, Agents of Fortune, went on to be part of the soundtrack of my freshman year at Virginia Tech.

The album title came to mind because last week my lesson plan called for discussing suffixes of agency with my higher level learners.  Bottom line: a verb can often be changed into a noun which describes the performer of the action (the agent).  We mostly use -er to form these nouns, but verbs with a Latin heritage are likely to end up with -or.  Examples are: painter, writer, reader, creator, actor.  (My plan included touching on -ist and -ian because they would probably come up during brainstorming, but the focus was to be on the -er/-or ending.)

click to view a few pages of this book
Here's where "fortune" came in: when I arrived and began unpacking for class, several learners were already waiting.  We meet in a library and one of the learners had selected some children's books for reading practice.  I have no idea what motivated her choices, but as we were chatting I picked one up and paged through it, discovering that the text was completely devoted to the -er suffix! Out went any planned remarks ... most learners had arrived, so I held the book up and turned the pages and volunteers read them aloud.  We paused for discussion when unfamiliar language turned up ("puddle stomper", for example) and when we were finished, small groups discussed what the language had in common from page to page: a noun phrase in the form of "object verb-er". Actually, one page ("A make-believe critter") did not fit the form and this worked out to be a good comprehension check and point of further discussion. All of this lead naturally to partners thinking up more examples and we then examined the text from our last lesson, as I had originally planned.  How fortunate that this book found its way into our class!

This was not an unplugged lesson.  I'm committed to a rather fixed plan with this group through October.  But I just couldn't pass up this opportunity (see Thornbury's "A is for Affordance" here).  It was also nice to acknowledged and accept the initiative of the learner who brought the books into the classroom, and it encouraged noticing -- primarily of the affordance the book offered for learning, but also of the form in the book itself.

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