This semester was my first practicum in the SOLES graduate department. I was placed in
a 9th grade English class during 6th and 7th period. The school itself has a population of just
over 2,000 students, and I had 70 between the two classes I was observing. Further, the high
school implements a specific structure throughout 9th grade English to combat the debilitating
effects of tracking systems by having every single incoming freshman take the same exact
English 9 course. I found that this structure resulted in 6th and 7th period being composed of a
variety of students from a full spectrum of linguistically varied backgrounds.
I was walking around helping students to complete an online short answer assignment
that related to the novels they were reading when Joey’s particular hesitation with the assignment
and my help caught my attention. He was initially uncomfortable with me sitting next to him in
order to walk him through the questions because of his uncertainty in spelling and phrasing his
answers. Once I established a report with Joey, I decided that he would be the perfect student to
interact in my linguistics case study with.
We began our linguistics course by getting acquainted with the study of sound, also
known as ‘phonetics’. Being raised through an American school system has engrained the almost
unconscious knowledge of an alphabet composed of 26 letters into our cognition. However,
many of us do not realize that there are 44 sounds derived from different variations in the
pronunciation of these letters. Molina uses examples of singular vowels and dipthongs to
highlight the complications posed by phonetics. Singular vowels can have a singular sound (I),
but be spelled in multiple ways (bee, key, beach). On top of these alterations, we have dipthongs
which are vowels that combine to make different sounds (au: found, owl). An awareness of the
spectrum of sounds produced from our alphabet, as well as an understanding of where in the
mouth those sounds and vibrations are produced, will help us to become effective educators for
our language learners and other students.
The first exercise I did with Joey was dealt with differentiating between (b) and (v)
sounds. This exercise was particularly interesting to me because I constantly encountered the
confusion between the pronunciations while traveling in Costa Rica last spring. I was on a ten
day surf trip with my friend, Avi. Almost without fail, people we met couldn’t stop giggling over
the fact that we were a boy and a girl traveling together and just happened to have the same
I could tell that Joey was not as interested in this activity as I was. He seemed fairly
uncertain about what I was asking and thought the requests were somewhat funny. I definitely
could not have gotten him to cooperate in their group table setting. However, he was able to relax
part way through and actually focus on the educational backing of the exercise. I can’t be sure
that he actually followed through with the mirror exercise, but seemed that our practice/activity
did clear the idea for him at least a little bit. Regardless, he will always have that tactic to refer
back to when unsure of similar pronunciations.
The second phonetics exercise Joey and I did together was placing our hands on our
throats to feel the difference between contrasting sounds like /t/ and /d/, /k/ and /g/, and /s/ and /
z/. This exercise seemed to be more appealing than the first for Joey because it was literally
hands on and gave tangible evidence of differentiation in phonetics.
Finally I had put together a small “deck” of cards for Joey and I. We took turns pulling
the cards from the pile and either pointing to or acting out the word written on the card. For
example, he mocked drinking from a glass to define ‘sip’ while I used my sweater to show ‘zip’.
I was surprised that there were one or two vowel differentiations that caused him to hesitate. For
me this exercise was a good reminder to never assume and to always be open, innovative and
“Phonology is the study of the rules that govern how sound are strung together in a
word” (Molina, 29). Molina gives the example of ‘psychology’ and how it clearly begins with a
‘p’, but is not pronounced with through the phonetics that we typically attribute to that letter.
Phonology rules can be found in the beginning, middle, and end of words. The possibility of
various sounds emanating from a particular string of letters can be confusing for english learners
who have been taught the 26 letters of the alphabet and their direct pronunciations.
I tried the “What’s your number?” exercise with Joey this week because I
remember how shocked I was at both its ability to resonate the idea of phonology for me and also
how it had challenged me a little bit. Similarly Joey found some challenge with the exercise, so
we instead used addresses (5123 Long Branch Ave., 95 Edgewater Dr., etc) to quiz one another.
Morphology examines units of a word for their meanings including historical influences
and alterations that have come about in various units throughout the years. Finally, morphology
goes one step further to look at the ability for the creation of new words and meanings based on
previous known units of understanding. Molina points out prefixes and suffixes as the most
familiar morphology lessons implemented in early classrooms. However, she breaks morphology
down further into ‘bound’ (inflectional or derivational) and ‘free’ (lexical or functional)
morphines. She deepens the morphology study by introducing etymology (the study of the origin
on words), compound words (how words combine), blends (the fusing of two words), clipping
(abbreviations), and load words (words borrowed from another language). She also talks about
words that have gone through multiple morphological processes to arrive at their current
meanings, acronyms (words created through the use of the first letter in a series of lexical
words), coinage (names after people or places to describe something), and allomorphs (words
that cannot occur in contexts with past tense or plural words).
resolution (resolve: free lexical / tion: bound derivational
imagery (image: free lexical / ry: bound inflectional)
characterization (character: free lexical / tion: bound derivational)
“Syntax is the study of the smaller components or units within phrases and sentences, and
the rules that govern their placement” (Molina, 59). Chomsky claimed that children learn these
rules through environmental input they experience in childhood. The issue with syntax is that its
“rules” are innate to a particular culture, making access to the language more difficult for those
who were raised with different definitions of syntax. Syntax can often be correlated with
ambiguity. Molina further divides syntax into seven types of phrases with differentiating
functions of phrases, stating that word stress and descriptive or prescriptive grammar tend to
both bring meaning to and misconstrue syntax for people who have grown up inside or outside of
a particular culture.
