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Word Callers: Flexing Thinking with Laughter - Jokes, Riddles, and Other Wordplay Activities

Word Callers: Flexing Thinking with Laughter - Jokes, Riddles, and Other Wordplay Activities

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Published by Heinemann Books
Chapter 5 of Kelly Cartwright's latest book on teaching elementary readers, Word Callers, explains how to use wordplay activities such as riddles and jokes to help improve comprehension.
Chapter 5 of Kelly Cartwright's latest book on teaching elementary readers, Word Callers, explains how to use wordplay activities such as riddles and jokes to help improve comprehension.

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Published by: Heinemann Books on Oct 15, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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07/30/2012

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In the last two chapters we focused on
 children’s ability to think about words’ soundsand meanings simultaneously, and we learnedhow to help word callers shift from a sound-onlyfocus to a more meaning-focused approach toprint. Sometimes our students need extra helpthinking flexibly about words’ meanings foroptimal comprehension. Because words oftenhave multiple meanings, the ability to call upthe
 right 
meaning for a particular context affectsunderstanding. (Consider, for example, the word
 jam
, which can appear next to
traffic
or next to
 strawberry 
, resulting in very different interpre-tations of 
 jam
’s meaning.) In other instancesauthors (and speakers) use multiple meaningsto convey humorous messages, which will bemissed if students can’t consider the multiplemeanings in texts.Remember this?
What’s black and white and red all over?A newspaper!
Or this:
A duck goes to the pharmacy counter tobuy some lip balm.“How would you like to pay for this?” asksthe pharmacist.“Oh, just put it on my bill,” the duckreplied.
Or this:
What did the dinosaur say when he ate aclown?“That tasted funny!”
Chances are, if you work with elementary schoolchildren, you have heard classics like these overand over. As much as we may groan at theircornball humor, on some level we are glad theykeep bubbling up generation after generation.And it turns out, the endurance of riddles is noaccident, as they perform a valuable function in
Flexing Thinkingwith Laughter
 Jokes, Riddles, and Other Wordplay Activities
5
62
©Copyright 2010 - Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All rights reserved.
 
children’s development—perhaps especially for those children who need to be-come more flexible in their thinking about print. Here’s how. Jokes and riddles often include ambiguous words, such as homonyms andhomophones, to achieve their humorous result (see Figure 5–1 for more examplesof riddles that rely on verbal ambiguity). Remember, homonyms are words withthe same spelling and pronunciation but with different meanings. The word
bill
inthe duck joke
 ,
for example, is a homonym
.
Homophones, on the other hand, arewords with the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings, such as
 red
and
read
in the famous riddle about the newspaper.
FIGURE 5–1
Examples of Riddles That Rely on Verbal Ambiguity
Q: Why was the baby ant confused?
A: Because all of his uncles were aunts
Q: How much is a skunk worth?
A: One scent
Q: What building has the most stories?
A: The library
Q: Why wasn’t the moon so smart?
A: Because the sun is brighter
Q: What nails do carpenters hate to hit?
A: Fingernails
Q: Why is six afraid of seven?
A: Because seven eight nine.
Q: What did the dinosaur say when he ate a clown?
A: That tasted funny.
Q: What did one ocean say to the other?
A: Nothing, they just waved.
(These riddles were gathered from http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/jokes.htm#jokes,http://tiki.oneworld.net/fun/jokes/jokes.html, www.azkidsnet.com/riddles.htm,and www.squiglysplayhouse.com/JokesAndRiddles/index.html on February 23,2009.)
63Chapter 5 – Flexing Thinking with Laughter
©Copyright 2010 - Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All rights reserved.
 
The misperceptions that arise from the dual meanings of homonyms and ho-mophones are what we find humorous. Even in everyday conversation, childrensometimes misperceive ambiguous words’ meanings. I remember one afternoonwhen I picked my daughter up at school and she said, “Mom, Ms. Mary was firedtoday. I bet that hurt!” Clearly, Jessie had interpreted
 fired
to mean something todo with an actual flame rather than termination of Mary’s employment. In thisinstance, Jessie did not know the alternate meaning of the homonym,
 fire
. Thisexample illustrates an important point about children’s understanding of ambigu-ous words: to grasp the verbal ambiguity that often results from homonyms andhomophones, children must have knowledge of the two, often incompatible,meanings of these words. However, even if children know both meanings, tounderstand the humor in jokes and riddles that rely on verbal ambiguity, childrenalso must be able to consider simultaneously both of the meanings associatedwith ambiguous words. That is, they must hold two ideas in mind at once.
INSIGHT FROM CHILDREN’S THINKING
As we learned in Chapter 2, students who lack cognitive flexibilityhave difficulty thinking about two ideas at once, especially when theideas are very different from one another, as is often the case withhomonyms’ and homophones’ multiple meanings. Word callers’tendency to think about one idea at a time means that they are lesslikely than skilled comprehenders to note multiple meanings for wordsor to understand riddles that rely on verbal ambiguity (Yuill and Oakhill1991; Yuill 1996). Thus, when word callers encounter ambiguouswords in text and make inappropriate initial interpretations of thosewords, they are less likely than their peers with better comprehensionto notice alternative meanings that would better fit the text’s contextand preserve comprehension (van der Schoot et al. 2009).
The Research Base
In fact, lack of awareness of multiple possible meanings of words is related topoor comprehension in children, adolescents, and adults (Gernsbacher and Rob-ertson 1995; Yuill 1996, 2007; Zipke 2007). However, children’s comprehensionimproves when we teach them how to recognize and consider multiple meaningsof ambiguous words and sentences (Yuill 1996, 2007; Zipke 2008; Zipke, Ehri, andCairns 2009).Working with school children in Brighton, a town on the southern coast of England, Nicola Yuill (1996, 2007; also see Yuill et al. 2008 for a review) was oneof the first researchers to explore the use of ambiguous words to improve wordcallers’ awareness of texts’ multiple meanings. She knew that metalinguisticawareness—children’s ability to reflect on language—was related to reading
64
WORD
 
Callers
©Copyright 2010 - Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All rights reserved.

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