Monday, December 26, 2011

What Comics Taught TEACH Me: Big Words

During this past semester, I have been consciously working with my eleventh grade students on vocabulary acquisition and utilization. Because the act of only memorization sophisticated vocabulary is not enough to insure that such terms will make there way into one's working vocabulary--one must know how to use a word in their own writing to truly demonstrate its acquisition.
Vocabulary in action!
Often when I assign a list of terms to be watched for in the context of a whole class selection, such as The Scarlet Letter, I'll note for the students that "many of these terms are still in common use... maybe not with you're current acquaintances, but with those with whom you will become acquainted as educated adults." Occasionally with some words like "countenance" and "ameliorate" this comment is met with expressions of disbelief.

I feel a sense of validation when I myself come across a term that students think is "weird" or "archaic" in use in the context of recreational media. The recreational "media" I interact with most frequently is the world of comic books, a world I would attribute with much of my own teenage vocabulary acquisition. As a middle school student myself, often I would read a comic and come across a word like "nullifier" and, curious as to what it meant, look either it, or its root word, up in the dictionary until a could find a definition that made sense. (Though Stan Lee had a way of making-up pseudo-scientific phrases--"the ultimate nullifier"--there was usually something of truth or value to be gleaned from thinking it through. The "ultimate nullifier" was capable of rendering Galactus inoperative, or nullify his powers, so he feared its use.)

It's amazing what you can learn from reading comic books! Though I  now read fewer mainstream superhero books than I did 30(!) years ago when I discovered (in reprints) the ultimate nullifier, I still enjoy coming across the writer's use of sophisticated words. Now, given the minimal use of expository boxes in traditional comics, this primarily occurs if there is any high level vocabulary used in the dialogue of "educated" characters like Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, still one of my favorite characters.

Even after all these years, and issues, I am glad to report that occasionally the writers who bring these superhero/fantasy/science fiction adventures to life still send me to the dictionary for definitions...

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