Learning from Amelia Bedelia’s Mistakes: Implications on EFL Vocabulary and Idiom Learning and Teaching
Grace Chin-Wen Chien, Taiwan
Grace Chin-Wen Chien received her Doctor of Education degree from the University of Washington (Seattle, USA). Currently she is an assistant professor in Department of English of National Hsinchu University of Education in Taiwan. She has presented at more than thirty conferences around the world. Her research interests include language education, language teacher education, and curriculum and instruction.
The Amelia Bedelia book series was written by Peggy Parish and later by her nephew Herman Parish. Amelia Bedelia is a maid in Cameroon. She repeatedly misunderstands various commands of her employee and her misunderstanding causes her to perform wrong actions with comical effect. For example, she does not know other meanings of the word “draw” when being asked to “draw the drapes when the sun comes in.” Instead of pull drapes together, she draws pictures on the drapes. Peregoy and Boyle (2008) suggest that Amelia Bedelia books can be used to build beginning level learners with vocabulary (p. 214).
Giambo and Szecsi (2006) claim that linguistics centers, a classroom activity targeting semantics, grammar, and pragmatics, are geared toward extending students’ awareness in challenging areas of linguistics. They suggest that language teachers can create a linguistic center where students practice identifying and categorizing homophones and homographs with the illustrations from the Amelia Bedelia books. In Grossman, Valencia, and Evans’ (2000) study, a teacher named Stephanie engaged her students in several longer writing projects, such as writing second grade stories and instructions for Amelia Bedelia, each of which was taken through the entire writing process.
English is filled with idioms. Johnson (2006) suggests that discussing idioms in the context of what they read allows English language learners to use the context of the whole story to support the meaning of the phrase. Amelia Bedelia books are good examples of texts to be used with English language learners for this purpose and for dealing with known words in new ways (Johnson, 2006; Wood, Maggi & Napier, 1998; Zipke, Ehri, & Cairns, 2009).
The following lesson plan is designed to teach beginning young English as a foreign language (EFL) learners’ linguistic competence through English idioms and figurative language of Amelia Bedelia books.
- Ask learners questions based on the cover, such as “Who is the author?” and “What’s the title of the book?”
- Ask learners to describe the cover of the book and predict what the story will be.
- Ask learners to share their experience about literally interpreting English but causing miscommunication. Or ask learners to share expressions in their native languages that have more than one meaning (or secondary meaning).
- Play the CD and ask the learners to read along with the text.
- Put the Jigsaw idiom Poster on the board.
- Assign each learner an idiom and a blank card. Ask learners to find the idioms in the book. Ask learners with lower English proficiency levels to write or draw “What Amelia Bedelia did.” Ask advanced learners to write or draw “What Amelia Bedelia should have done.” Learners attach the card to the poster when they complete it.
- Go through the idioms and ask learners to share their thoughts. Explain the words, phrases, and idioms in the book.
Jigsaw Idiom Poster
||What Amelia Bedelia did
||What Amelia Bedelia should have done
dress the chicken
- Have the students get into pairs or groups of three.
- Pass out a slip of paper with one idiom on it to each one of the groups.
- Each group makes a frozen picture based on the idiom.
- The rest of the class guesses what the idiom is.
- Explain the assignment called Four Corner Idiom. Learners choose five idioms for their assignment.
- Ask learners to fold the paper in fourths. Learners write the idioms in one column, draw the illustration on the second column, write the definition on the third column, and write the contextualized sentence on the fourth column.
- The assignment will be used as the warm-up activity for the next class. Ask learners to fold the chart in fourths so that they can only view one corner at a time. Students work in pairs to guess what the idiom is. Start with the illustration, the definition, then the contextualized sentence, and finally show the pair the actually idiom.
Four Corner Idiom
The Amelia Bedelia books are fun and they can be authentic materials to teach EFL learners the vocabulary, figurative language, and idioms of the target language. Beginning young learners will like these stories so much, because these books bring understanding to the words and put them in context, where Amelia Bedelia does not.
Giambo, D., & Szecsi, T. (2006). Opening up to the issues: Preparing preservice teachers to work effectively with English language learners. Childhood Education, 82(2), 107-110.
Grossman, P., Valencia, S., & Evans, K. (2000). Transitions into teaching: Learning to teach writing in teacher education and beyond. Albany, NY: National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement.
Johnson, P. (2006). One child at a time: Making the most of your time with struggling readers, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Peregoy, S. F., & Boyle, W. F. (2008). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Wood, E., Maggi, B. H., & Napier, M. (1998). Into the curriculum: Reading and Language Arts: Using Amelia Bedelia Books to teach figurative and literal meanings. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 15(2), 11-24.
Zipke, M., Ehri, L C., & Cairns, H. S. (2009). Using semantic ambiguity instruction to
improve third graders’ metalinguistic awareness and reading comprehension: An
experimental study. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(3), 300-321.
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