Language and art – Collective nouns

As a bit of a follow up to my CLIL ‘Word smuggling’ and ‘Homophones’ posts of a couple of weeks ago, here’s another art and language combination that dips into a quirky corner of the English language. In this case I’m referring to the interesting and unusual eccentricities of the collective nouns. Or put another way the special names we give to groups of things.

We’ve all heard of schools of fish or flocks of sheep. But there are also some wonderfully imaginative and surprising ones like a murder of crows, a parliament of owls or a bench of bishops. There are various online sources where you can find lists of all the possibilities and believe me, there is a huge choice. Wikipedia is one such source with a very extensive list.

collective nouns 1

Turning these lists into a creative assignment is a relatively simple process, simple enough to use as an assignment for a cover lesson when you (the art teacher!) aren’t around. I would normally explain it the lesson before, but for say a third year class (14-15 year olds) it all works generally very well.

The idea is straightforward, provide the pupils with one of the extensive lists of collective nouns to choose from. Give them time to consider plenty of possibilities. The assignment is to produce an illustration of the collective noun and the accompanying text, so encourage them to select one of the more imaginative ones, one that will provide an interesting image. Because I generally use this assignment as an activity for when I’m not present I like to keep the choice of materials relatively simple. My choice is for a very graphic illustration using fine liners and ink. Doing it that way I normally allow two lessons for a good result, obviously though there are plenty of other ways this assignment could be carried out.

The language learning aspect of the activity is perhaps not excessively high, it does however highlight one of those areas of language that you tend to get to grips with last. It does of course also result in material that could be put under the copy machine and used to decorate the language classroom.

collective nouns 2

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