I was having a conversation with my 1st & 2nd grade students this past week. I let them know that there would be no Gifted Class for the next two weeks, since I was not going to be on campus. Naturally, they asked why, so I told them I was having knee-replacement surgery, and would need to be home recovering.
“But only old people have that surgery,” one of them says. Before I could smile and respond, another student pipes up, “Well, Mrs. Lindquist is old.”
There was a collective gasp from several students.
“Well she is older than my grammy,” explained the student, starting to look horrified that I might be insulted.
I was about to jump in and assure her that I was not insulted, when another student responded with, “You are the youngest old teacher I know, Mrs. Lindquist.”
“No, she’s not,” counter his buddy, “She is the oldest young teacher I know.”
What a perfect example of the significance of word order.
The grammar rule for ordering adjectives is always – opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose. Always. So I pondered their descriptions. Where did it fit into this rule?
Youngest old teacher.
Oldest young teacher.
Technically, both descriptions have two age adjectives…or do they? Could the subject actually be “old teacher” or “young teacher”, and not just teacher?
If so, that means one student views me as an old teacher, while the other, as a young teacher. However, with the age adjective of youngest or oldest, both students have brought the description to the other end of the age continuum.
Or is youngest and oldest an opinion? Which would come before the age (young/old) descriptor.
As the students continued their debate, I decided to turn this into a fun adjective lesson. I put them in teams and gave them each a noun. They had to come up with three adjectives that fit into three different categories. They then wrote out the phrase three different ways, one in the correct order, and two more in an incorrect order.
When all teams were done, each team put their three phrases up on the board, and the class decided which was listed correctly and why.
The giggles when the incorrect ordered phrases were shared helped to illustrate how intuitive the order actually is. Most people do not know or remember the adjective order, yet can correctly construct a phrase with multiple adjectives. For example, we will always say “the old, red, plastic pail”, never “the plastic, red, old pail”.
As we wrapped up the activity and I gathered up their materials, I overheard the following exchange.
“That was so fun. Words are awesome.”
“They sure are,” agreed her buddy. “They make the magic of thoughts real.”
What a perfect description.