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6-8 > Human Body
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Human Body Duration: Three class periods
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Language Acquisition

Students will understand the following:
1. Being read to is one of the ways that babies and young children learn language.
2. Healthy babies and young children learn language easily.
3. Authors and illustrators of children’s books think about holding a child’s attention and making learning fun.

For this lesson, you will need:
Books for children up to about four years of age
Paper in a variety of colors and stocks (regular 20-pound paper, card stock, cardboard, etc.)
Old magazines for cutting out images
Stapler, yarn, or other bookbinding material

1. Explain to your students that no matter what a human baby does, he or she is always learning. Even when a human child is engaged in what looks like play, he or she is learning something about the world and developing or fine-tuning skills, be they motor skills, social skills, or language skills. For example, when babies crawl, they are learning, among other things, that they have the power to explore their environment. When babies are read to, they are learning a lot about human communication.
2. Ask students to bring in books published for children up to the age of about four. They may bring in books that they grew up with, books belonging to younger relatives or family friends, or books from the children’s room of a library. Work with the students to figure out how many categories the books fall into. Categories may include the following:
  • Picture books that name objects
  • Picture books that tell stories
  • Books of verse
  • Alphabet books
  • Books that include games, such as finding objects on a page or clapping hands
3. Ask students to point out a technique or device that authors use to hold a child’s attention. Encourage students to notice the following:
  • Colors in general
  • Pictures—drawn, painted, or photographed
  • Rhyme
  • Repetition of words and sentences
  • Requests for interaction, such as pointing to parts of the page
4. Elicit from students what they think little children might learn from each of the books collected. Babies and toddlers may, for example, learn the following from books:
  • That objects (or pictures of objects) have names
  • That pictures and words go together to tell a story
  • That certain shapes (letters) stand for certain sounds
  • That words can sound similar to other words (rhyme of various kinds, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.)
  • That words and combinations of words recur (repetition, refrains)
  • That words can act like music
  • That books (and stories) have beginnings and endings
5. Building on the preceding class discussions, students can now work alone or in small groups to plan, write, and bind a book for a six-month-old, a one-year-old, a two-year-old, or a three-year-old. In the planning stage, students should come up with answers to questions such as the following:
  • What age child do I want to write for?
  • What category of book do I want to write?
  • What do I want the baby or child to learn from my book?
  • What techniques can I use to help the baby or child learn?
Depending on your class, you may want to introduce the option of writing the children’s books in a language other than English. If you choose this route, help students understand that very young children have the capability to learn more than one language and that many principles of language acquisition hold true across languages.
6. Give students a chance not only to draft their children’s books but also to share them with peers and then to revise and edit their manuscripts.
7. Encourage a variety of presentation formats—hand-lettered books, computer-generated books (with large print), books made of various weights of paper or cardboard, books with drawings, books with pictures cut out of other sources, books with photographs specifically taken for the student works. Remind students that books need titles. Offer cover material to students and staplers, yarn, and other methods for binding the covers and the pages of books.
8. Arrange reading-to-children times in a nursery school, daycare center, or pediatric wing of a hospital. Before visiting any such facility, remind students of the ABCs of reading to babies and children: proximity, tone of voice, volume, pace, and patience—especially if a child loses interest in the reading-aloud experience.
9. After the read-aloud sessions, hold a debriefing to discuss what the sessions confirmed or raised questions about and to determine if your students want to make any further changes in their books. Encourage students to reflect in a writing journal on the entire process of this project.
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Discussion Questions

1. Speech is said to set us apart from the rest of the animal world. What are some other ways of communication that are used between humans as well as between other organisms in the animal kingdom?
2. How do the following function in the development of speech: voice box, gums, tongue, lips, teeth, lungs?
3. What evidence supports the statement that all babies are born international and may have parts of speech that are genetically pre-programmed?
4. What non-verbal forms of communication provide vital keys to the understanding of the meaning of words?
5. Why are words important for play?
6. How does language help children to develop the human brain to its full potential?
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You can evaluate students’ individual or group work using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:unified, coherent, and age-appropriate text; subject-appropriate pictures; error-free grammar, usage, and mechanics
Two points:mostly unified, coherent, and age-appropriate text; some subject-appropriate pictures; few errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
One point:text lacking unity and coherence; insufficient or inappropriate illustrations; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what makes a text unified and coherent.
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A Time Line of Word Domination
From understanding our first words as a baby to the acquisition of more than 60,000 words by age 18, we must reach various milestones in both our physical and mental development. Direct students to reference books that deal with stages of physical and mental development: babbling, pointing, mimicry, questioning, experimenting, achieving syntactic maturity—and other stages. Have students create one or more visual time lines that show language milestones. Suggest that students illustrate the time line—perhaps with photographs from magazines or with photos of themselves at different stages and ages.

Born to Speak?
Linguists and neuropsychologists have debated the question of whether language is an inborn, genetically preprogrammed behavior or a learned response. Ask students to read reports about research into this debate. Students should look for sources that discuss, in lay terms, the following kinds of studies:
  • Studies of deaf children
  • Studies of hearing children raised by deaf parents
  • Studies of identical and fraternal twins
  • Studies of language development in chimpanzees
  • Studies of children raised in situations with minimal verbal communication

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Suggested Readings

"Baby Talk: How Infants Learn Language"
Rick Weiss, Washington Post Health magazine, March 4, 1997
This article explores how parents sing and coo to their babies as instinctive language-teaching techniques, and studies the possibility that babies learn language even before they are born!

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The National Center for Voice and Speech presents Fun Page
This fun page of the National Center for Voice and Speech has downloadable sound clips that students can alter by changing the speed and pitch of the voice of a comic character "Pavarobotti."

How can computers be used in articulation/voice therapy?
Offers insight into how computers are being used in Speech and Hearing programs. Shows three systems and the cost of each program.

Exploring English
A site geared toward exploring written language. Ideal for middle school students and older.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    voice box
Definition:The modified upper part of the trachea of air-breathing vertebrates that in humans, most other mammals, and a few lower forms contains the vocal cords (larynx).
Context:At six weeks, the voice box is disengaged.

speaker    babbling
Definition:Uttering meaningless or unintelligible sounds.
Context:Babbling, repeating syllables over and over, is a workout for the vocal cords.

speaker    communication
Definition:A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.
Context:It's an imperfect form of communication.

speaker    grammar
Definition:A system of rules that defines the grammatical structure of a language.
Context:Words are joined by a definite set of rules--a primitive grammar.

speaker    mimicry
Definition:The act of imitation.
Context:This kind of mimicry has a serious purpose.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:life science
Understands the genetic basis for the transfer of biological characteristics from one generation to the next.
Knows that the characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits; some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows that behavior is one kind of response an organism may make to an internal or environmental stimulus, and may be determined by heredity or from past experience; a behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels including cells, organ systems and whole organisms.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
Knows that because all scientific ideas depend on experimental and observational confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available; in areas where data, information or understanding is incomplete, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Understands that all behavior is affected by both inheritance and experience.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Understands that the level of skill a person can reach in any particular activity depends on a variety of factors (e.g., innate abilities, amount of practice, the use of appropriate learning technologies).

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Understands that even instinctive behavior may not develop well if a person is exposed to abnormal conditions.

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Lisa Lyle Wu, biology teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.
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