Lesson Plan: "Pray, Why Speakest Thou in Such Addled Tones?"
Grade level: 5-8
Time Allotment: Three or four 45-minute class periods
Overview: From the time of the earliest European colonists, the English language -- as spoken in North America -- has been constantly growing and changing. The New England colonists of the 1620s and 1630s used many terms and phrases largely forgotten or unfamiliar now. After all, many of the early colonists would have been contemporaries of William Shakespeare!
In this lesson, students will examine how popular language and slang have changed over the course of American history. Using online and print glossaries, students will develop an understanding of how Americans have adapted their language in different time periods from the Civil War to the 1980s. Next, students will use an online interactivity on the COLONIAL HOUSE Web site to "translate" 17th-century language into 21st-century language. Following their examination of the COLONIAL HOUSE site, students will examine an online primary source document from an early New England colony, and try their hand at writing some "authentic" 17th-century text.
This lesson can be used as a pre- or post-viewing activity for the PBS series COLONIAL HOUSE, or as an independent lesson on early colonization in North America. A basic knowledge of early colonial history and American history is required.
Subject Matter: History/Language Arts
Students will be able to:
From the National Standards for History for Grades 5-12, available online at http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards/.
Historical Thinking Standard 2: The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is also to describe the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like. The student is also able to draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
Historical Thinking Standard 3: The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation; therefore, the student is able to compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.
Historical Thinking Standard 4: The student conducts historical research; therefore, the student is able to formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.
Era 2, Standard 1A: The student understands how diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies. Therefore the student is able to: analyze the religious, political, and economic motives of free immigrants from different parts of Europe who came to North America and the Caribbean; explain why so many European indentured servants risked the hardships of bound labor overseas; evaluate the opportunities for European immigrants, free and indentured, in North America and the difficulties they encountered.
For the class:
Prior to teaching the lesson, review all of the Web sites used in the lesson to make certain they are appropriate for your students. Download the RealPlayer plug-in, available at www.real.com, to each computer in your classroom. (Many browsers have RealPlayer installed automatically.)
Download, print, and copy the Old West, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s Slang handouts for your students. Review the content of each to make certain they are appropriate for your students. These handouts are based on and adapted from the following Web sites:
Old West Slang: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~poindexterfamily/OldWestSlang.html
1960s Slang: http://cougartown.com/slang.html
1970s Slang: http://www.inthe70s.com/generated/terms.shtml
1980s Slang: http://www.inthe80s.com/glossary.shtml
These sites are provided for further instructor information; we do not suggest you send your students to these sites, as slang sometimes contains some rather "blue" language.
When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.
1) Ask your students what the primary language spoken in your school is. (English.) Ask your students if there are other languages spoken in your school. What are they? (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students if the English spoken in the United States is fairly standardized; that is, could an English-speaking person from California effectively communicate with a person from Arkansas? (Probably.) Ask your students if there are differences in the ways Americans use the English language. What are those differences? (Student answers will vary, but should include that there are regional accents, and different slang words and phrases across the country.) Ask your students if they can cite any examples of the different ways that Americans use the English language. (Student answers will vary.)
2) Hold up a computer mouse, and show it to the class. Ask your students what it is. (It's a computer mouse.) Ask your students if they think most Americans would identify the device as a "mouse." (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students how an English-speaking American in the 1950s would have defined the word "mouse." (An English-speaking American in the 1950s would probably have defined "mouse" as a small rodent, not a piece of computer equipment.) Why wouldn't someone in the 1950s know that a "mouse" is a "mouse"? (No one knew the term at the time; the device hadn't yet been invented.)
3) Ask your students if they think the English language in America has changed over time. (Absolutely. You've just proven that point with the mouse.) Ask your students what causes language to change. (Student answers will vary, but should include inventions, fads, changing tastes, the media, etc.) Ask your students if their language has changed during their lifetimes. Are there words or phrases that they once used that they no longer use? Or are there words and phrases that they use now that they didn't a few years ago? (Student answers will vary, but you may want to remind students at this point to "keep it clean.")
4) Explain to your students that one of the fastest ways that language changes is through the use of "slang." As a class, develop a definition for the word "slang." ("Slang" is casual or playful language, made up of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect.)
5) Tell your students that for the first part of this lesson, they will be examining how language -- and slang -- have changed over the course of American history. Divide your students into seven groups of 3-4 students each. Assign one of the following topics to each group: the Old West, the Civil War, the 1920s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s.
