“Just why does English have so many collective nouns?”…….was the question from one of my 14 year old pupils. I had to admit to not really knowing how to answer. The pupils I teach are Dutch and in comparison, the Dutch language does seem to have very few. Especially when it comes to groups of animals, it almost feels like one day a group of people just sat down and decided they would think up as many as they could.
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.
You can also find explanations that link the vast range of collective nouns back to hunting terminology of the 14th and 15th century. I not sure that I can follow this connection in quite a lot of the examples, but to be honest that doesn’t alter my creative plan for this corner of the English language.
Turning the collective nouns into a creative assignment is a relatively simple process. 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.
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 when you are a learner.
It does also result in material that could be put under the copy machine and used to decorate the language classroom.
A couple of language extensions of the assignment could be:
- Write a short story or poem that incorporates the collective noun that you have illustrated.
- Or maybe a little more playful…….consider and create collective nouns that don’t actually exits yet. For example, what would you call a group of YouTubers, a group of talent show contestants or a collection of children on their first day at a new school?