Lesson Plan: How To Change a Very Useful Word

A couple of months back, this video started making the rounds in the teacher Twitter-sphere (resurfaced, in fact, as the clip is about five years old). It deserves all the attention. It deals with adjectives, more specifically adjectives modified by the use of ”very”.

”Very” may be the language learner’s very best friend. You learn one set of adjectives, tag on this one precious word and voilà, some flair to your vocabulaire. The word’s versatility may become a crutch that students lean on a bit too much. This lesson is all about widening their vocabulary by actively choosing synonyms. It’s hands-on. It’s concrete. It’s dead simple. Let’s get into it!

Positive affirmations

Have the students describe themselves using positive adjectives like ”I’m kind” or ”I’m clever”. Hand out a blank sheet of paper to each student and tell them to write it all down. Tell them that they’re not leaving until everyone has written 10 positive adjectives about themselves, neatly put into phrases starting with the words ”I am”. Once the lists are done, tell the students to add ”very” in front of every adjective.

Suddenly, there’s too much of a good thing. Task the students with finding synonyms to replace their adjectives with. End the activity by letting the students share some of their adjectives on the whiteboard. If necessary, discuss why a certain synonym might give the wrong connotations.

Positive adjectives it is!
Positive adjectives it is!

Peter Rabbit

In groups or individually, rewrite this slightly modified passage from Thorton W. Burgess Mrs. Peter Rabbit. Replace the adjectives in bold with a fitting synonym, removing the very.

Peter Rabbit, struck by the existential dread of having lost his appetite.
Peter Rabbit, struck by the existential dread of having lost his appetite.
Peter Rabbit had lost his appetite. Now when Peter Rabbit loses his appetite, something is very wrong indeed with him. Peter has boasted that he can eat any time and all the time. In fact, the two things that Peter thinks most about are his stomach and satisfying his curiosity, and nearly all of the scrapes that Peter has gotten into have been because of those two things. So when Peter loses his appetite or his curiosity, there is surely something the matter with him.

Ever since Old Man Coyote had come to live on the Green Meadows, Peter had been very afraid to go very far from the dear Old Briar patch where he makes his home, and where he always feels very safe. Now there wasn’t any reason why he should go far from the dear Old Briar-patch. There was plenty to eat in it and all around it, for sweet clover grew almost up to the very edge of it, and you know Peter is very fond of very tasty clover. So there was plenty for Peter to eat without running any risk of danger. With nothing to do but eat and sleep, Peter should have grown very fat and contented. But he didn’t.

Now that is just the way with a lot of people. The more they have and the less they have to worry about, the more discontented they become, and at last they are very unhappy. There was a very small creature, Danny Meadow Mouse, living out on the Green Meadows; he was always very happy, and yet he had no safe castle like the dear Old Briar-patch where he could always be safe. Every minute of every day Danny had to keep his eyes wide open and his wits working their very quickest, for any minute he was very likely to be in danger. Old Man Coyote or Reddy Fox or Granny Fox or Digger the Badger or Mr. Blacksnake was likely to come creeping through the very tall grass any time, and they are always very hungry for a fat Meadow Mouse. And as if that weren’t worry enough, Danny had to watch the sky, too, for Old Whitetail the Marsh Hawk, or his cousin Redtail, or Blacky the Crow, each of whom would be very glad of a Meadow Mouse dinner. Yet in spite of all this, Danny was happy and never once lost his appetite.

But Peter Rabbit, with nothing to worry him so long as he stayed in the Old Briar-patch, couldn’t eat and grew more and more unhappy.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I really don’t know what’s the matter with me,” said Peter, as he turned up his nose at a patch of sweet, tender young clover. “I think I’ll go and cut some new paths through the Old Briar-patch.”

Now, though he didn’t know it, that was the best thing he could do. It gave him something new and very interesting to think about. For two or three days he was very busy cutting new paths, and his appetite came back. But when he had made all the paths he wanted, and there was nothing else to do, he lost his appetite again. He just sat very still all day long and moped and thought and thought and thought. The trouble with Peter Rabbit’s thinking was that it was all about himself and how unhappy he was. Of course, the more he thought about this, the more unhappy he grew.

“If I only had someone to talk to, I’d feel better,” said he to himself. That reminded him of Johnny Chuck and what good times they used to have together when Johnny lived on the Green Meadows. Then he thought of how happy Johnny seemed with his little family in his very beautiful new home in the Old Orchard, in spite of all the worries his family made him. And right then Peter found out what was the matter with him.

“I believe I’m just very lonely,” said Peter. “Yes, Sir, that’s what’s the matter with me.

“It isn’t good to be alone, I’ve often heard my mother say. 
It makes one selfish, grouchy, cross, And quite unhappy all the day. 
One needs to think of other folks, And not of just one’s self alone, 
To find the truest happiness, And joy and real content to own.”

“Now that I’ve found out what is the trouble with me, the question is, what am I going to do about it?”

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