6) Explain to your students that they will be examining the slang of the period assigned to their group by utilizing either an online or print glossary of terms from that time. Distribute the Old West, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s slang glossaries to the appropriate groups. Ask the Civil War group to log on to the Civil War Soldiers' Slang site at
http://www.nps.gov/gett/getteducation/bcast04/04activities/activity05.htm. Ask the 1920s group to log on to the 1920s slang site at http://www.aaca.org/bntc/slang/slang.htm. Ask the 1950s group to log on to the 1950s slang site at http://www.mvhsdrama.com/50sSlang.htm.
7) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to examine the glossary of terms for their time period. In their groups, students should write a 5-7 sentence paragraph which MAKES SENSE and correctly uses as many of the terms from the period as possible. Remind students to keep track of a) the number of slang terms from the period they incorporate into their paragraphs, b) the slang terms they use, and c) the definitions of the slang terms they use. Allow students 15-20 minutes to complete this task.
8) After each group has developed their paragraphs, tell your students that each group will be sharing their paragraph with the other groups. As students hear the "slang paragraph" from each time period, they should try to determine what the paragraph means.
9) Working chronologically -- with the Civil War group going first and the 1980s group going last -- ask each group to present their paragraph to the rest of the class, providing no explanations as to the meanings of slang terms. After each group reads their paragraph, ask your students if they can summarize the paragraph using contemporary language. What is being communicated in the paragraph? (Student reactions will vary for each paragraph and time period.)
10) After discussing the possible meanings of each paragraph, ask each group to reveal 1) how many slang terms they included in their paragraph, 2) what the slang terms are, and 3) what the slang terms mean. Continue until all seven groups have presented their paragraphs and discussed their meanings.
11) Ask your students if, based on this activity, the English language in the United States has changed over the course of history. (Your students should agree that the language -- and the way people use it -- has changed over time.) Did they hear words or phrases that are no longer used, or are unfamiliar to them? (Student answers will vary.)
12) Ask your students who the first English-speaking inhabitants of North America were. (Students should suggest that English colonists were the first English-speaking inhabitants of North America.) Ask your students when the first English colonists arrived. (Student answers will vary; the first English colonists arrived in North America during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.) Ask your students if they think the first English colonists used the English language differently than we do today, based on their examination of slang in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Student answers will vary; most will probably say that yes, the early English colonists would have spoken quite differently.)
13) Tell your students that in the next portion of this lesson, they will be "translating" 17th-century text into 21st-century text.
1) Remind your students that the first English colonists arrived in North America during the late 16th century and the early 17th century. Ask your students if they can think of any literature from this same time period. (Student answers will vary; some students may know that Shakespeare wrote during this time.) Ask your students if any of them have read any Shakespeare, or know any famous lines from Shakespeare's plays. (Student answers will vary.)
2) Explain to your students that Shakespeare's plays are written in verse ... people in the 17th century did not speak in verse, but his plays used words, phrases, and slang that would have been familiar to many of the early English colonists. Their challenge in this next activity will be to "translate" 17th-century words and phrases, and identify their 21st-century counterparts.
3) Log on to the "'Tis a Very Dirty Manner of Life" activity on the Colonial House Web site at www.pbs.org/wnet/colonialhouse/teachers/dirty_manner/index.html. Go over the instructions with your students, and read the first "17th century" text as a class. The text reads,
In days of yore, were I a lass, 'twould have been too too trying. I would have been cumbered by so many more duties than I have had hitherto. I would have been enjoined to perform any thing that wants doing at home with my family, but were I a very lass in 1628, I would needs be making a match, mayhap establishing a household, rearing babes of my own, and I feel as yet all unready! So I doubt but that I would be meet for such a life, in especial here, for why every thing requires such long toil. I have only now conned the respect that is due unto my lord and lady cause of the sample of swink and toil they provide. I doubt but that were I of their years, I could have undertaken such a task. I behold the travails of my dame each day, and some days when she tends to the goating and I must see to the victuals for the day 'tis such ... 'tis so hard to undertake this, and do that, and cover the table, and cook the meal. And all 'tis for one sole meal. And I espy her daily toilings and moilings, and I learn to value her worth and I wish to add my labors unto hers. And methinks that I am a help meet unto the Colony, and I hope that I mote continue to be a help meet.Ask your students what they think this text means. What is the speaker saying? How do they know? (Student answers will vary.) Point out to students that there is a glossary on the site. Which tricky words from the text do they need defined? (Student answers will vary.) Work through the paragraph with your students to develop a meaning for the passage. Ask your students to jot down a 3-4 sentence summary of the text.
