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Grammar Made Interesting

Posted in all posts, books, story by coleman yee on August 28, 2007

I’ve been interested in how grammar can be taught in an interesting and engaging way, and I sometimes use manufactured fairy tales as a teaching technique (for other concepts), so I was quite pleased to find a grammar fairy tale, The Grammarian’s Five Daughters by Eleanor Arnason.

Once there was a grammarian who lived in a great city that no longer exists, so we don’t have to name it.

It first introduces nouns:

The oldest daughter thought a while, then opened her bag. Out came the nouns, sharp and definite. Sky leaped up and filled the grayness overhead. Sun leaped up and lit the sky. Grass spread over the dim gray ground. Oak and elm and poplar rose from grass. House followed, along with town and castle and king.

Then it goes on to cover verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions.

I can’t really tell how effective this is, but it’s certainly a great effort, and might be worth trying on schoolkids.

Since we’re on the topic of grammar made interesting, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon is probably the best (and most humorous) I’ve read (and owned).

Gerunds as Objects of Prepositions:

By being so pregnant with meaning, her announcement went over like a lead balloon.

Through sporting a cudgel, the Neanderthal made a rude but necessary start.

By dunking her crumpet in the marmalade, Melissa committed a midafternoon faux pas.

In finding the chink in his armor, she found herself shown to the door.

It’s been years since I’ve read it. I’m tempted to read it again.

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Explaining RSS Feeds and Aggregators

Posted in rss, story by coleman yee on May 31, 2007

Once upon a time…

I was teaching a course entitled “Discover News Aggregators & RSS” to a group of librarians last week.

Because most of them did not know anything about RSS, I wanted to make sure that every one of them left the course not just understanding what RSS was about, but remembering it for a very long time.

What better way than to tell a story.

But even before the class started, I got them curious: I crushed about 8 sheets of paper into individual paper balls, and placed them in front of random participants (there were about 25 participants).

“What are they for?” some of them had to ask.

“It’s for an activity later. Don’t throw them away; don’t eat them.”

So when the class finally started, after I gave a brief introduction, I scared them with the Wikipedia definition of RSS:

RSS (an acronym for Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts.

I also gave the Wikipedia definition of web feed:

A web feed is a data format used for serving users frequently updated content. Content distributors syndicate a web feed, thereby allowing users to subscribe to it. Making a collection of web feeds accessible in one spot is known as aggregation.

This was useful to help them appreciate my story better, since nobody could really grasp these definitions.

Before I started the story, I showed them the cast of characters:

Me (Coleman) – the user
You – the user’s favorite blog/website
Paper ball – new content

And I started my story (story words in italics):

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Coleman.

Every morning, he would turn on his computer, and access the internet.

Now he had around 25 favorite websites that he would visit every morning.

He would go the the first website, to see if there’s any new content. Any new content? (I went up to the first participant and asked her.) No?

Then he would go on to the next website. (I stepped up to the next participant.) Any new content? No?

Then to the next website. New content? (The 3rd participant had a paper ball.) YES! (I held up the ball.) Coleman would read the new content.

Then he would go on to the next website? Any new content? No?

So on and on he would go, visiting each of his favorite websites to check if there’s new content so that he could read it.

This, as you can see, is very inefficient, and wastes a lot of time, so Coleman was VERY SAD.

Then one day, the fairy godfather visited Coleman, and taught him about RSS feeds and RSS aggregators.

Armed with that knowledge, Coleman used his RSS aggregator (I produced and raised a dustbin)…

(And on the slide:)

Me (Coleman) – the user
You – the user’s favorite blog/website
Paper ball – new content
Dustbin – RSS aggregator

Coleman used his RSS aggregator to subscribe to the RSS feeds from each of his 25 favorite websites.

With that, every morning, when Coleman turned on his computer, he would open his RSS aggregator (raise the bin), and the new content from his 25 favorite websites would… (I motioned for those participants with the paper balls to throw them towards me, and I caught all of them with the bin)

and the new content from his favorite websites would automatically be collected by the RSS aggregator (raise the bin), so that he could read the new content from his favorite websites (I took out the balls one by one) without having to visit them one by one, ever again.

And so, Coleman lived happily ever after.

They loved it.

Update:

I forgot to thank those who gave me their views when I first sounded this idea, including Siva, Ivan, and Vanessa.

Feel free to use and modify this idea for your own purposes, as long as animals are not harmed in the process.