Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

Munroe, Randall (Author)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015. 64 pages
First published: 2015
ISBN: 9780544668256 (hardcover)
Original language: English
Dewey: 500
Book type: Non-Fiction

Text Elements:

layout, multimodal, recurring patterns

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

In the introduction to this compendium of technological and scientific function, the author emphasizes the importance of knowing what things do, as well as what they’re called. Using only “the ten hundred words people use most,” the book bears out this operational attention, right down to the section names: a space shuttle is dubbed a “Shared space house,” and bridges are “Tall roads,” while a nuclear bomb is a “Machine for burning cities;” even the introduction is referred to as “Page before the book starts.” Each section provides an overview of the problems that technology is meant to solve, or of the origins of particular scientific knowledge. Tectonic plates, for example (“Big flat rocks we live on”), are made up of a “deep part” and “low area,” then comes “hot rock mountain,” and so on. The decision to eschew technical language is more than compensated for in the compact, dense masses of text in tiny print.

Elaborate, labelled blueprints illustrate the various concepts and objects; stick people and speech bubbles provide amusing human-scale counterpoint (showing, for instance, how not to use a telescope: backwards, facing down or as a warrior’s steed). A fold-out poster of a skyscraper (“Sky toucher”) comes with the book, which also includes the list of all the simple, familiar vocabulary the author uses throughout the book.

  •  

    Using only 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-letter words, write descriptions for three objects that you can see from where you are. Share your descriptions with a partner and discuss how difficult or easy it was to do the task with the limited vocabulary.

  •  

    Compare this to other non-fiction texts. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using simplified vocabulary.

  •  

    With a partner, choose a page and rewrite it using more complex language, including the real names for the items and concepts.

  •  

    Use this as a model text. Choose an object, invention or scientific phenomenon and create a new page for the book. Limit your word choice to the list found at the end of the book, just like the author. Share with a partner or small group to receive feedback and revise your work.

  •  

    Examine other information-based texts that explain how things work (see Companion Books). Compare and contrast the texts. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a limited vocabulary.

  •  

    Use this as a model text. Choose an object, invention or scientific phenomenon and create a new page for the book. Limit your word choice to the list found at the end of the book, as the author did. Share with a partner or small group to receive feedback and revise your work.

  •  

    With a partner, choose a page and rewrite it using more complex language, including the real names for the items and concepts.

  •  

    Examine the cover and back page. What do you notice?

  •  

    As a group, look at one page. Can you find other words to describe what you see? Why do you think the author chose the words he did?

  •  

    As a group, listen to the top of page 57 read aloud. Why do you think they call it the “ten hundred” and not the “one thousand” word list? Make a few suggestions for the “most used words.” Did they make the author’s list?

  •  

    With a partner, choose part of a page and rewrite it using more complex language, including the real names for the items and concepts.

  •  

    As an ESL learner, discuss how this experience helps you understand why you should find ways to expand your vocabulary. In teams, discuss ways to learn new vocabulary.

  •  

    Using only 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-letter words, write descriptions for three objects that you can see from where you are. With a partner, share your descriptions and discuss how difficult or easy it was to do the task using the limited vocabulary.

  •  

    Before reading any of the information on a blueprint, look at the illustrations and guess the object being described.

  •  

    Using only words from the list of 1000 at the end of the book, prepare an annotated blueprint poster on an object not covered by this book. Use any blueprint from the book as a model for your poster.

  • To adopt effective work methods
  • To communicate appropriately
  • To solve problems
  • To use creativity
  • To use information
  • To use information and communications technologies
  • Environmental Awareness and Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
  • Media Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Science and Technology