4) Now, explain to your students that one of the video clips on the site has someone speaking the "21st century" version of the text. Click on the various video clips, looking for the corresponding clip. (The correct clip is the Maddison Verdecia segment which begins with, "In 1628, if I were a teenager it would have been really, really tough.") Once you have found the correct clip, select it to proceed to the next 17th-century text.
5) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to complete the rest of the activity. Their responsibilities will include 1) to read each "17th century" text, 2) to jot down a few sentences about what they think the text is saying, and 3) to match the 17th-century text to the corresponding 21st- century video clip. Give your students 15-20 minutes to complete this task.
6) When your students have completed the activity, check for comprehension. As a class, look at each "17th century" text on the Web site and ask a handful of students to read their short paragraphs summarizing the content. Ask your students what words and terms they found difficult in each. (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students what words and terms they could easily identify. (Student answers will vary.)
7) Explain to your students that they will now put their "translating" skills to work with an original 17th-century document.
1) Ask your students to log on to "Richard Frethorne's Account of His Plight in Virginia" site at http://www.learner.org/channel/workshops/primarysources/map.html. This Web site features the text of a letter written in 1623 from an indentured servant in the Virginia Colony to his parents in England. When students log on to the site, ask them to scroll down to "Workshop 1: The Virginia Company," and under the subheading "Primary Source Documents and Images," click on "Richard Frethorne's Account of His Plight in Virginia."
2) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to read Richard Frethorne's letter, and rewrite it in their own words. What was Richard Frethorne saying about life in Virginia? How could it be rewritten in 21st-century language? (Student answers will vary.)
1) Ask a handful of students to read their "rewritten" letters aloud to the rest of the class. Collect the letters as an assessment of the lesson.
2) As an alternative assessment of the lesson, ask your students to imagine that Richard Frethorne's parents have gone through a time warp and into another period of American history. Ask your students to write a response letter to Richard Frethorne, using the slang of the Old West, the Civil War, the 1920s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, or another time period of their choosing.
Research what "new words" have been added to the dictionary during your lifetime. What are last year's "new words?" Consider using the Random House "new words" site at http://www.randomhouse.com/words/newwords/ to begin your research.
Read other online primary source documents from the early colonization of America. A descendant of Mayflower colonists has put a rich library of resources online at http://www.mayflowerhistory.com/PrimarySources/primarysources.php.
Read a seventeenth-century play by William Shakespeare.
Create a poll and test student and teacher awareness and understanding of slang terms from throughout the 20th century. Graph the results by age, gender, etc.
Research how science and technology have impacted language over the course of the 20th century.
Colonial House: "'Tis A Very Dirty Manner of Life!"
In this activity, users are presented with transcripts of COLONIAL HOUSE participants' video diaries which have been "translated" with words and terms from the 17th century. Users will read the text, and then view online clips from the colonists' video diaries. The challenge of the activity is to "match" the 17th-century text to the appropriate 21st-century video diary. This activity requires RealPlayer, available free at www.real.com.
Civil War Soldiers' Slang
This Web site, created by the National Park Service, provides a glossary of popular slang terms from the Civil War.
This Web site, created by the Antique Automobile Club of America, provides a glossary of popular slang terms of the 1920s.
This site, created by the Drama Club of Mission Viejo High School in Mission Viejo, CA, provides a glossary of popular slang terms of the 1950s.
Richard Frethorne's Account of His Plight in Virginia
This Web site features the text of a letter written in 1623 from an indentured servant in the Virginia Colony to his parents in England. When you log on to the site, scroll down to "Workshop 1: The Virginia Company," and under the subheading "Primary Source Documents and Images," click on "Richard Frethorne's Account of His Plight in Virginia."
About the Authors:
Christopher W. Czajka is an Educational Consultant for COLONIAL HOUSE, and served as a Historical Consultant on Thirteen/WNET's FRONTIER HOUSE. He is also the Associate Director of the National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI), an educational initiative that teaches educators across the country strategies for incorporating PBS programming, instructional media, and other emerging technologies into the classroom. To learn more about NTTI, and to explore more media-rich lessons, visit NTTI Online at www.thirteen.org/edonline/ntti.
The 17th-century texts featured in the "'Tis A Very Dirty Manner of Life" online interactivity at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/colonialhouse/teachers/dirty_manner/index.html were written by Kay Daly, Ph.D.
Kay Daly is a Chicago-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in educational and entertainment-related topics. In 1998, she earned a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in Renaissance literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.