Example #52 Words as Gifts
What if a literacy lesson were about words as gifts?
Stephan was concerned that literacy lessons had become ‘a means to an end’ as a result of curriculum pressure. He thought the pupils were seeing words only as tools or skills rather than as something that can make gifts. He also wanted the children to see that words can influence us for good or ill, they can challenge and change us. We need wisdom to discern whether we accept what words are saying – not all gifts are wanted.
"I started with a series of quick role-plays: one of giving a gift someone wanted (a box of chocolates), another of giving something they would not want (a single sock). In each case the children imagined the gift and I just whispered what they had to role-play. We then discussed whether words could be gifts, how they could be good or bad and how we need to think about the gift that is made by words and whether we want to receive it or not.
"We read The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde as part of studying narrative. I placed a gift bag on the front table and asked pupils what ‘gifts’ the story gave to us. For example, it might provoke thoughts that challenge us to be less selfish. Children’s suggestions were written on cards and placed in the gift bag. We explored the narrative of the story in the usual way, keeping in mind the gifts the story might be making to us. At the end of the session we reviewed what we had learned from the story using the suggestions in the gift bag as prompts. Each child had a small gift template and wrote what gift the story had made to them. I added the following question to the display: 'We receive gifts from stories. How do we decide if we want them or not?' Later I went through the templates and typed up the pupils’ words and thoughts and added them to the display mounted on gift paper."
What’s going on here?
What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?
Many words make gifts: gifts of information and emotion, thoughts and imagination. Those gifts can be good or bad and discernment is needed. Language is one of the ways we relate to each other and words also carry responsibility; how we use words is a moral choice. Words are not ‘just words’, they can become gifts of love or legacies of damage.
What difference does it make?
Changing the framework to ‘words as gifts’ did not change the content being taught but it offered a new framework within which to experience and think about the content and highlighted the need for discernment.
Where could we go from here?
The framework of ‘words as gifts’ could be used for different parts of literacy/English:
- Words as gifts for delight, fun, etc. (e.g., playful poem)
- Words as gifts for communication and to help in relationships (e.g., letter writing)
- Words as gifts to gain understanding of self, others the world or God (e.g., traditional stories, Bible stories, other words that give insights)
- Words as gifts to serve others (e.g., dialogue, advice)
- Words as gifts to make a difference (e.g., famous speeches or biographies used to inspire and encourage)
- Words as gifts to heal and restore (e.g., speaking comfort or speaking out against injustice)
Christians often call the Bible ‘The Word of God’, a gift from God to his people, to be received with gratitude. The Holy Spirit speaks through words to challenge, change and inspire (2 Timothy 3:16). The words of Scripture also serve as a point of orientation from which other words that we encounter can be weighed.
When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, "It is talking to me, and about me." Soren Kierkegaard
The separation of word and deed is not part of biblical thinking, the two are seen as tightly bound. Faith, hope and love are not just words but a way of life. In the Bible' James talks of faith that must become deeds to be considered faith (James 2:17). This close connection between words and their deeds or consequences means that words are taken very seriously. Words can hurt or heal, encourage or destroy. The Bible likens untamed words to weapons that injure; it also likens words to a forest fire that destroys (James 3:5).
Wisdom is needed in making judgements about words. Wisdom is a deep level of understanding and discernment. It is not the same as knowledge or cleverness. It is possible to be clever and lack wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge that changes how we live in a God-wards direction. A wise person recognises their own limitations and trusts God, knowing that many things are deeper than they may seem and that not all words bring life.
Explore similar examples:
This example draws on:
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #6
(…towards being challenged and changed)
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #8
(…towards appreciation and gratitude)
- Strategies for Engagement #1
(...to focus on key ideas and issues)
- Strategies for Engagement #2
(…to think with a key image or phrase)
- Strategies for Engagement #3
(…to explore a fresh emphasis)
- Strategies for Engagement #4
(…to experience delight, reflection and wonder)
- Strategies for Engagement #5
(…to experience God’s world in its wholeness)
- Strategies for Engagement #6
(…to extend their ways of participating)
- Strategies for Engagement #9
(…to reflect carefully on ideas and experiences)
- Strategies for Engagement #10
(…to consider contrasts and dissonance)
- Strategies for Engagement #11
(…to explore possibilities for active commitment)
- Strategies for Engagement #12
(…to explore topics within a new context or framework)
- Strategies for Engagement #13
(…to critically engage with examples, activities and tasks)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #1
(Change the layout of the room)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #2
(Make tangible changes to the environment)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #3
(Change or create displays)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #11
(Focus, identify, highlight, be intentional)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #12
(Change the emphasis)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #13
(Change key words and metaphors)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #22
(Ask big questions / change your questioning)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #23
(Provide contrasts and set up dissonance (clashes))