Back to Back Issues Page
English Detective #8, Better Ideas, Better Learning, March 11, 2013
March 10, 2013

Introducing this issue:

(I’ve suggested this for Monday, but do any of these activities when it works best for you.)

This issue starts out a little differently, with Tuesday’s explanation of the difference between abstract and concrete words. He talks about how to use concrete descriptions to improve writing. A good writer helps readers visualize (see mental pictures of) the things he writes about.

This is important to writing well (as he explains), but it is also important to understanding academic writing. It is a crucial distinction in much western thought, although it is not easy to explain. (A distinction is pointing out a difference; crucial means extremely important.)

Abstract words talk about concepts-- the ideas we have. Concrete words talk about things we can touch, see or hear or feel-- physical things. (Concrete can also be a noun referring to a hard man-made material used for building and paving. The picture in the article is a visual joke-- a “play on words.” It shows that physical, ‘concrete’ meaning of the word ‘concrete.’ The man is breaking up a concrete surfacing using a jackhammer.)

Wednesday’s “reading” is an 18-minute TED talk on the origin of ideas -- a video with a transcript (written copy of the text) so you can follow along. Both are available in 33 languages. It’s fine if you want to read or listen to it in your own language (first or afterward) to get his ideas, but don’t forget to read and listen in English too!

This is a fantastic talk, full of ideas! Notice how Johnson illustrates his ideas with concrete examples: the coffeehouse, the connecting network of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, the American scientists building on each others’ ideas for following Sputnik.

Incidentally, I plan to use one or two TED talks in many of the coming issues, since they give clear illustrations of many of the AWL words while keeping their explanations as simple as possible. I really like the availability of both text and video (and translations of both into many languages for most of them!)

They are so well-reasoned in English that they provide an excellent argument to learn English and the AWL, so you can understand their thinking on world issues and solutions in their original language.

Thursday is a reading comprehension check. Are you preparing for a major test like the TOEFL, with a large section testing reading comprehension? If so, you might want to take this practice test on Wednesday, after reading the transcript for Wednesday’s talk once. Then you can watch the video and study the transcript more on Thursday, after you have practiced answering the reading questions.

(Why change the order? Because if you watch the video first, it might affect the results of the reading comprehension test, since you had a chance to listen as well as read.)

If you’re not preparing for a big test, watch and read it first-- more than once-- if you want to. Do check your understanding with the questions at some point, however.

Friday there’s a crossword puzzle to practice all the vocabulary.

The following Monday there was a short article on How Children Learn. It's written especially for the parents of young children, but it discusses some important principles, especially about differences in learning styles and learning preferences.

In summer 2016 I was notified that that link no longer works. Because people have continued to be interested in it, I found a related article, though written for teachers. It's a pdf discussing research on how children learn. So I substituted that article for the link that is broken.

Tuesday there are some vocabulary explanations and more practice.

Wednesday has an article about how babies learn languages. It ties into the theme for the next newsletter issue.

Thursday I suggest you try using some of the words we’ve studied in this issue to write a few sentences or paragraphs about something you’re interested in. (I did just that for Friday’s quiz, with a fill-in essay on an education conference (hypothetical-- not actual. It didn’t really occur, but it’s a chance to practice almost all this issue’s words.)

Your First Clue: Vocabulary we’ll Emphasize in this Issue

abstract, aid, categories, challenge, clarity, comments, conference, context, crucial, decade, elements, environment, guarantee, indicate, input, interaction, mechanism, network, obvious, output, reliance, response, select, strategies, sum, tapes, task.

If you already know most of the words, work on the ones you aren’t so sure of, or enjoy the readings and take a break from intensive study this week. There will be a whole different group in the new newsletter.


Click here for the reading on abstract and concrete nouns.


Here's the TED talk.


>br> Here are the comprehension questions.


Click here for the crossword. The answers are here.

2nd Monday:

Here's the pdf for teachers on “How Children Learn.”

Tuesday 2:

Practice this issue’s vocabulary with these category and fill-in games.

Wednesday 2:

Read about how babies learn language here.

Thursday 2: Write a little using the vocabulary you’ve learned.
(A couple of paragraphs would be great!)

Friday 2: Test your Deductions

Click here for the quiz.

Coming in the next issue: research on the development of the brain. In the following issues we will look at business management and vocabulary, then at cross-cultural business interactions, then at micro-finance and people who are fighting poverty and other social problems.

Based on the survey in issue 5 and statistics since, it seems that the daily activity suggestion is not very useful, and just too much for most readers to keep up with. (I’m finding it hard to keep up, as well!)

So I will stop planning 10 activities for each newsletter. I’m also going to try sending English Detective out late Monday evening (North American time), hoping there might be a little more time for English practice mid-week.

The readings are very important for both general English practice and learning the AWL vocabulary, so we will probably continue to have 2-3 an issue. I think it’s also really important to have a few pages practicing (and when necessary explaining) the vocabulary.

So there will usually be some kind of puzzle and possibly a game or explanation plus practice page, and some sort of quiz or review. However, I won’t give an “assignment” each weekday anymore, unless you feel it really helps you.

So please let me know if you would like to keep the daily practice, or if you have any other suggestions or requests. You can send me a brief note here.

In case you missed these: Earlier issues of English Detective have articles on a number of topics, plus practice with over 200 words from the Academic Word List. You can check them out with the link to the back issues page below (or find what words were practiced each issue here.

P.S. If you’re not already getting English Detective, you can subscribe by completing the form here. (It's free!)

Back to Back Issues Page