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Lexicon in “Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Choldenko Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 15th, 2021

Find 1-3 context-rich sentences that include different challenging vocabulary words. Copy those sentences below and underline the words you hope to teach students.

The following sentences can be considered context-rich due to the ambiguity of some of the words used in them:

  1. “I’m not a ventriloquist and Natalie isn’t my dummy, but today I want her mute” (Choldenko Chapter 27)
  2. “NEW HOPE FOR KIDS WITH MENTAL DEFICIENCIES, the headline read” (Choldenko Chapter 28).
  3. “My mind is scrambling.” (Choldenko Chapter 28).

Learning new words fast and being able to use them in a context is an important skill that students must develop. For instance, to allow the students to define the meaning of the word “ventriloquist” in the first sentence, it will be required to adopt the contextual approach. As soon as the students read the passage describing Natalie as a dummy, an object that a ventriloquist typically has, and mentioning that the narrator would like her to be silent (e. g., following his lead), they will be able to come up with the definition that nails down the essence of the word in question.

As for the word “deficiencies” in the second example, it will be required to undertake the semantic approach. By using such a semantic clue as “deficit,” it will become possible to help the students recognize “deficiency” as something that a person may lack.

The phonic approach is perfect for letting students identify the meaning of the word “scrambling.” Even though they may fail to come up with the exact definition of the sound, they will get the idea of what onomatopoeia is and how it is used in novels. More to the point, the introduction of a new principle of word-building may be turned into a small and creative exercise of finding examples of onomatopoeia that students are familiar with.

In your text on pgs 228, 229, 230 there are charts with common homonyms, homographs, and idiomatic expressions (idioms). Find an example of each in your Newbery book and list below.

The book provides a plethora of opportunities in exploring the phenomena of homonyms, homographs, and idiomatic expressions. For example, the book features such an idiomatic expression as “my chest falls” (Choldenko Chapter 27). Meaning that the narrator is experiencing an emotional moment, this expression can be used to teach the students what a metaphor is. Another peculiar idiomatic expression, “Her voice has a catch in it” (Choldenko Chapter 28) is also worth considering and teaching the students to put it into context. Speaking of the homonyms that the text has to offer, one must mention the word “close,” which appears as a verb in the sentence “I close my eyes, blow air out of my mouth and walk faster” (Choldenko Chapter 29) and as an adjective in the sentence “’We came so close to getting into the cell house with Mrs. Capone,’ Piper says” (Choldenko Chapter 29). As for homographs, the word “hands” in the sentence “She hands NEW HOPE FOR KIDS WITH MENTAL DEFICIENCIES to my father” (Choldenko Chapter 28) and “My mom claps her hands” (Choldenko Chapter 28). While in the first sentence, the word “hands” was used as a verb “to and” in the Present Simple Tense, in the second sentence, the word “hands” denotes a plural form of the noun “a hand.”

Beginning on pg234 in your book there are many examples of semantic maps & organizers you can use to teach a vocabulary word. Choose one of these organizers and create it using a chosen vocabulary word from this section of your book.

The vocabulary word chosen for the next activity is “ventriloquist.” To help the students learn using the new word and recognizing it in the context, a specific semantic map will be used. The semantic feature analysis chart seems to be a perfect choice for helping students locate the meaning of the word in question faster and learn to use it correctly. Three columns will be created for this assignment. In the first column, the students will list the attributes of the profession of a ventriloquist (e.g., a puppet). In the second column, the characteristics of a ventriloquist will be listed (e.g., mysterious, weird, etc.). The third column will include the nouns (people, objects, places) related to a ventriloquist (e.g., a concert, etc.). Tin the course of this brainstorming activity, the students will be able to memorize the very concept of the word in question, thus, remembering its denotation.

What background knowledge or understanding would your students have to have in order to get the most out of this book? Consider the discussion on p266 in your book. What cultural or social experiences would match the Newbery book best and what might you have to scaffold for students?

When defining the key specifics of books as a type of media, one must mention that books, unlike such forms of media as films or TV shows, have reading levels. Unlike movies or animated feature films, which can be translated into the language accessible for both adults and children, books create a realm that is suitable only for a specific audience. The given specifics of books as a form of media can be traced easily in Al Capone Does My Shirts. It was written for children and with the key specifics of a child’s worldview in mind. However, even books like Al Capone Does My Shirts require that the reader should have some basic background knowledge, including economic, political, and social aspects of life. For example, the very fact that the events described in the book take place on Alcatraz demands that the students should have at least the very basic idea of what Alcatraz is. Moreover, it is crucial that the students should be aware of who Al Capone, the person mentioned in the book title, is.

Read about classroom strategies to develop schemata on p269. Choose one of the strategies bulleted on p269 that you feel you are not very familiar with (or that you feel might be a bit outside of your own comfort zone as a beginning teacher)…and explain how you would use it as related to your Newbery book to help students prepare for new learning.

Such a strategy as a classroom background generating activity can be used to help the students feel more comfortable about the new topic and the new vocabulary. Though there must be very few students, who are aware of what Alcatraz is, or who al Capone was, the topic is still very popular and rather recognizable. Therefore, to prepare the students for reading, it will be required to ask them to tell about famous outlaws that they know about, as well as prompt their interpretation of Alcatraz by asking them where criminals go after being caught. Finally, the issue of one of the character’s mental disorder should also be brought up to get students ready for reading. This can be done by asking them to name common mental disorders and explain what they presuppose (e.g., memory loss, uncoordinated movements, etc.).

Write a summary of this section of your Newbery book.

Some of the most intense chapters of Al Capone Does My Shirts, chapters 27–33 describe a rapid change in the relationships between the lead character and his sister. Not only does he grow overprotective of her, but also seems to be using his sister as the means to envision himself as a strong and self-assured person. The leading character is clearly evolving, yet his personal progress can hardly be seen as positive. Moose sees that his sister is talking to one of the prisoners and grows increasingly jealous of her. Even though the criminal, who interacted with Moose’s sister, is rather friendly towards the lead character and is clearly willing to become friends with him, Moose prefers to alienate himself from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Piper finds out about the baseball from Moose and his sister. The leading character is desperately trying to get his parents to listen to his concerns about his sister, yet they are unwilling to get involved.

Works Cited

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts. New York, NY: Puffin. 2006. Web.

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