Activity 1: “I live in the house of my brother.” ---> “I live in my brother’s house.”
*Sentences in an Envelope
Activity 2: “I have a teddy bear yellow.” ---> “I have a yellow teddy bear.”
*Identifying Word Classes with Color
Activity 3: “In our house big, I have a sofa blue.” --> “I have a blue sofa in our big
*Student Sentence
The study of inherent meanings that we attach to individual words, phrases, and sentences
is called semantics. Synonymy, homonymy, and antonymy are also considered under this branch,
along with the hierarchal structures we use when categorizing meanings and words. Associations
and context are either internalized from a young age or can be taught to an english learner to
make semantics and language more clear and understandable.
1. Super-Ordination & Hyponyms
I used my iphone to walk Joey through super-ordination and hyponyms. This caught his interest
since the technology is relevant to his life and also something that is usually not allowed in the
classroom setting. My phone stood for the super-ordination and the different applications/
functions of the phone represented the hyponyms. We then looked to the class room to see how
we could further categorize words and meaning in our own relatable surroundings. (i.e. students
as super-ordinations, girls & boys as hyponyms; books as super-ordinate and different genres as
2. Antonyms & Synonyms
I integrated this exercise into the current lesson taking place in the classroom where students
were learning how to create expressive dialogue with descriptive language as opposed to
repeatedly using ‘said’. I wrote 10 words on flashcards: 4 words describing loud dialogue, 3
describing quieter dialogue. and 3 describing excited dialogue.
Roared, Shrieked, Bawled, Yelled
Whispered, Murmured, Mumbled,
Laughed, Expressed, Congratulated
I then had Joey categorize them into groups of synonyms and pairs of antonyms. We finished by
plugging a select few into dialogue to compare how word use changed the meaning or feeling of
a story.
3. Presupposition
Presuppositions were another good area to focus on since students could use this skill in their
own novels. Joey and I talked about how instead of saying, “Brad’s favorite sport was soccer” he
could word a scene that insinuates the same idea, for example, “Brad showed up early to the
game as always, excited to face this week’s opponents and continue their flawless record.”
I presented Joey with a few presuppositions about myself to see what he could draw from the,.
“I have a lot of homework tonight.” --> I’m in school.
“I need to wash my car.” --> I drive.
“After class I’m going to call my sister.” --> I have siblings.
We then pieced together similar sentences that described Joey before moving into how we could
use presuppositions to enhance his novel assignment.
“Pragmatics is the study of the situational context surrounding communication” (Molina,
80). Pragmatics can sometimes be a difficult facet of linguistics for english learners to internalize
because understanding are typically derived from contextual socializations since childhood to a
particular linguistic community. One area of pragmatics is “functions of speech” composed of
locutionary acts (what is actually said) and illocutionary acts (the function of what is said).
Locutionary acts can be literal or nonliteral, causing confusion for those who were not born into
communities that use particular idiomatic expressions. To add more layers to pragmatics, speech
acts can be declarative, interrogative, or imperative and direct or indirect. All of these context
clues are special to a linguistic community and often overlooked as common worldwide
understanding. We must be aware of our particular meaning attachments when working with our
English language learners so that we can create successful and comfortable learning
Daily Idiom #1: He woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Activity: Joey and I talked about what the literal interpretation of the idiom was. We then
brainstormed to see what plausible cultural interpretations could be and why. Finally we each
gave an example of someone who had, “Woken up on the wrong side of the bed.”
Daily Idiom #2: Your just adding fuel to the fire.
Activity: Joey and I talked about what the literal interpretation of the idiom was. We then
brainstormed to see what plausible cultural interpretations could be and why. Finally we each
gave an example of someone doing something that would be considered, “Adding fuel to the
Daily Idiom #3: Brownie points!
Activity: Joey and I talked about what the literal interpretation of the idiom was. We then
brainstormed to see what plausible cultural interpretations could be and why. Finally we each
gave an example of things a person could do or say to earn “brownie points”.
While I did not know much about Joey’s past upon entering his classroom for
observation, I was able to become very aware of his current relationship with the english
language by sitting through both his regular English 9 class and the EL support class he
occasionally attended, as well as working with him on my own. The most standout observation
that lead me to want to work with Joey was his hesitation to do any of his school work because
of his insecurities with writing the English language. I knew that he had the connection, ideas,
and answers in his head to easily get through the class work and content, but was struck by how
much the act of writing held him back from following through with them. The first exercise I did
with Joey foreshadowed a line of exercises that would be difficult to get him to engage in and be
open with me. However, once I started to make the exercises relatable to his life and mine he
became much more comfortable, confident, and eager to spend the few minutes a week with me.
I truly believe that an accepting and supportive classroom environment is crucial for
anyone’s learning, but Joey drove this point home for me this semester. I not only made material
relatable, but made sure I completed the same work along with him. I also made sure to cultivate
an environment that embraced mistakes and questions as platforms for greater learning. Before
we can expect our students to internalize the lessons we provide them, we have to ensure that
their learning communities and atmospheres are comfortable, supportive, inviting, and accepting.