Yes. Yep. Yea. Uh-huh. Right. Sure! OKAY! Or… No. Nope. No way. Uh-uh. Wrong! Negatory. NOT!
There are dozens of ways to say “yes” or “no,” and each variation has a subtly different meaning. Sure, a variety of words basically project an affirmative or negative response to a question, but what I’m offering here is a reflection on the broad range of social contexts within which language is used and the even broader range of what that language might mean.
Parents and experienced teachers fully understand how many different kinds of meanings kids will deliver using simple words. The way kids answer questions clearly communicates whether they actually are responding in earnest or just want to appear to be.
Language of course, even in the simplest of utterances, includes the social situation where humans speak or write to exchange experiences, ideas or feelings.
Try this: Say any one word or phrase. Say it loudly. Whisper it. Now, change your facial expression when you say it. Tilt your head to one side and say it. Look at the ceiling, roll your eyes and say it fast. Squint one eye and draw it out. Now consider how the word or phrase can be communicated with printed words using subtleties like italics, boldface or ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
Writers, in particular poets, use every possible cue to get full clarity in guiding their readers’ understandings in unique and interesting ways through carefully chosen words. Readers and listeners must learn to do the same.
When teaching children to become deeply thoughtful readers and effective, riveting writers, it is possible to provide feedback that can over-focus on accuracy, or on our own expectations. Focus upon kids’ for standard pronunciation or on their precise spelling when choosing powerful words, particularly while they’re making an effort to fully understand or to convey subtleties, can interfere with a learner’s discovery, and use of the amazing power and stark beauty of language.
Coaching readers to make thoughtful distinctions between symbolic or vividly concrete words in science, and cheering on a growing appreciation and use of precise or vague terms in an opinion piece, can represent powerful teaching, even if done while encouraging precision in spelling and interpretation. Mastery of fluent language and its infinite uses as it naturally combines with art, music, dance, gesture and facial expression is of supreme importance by high school graduation.
Yet the development of powerful language use starts in the cradle. From birth throughout childhood, language should be celebrated and shaped. Adults’ gestures, posture, facial expressions, and subtleties in speech and writing can maximize the possibilities in children’s appreciation of how they can create meaning for themselves and do the same for others.