Sunday, February 7, 2010

Analogize This! (videos)

When life throws something extraordinary at us, we invent a new word to express our amazement and awe. Today brought several new words describing a snowstorm. Meteorologists went wacko. On Sunday we can expect to hear more newly minted words describing the Super Bowl and the soaring achievements of the Who Dat Nation. Ever notice how creatively sportscasters and meteorologists craft words? Do students realize that word wizardry may help them get a job in these fields? 

Even heads of state have been known to coin a cool one. According to the Washington Post (hyperlink defunct), President Obama described DC's storm as Snowmageddon (but see comment, crediting a meteorologist in Duluth). In order to understand Obama, we must have prior knowledge of the Biblical term Armageddon, of Hebrew origin. It's a battleplace and also the final battle between good and evil.

When we analogize we find points of comparison between things that are otherwise dissimilar. We draw an analogy, mentally moving from the known concepts snow and Armageddon to understand the unknown Snowmageddon. Again, we can only draw this analogy if we know a bit about Armageddon and snowstorms. Background knowledge is critically important.

Another cool weather word is Snowpocalypse, seen in the title of a viral video with crazy meteorologist, Jim Kosek

Like Armageddon, the Apocalypse refers to Biblical end times, but it is of Greek origin. Apocalypse also refers to nuclear war, signaling devastation, destruction, doom. Here again, background knowledge is essential yet taken for granted--the wordcrafter assumed that everyone would understand apocalypse--probably a safe bet for many of us. Movie titles include Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse How and Apocalypse Cow (no joke) and let's not forget the apocalyptic film 2012. Teachers can help students draw an analogy from the known concepts snow and Apocalypse to understand the new concept Snowpocalypse. Critical thinking skills are at work when we analogize. By thinking aloud, teachers can transparently demonstrate how to draw an analogy. "Hmm...I don't know this word, but this part makes me think of...."

Encourage students to notice new words (neologisms) in film, books, websites, etc. Prompt students to invent words. Kindle interest. Awaken awareness. Inspire word consciousness, which should eventually promote vocabulary and comprehension (Graves, 2006; Nagy, 2007). Maintain a lighthearted yet explicit tone. Motivate. Get expressive! Prompt students to use words and gestures emphatically. In the video above, meteorologist Jim Kosek serves as a model for over-the-top drama as he theatrically gets his point across. Note the quote, "Yeah, I've been reading the dictionary."

Finally, many children in warmer climes have never experienced snow. They tend to be children of poverty, rarely traveling far from home. Optimally, a field trip is best. Alternatively, use the rich resources of the web to build knowledge; digital clips potentially pack a lot into two-minutes. Show the class the snowball fight, below. Afterward, engage in rich discussion and read Keats' 1963 Caldecott Winner, The Snowy Day. Create a word web, graphically connecting related concepts: snow, snowflake, snowstorm, snowball, snowball fight, snowplow, snowman, snow angel, weather, blizzard, storm, precipitation, frosty, silver, crystalline, symmetrical, cold, shovel, scrape, sculpt, etc. Use the semantic map as a prompt for peer discussion and a scaffold for writing.

That's all, folks. Stay safe in the snow. Go Saints!


Graves, M.F. (2006). The vocabulary book: Learning and instruction. New York: Teachers College Press.

Nagy, W.E. (2007). Metalinguistic awareness and the vocabulary-comprehension connection. In R.K. Wagner, A.E Muse, & K.R. Tannenbaum (Eds.),Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 52-77).New York: Guilford Press.


  1. Hi Susan, love the new blog. I heard on our local Duluth, MN weather report last night that "snowmageddon" was coined several years ago by a Duluth meteorologist during an especially strong blizzard up here (Northern Minnesota & Wisconsin). But, of course, when it becomes a presidential term it will be noticed! Go Colts!

  2. Good to know, Marcia! Thanks. Credit where credit is due!

    Colts? Who dat???

  3. Tertiary. Yeah.

    But, please, Susan: let's DO forget 2012...all 150 minutes of it. The horror...the horror.

    Your post, talking about children not having experienced snow, reminded me of the word "cascade." My home, the Plasticave, is safely ensconced deep within the mountain range referred to as the Cascades.

    Kids from around here (except for, perhaps, the few Spanish speakers who may make the connection with the cognate, cascada, won't know the waterfall meaning of the word.

    My whole point being there are other regional difference besides weather that might interfere with understanding.

    And, as my grandfather was born on Royal St. in the French Quarter, Who dat?

  4. Dat you, PG? Of Royal origin?

    A forgettable film at best. But we use what works, even 2012.

    Cascade. Cascada. Cognate. Cool connection.

    Your last point? Logic says including weather does not automatically exclude any other cause for comprehension confusion. Quite often with comprehension breakdown there are cascading causes and effects.

  5. A bit more on the origins of Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse, from the recent World Wide Words on-line newsletter:
    BLIZZARD WORDS  There's no direct equivalent in the US of the UK's Queen's English, but the nearest may perhaps be the language the president uses. So when he called the snowstorms around Washington last weekend SNOWMAGEDDON, we ought to consider it seriously as an addition to the language. Certainly, it was widely reported in newspapers worldwide. The other term often paired with it was the equally inventive SNOWPOCALYPSE. Their users have, of course, brought out existing terms from the dusty mental cupboard in which such are stored against possible future application - the former appeared before Christmas 2008 in the US and the following spring in the UK, and the latter as the tag for a huge snowstorm in the north eastern US in October 2006. Others have been creative, with terms such as SNOWNAMI, SNOWVERKILL and SNOWVERLOAD appearing.


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