Category Archives: On Teaching

The Lick-Stick Test

In the Cretaceous mud we found a shattered dinosaur thigh by following fragments of petrified bone scattered down an arroyo.

But—I think I’ve explained this before—if you find a tiny piece, how can you tell whether it’s a dissolving dinosaur?

Lick it. If it’s bone, rather than some other stone like agate or silicified wood, the porous vesicles left by once-living cells and capillaries will wick up the moisture of your tongue, and it will stick.

Eagle Mother

At Zuni Pueblo, a storymaking workshop for 3rd, 4th, 5th graders. Writers can’t be restrained from doodling while they think, so we covered the new library tabletops with yellow butcher paper. When we cleaned up on Friday—the kids long gone—among the smudgy misspellings and graffiti was  this drawing, unsigned.

Her quiet face.


LLs Across the Water

In the mid-nineteenth century, Stephen James emigrated from Wales to work as a shipbuilder on the Great Lakes. Though he didn’t know his great-great-granddaughter would one day teach at Zuni Pueblo, he bequeathed to her the legacy of the unvoiced, or aspirated, L.

Llewellyn. Llangollen. The tongue forms an L, but the vocal cords rest and let the breath take over. English-speakers struggle, but Zuni-speakers are right at home with Grandpa’s double L.

Me’shoko eshe llabissho.

It means “donkey lips.” If you can say it, you’re Zuni…or Welsh.


How do you say “Way too many”?

In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, thirteen indigenous languages are spoken. (This in addition to Spanish.)

In Oaxaca city, working with a group of preschool teachers who were making handmade readers for their students, we posed a question: How, in your various languages, would you express quantity: words like “lots,” “a few,” “some,” “a bunch”?

They grinned and asked us back: What are you referring to? Because in our languages it depends whether you’re talking about a lot/few/some/bunch of:

Long, skinny objects

Round objects



Stuff that is neither close nor far away

Things we used to have

Things we might have someday

and so on.

I was humbled. Until then I had felt smug about the precision of my prose.


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