#111 Proverbs

Published on December 2, 2006

=> “Partial Proverbs” – a creative writing and thinking activity
=> “Unknown Proverbs” – a creative writing and thinking activity
=> “Noun-less Proverbs from the Sakha Republic” – gap-fill
=> Proverbs and Lies – a team activity
=> 5 More Activities to Do with Proverbs
=> A note for mail.ru people
=> Answers: Complete Proverbs
=> In the Next Issues

“Partial Proverbs” – a creative writing and thinking activity

In this issue of ETs in Russi & Elsewhere we’ll offer up a few of the many possible task teachers can easily create from proverbs. It’s easy to find proverbs, maxims, aphorisms, and sayings on the Internet. For starters try


Below you’ll find five aphorisms that are incomplete. Students will complete them in writing. (Allow them to work in pairs or groups).

It is imperative to tell students that they are not expected to complete the original aphorism but their own. They may add any word or words to finish it. They are trying to be wise, thoughtful, and clever: that is what proverbs/aphorisms do.

These are real proverbs from Azerbaijan. After students complete these Unfinished Proverbs, they can compare the results with each other AND then the originals.

1. It’s impossible to hold two watermelons with…
2. Don’t buy a house, buy…
3. Wish two cows to your neighbor so that…
4. Hope is better than…
5. Don’t tie garlic on your head if you don’t…

Unwritten Proverbs – a creative writing and thinking activity

Here are some more proverbs–only they won’t exist until your students complete them. The first halves are just made up!

1. When a man loses his family, he…
2. When the fish jumps out of the river…
3. Don’t envy your neighbor for his possessions; instead…
4. Behind every successful woman is…
5. To live alone is to live…

Note: Oh, and if you come up with some great aphorisms/proverbs send them to me (along with the names of the writers) and I will make an activity out of them and put them on my website.

Noun-less proverbs from the Sakha Republic – gap-fill

And here are some cool proverbs from Yakutia (the Sakha Republic) in the northeast of Russia. Thank you, Vera Semenova, for gathering these!

I’ve simply taken out most the nouns. It’s the students’ task to put them back in.

Now, if you come up with proverbs that are different from the originals, that’s fine! There are several possibilities. Just be sure to explain what you think the proverb means.

Beware: Number 5 (my favorite) is very strange.

Here are the nouns to choose from:

ax, effect, fish, frog, hare, log, misfortune, mucus, sunshine, trouble, water, woods, word

1. There is no __________ under the fallen __________.

2. The __________ is safe in __________; the __________ is safe in the __________.

3. __________ makes one inventive; __________ makes one talkative.

4. What can’t be done with an __________ can be done with a __________.

5. A __________’s __________ has a healing __________ on the sea.

Proverbs and Lies – a team activity

You’ll need to write some proverbs/sayings/aphorisms on little pieces of paper. Put students in teams of, say, four people. That team will receive three proverbs. They must write a fourth proverb themselves. After some preparation, each team will present their proverbs, with each individual member writing the saying on the board and then explaining its meaning and/or origin (for instance, if it is from Africa or if it is modern, or whatever). One of these, of course, is very modern–just created by that team. This is the “lie” proverb and the team will try to disguise that fact, to make their own proverb blend in with the others.

The other teams, who at this point make up the audience, each get to make a guess as to which is the “lie” proverb. Each team receives a point for a correct guess. The performing team gets one correct point for each team that it fools.

Naturally, each team takes a turn at the front of the class, and in the end, all the points are tallied.

As a language activity, this game offers much practice: writing in a certain style and with a certain goal, creative thinking, speaking, explaining.

Let me know how it turns out if your class does this activity…

5 More Activities to Do with Proverbs

1. Print the proverbs on little strips of paper. Cut the papers in half. Mix them up. Distribute one slip to each student (a half a proverb). Ask students to go around the room and find (A) the second half of their proverb, and (B) find any second possible match that makes sense.

2. Write several proverbs on the board. Ask each student to write a paragraph explaining one of the proverbs, using none of the key nouns or verbs of the proverb. (You might want to anonymously assign proverbs). The students read their descriptions aloud. The remaining members of the class must guess which proverb is being described.

3. Same as above, except that students will write a scene–not a definition. They will describe an event that illustrates the proverb. This need only be a few lines.

4. Give groups of students four or five proverbs from a certain region. Their task then is to remove some words from each proverb and provide blanks (just like we have done with the Sakha proverbs). The blanked-out sentences will be written on the board, and the other students will fill in the blanks.

5. Ask students to go home or to the library and to look up proverbs from other countries. Ask them to bring in a list of five that they really like.

A Note for mail.ru people

If you have a mail.ru account you probably don’t receive ETs in Russia & Elsewhere anymore. I think mail.ru’s filters believe ETs in Russia is junk, so they are blocking it. Mail.ru is just trying to protect its clients. I have contacted mail.ru, but they haven’t replied. S o if you know anyone who isn’t receiving ETs in Russia, ask them to get a non-mail.ru address, or to contact mail.ru about their problem. Or they can write me.

Answers: Complete Proverbs

Complete Azeri proverbs

1. It’s impossible to hold two watermelons with one hand.
2. Don’t buy a house, buy a neighbor.
3. Wish your neighbor two cows so that you may have one yourself.
4. Hope is better than eating.
5. Don’t tie garlic on your head if you don’t have a headache.

Complete Sahka Proverbs

1. The fish is safe in water; the hare is safe in woods
2. There is no sunshine under the fallen log
3. Misfortune makes one inventive; trouble makes one talkative.
4. What can’t be done with an ax can be done with a word.
5. A frog’s mucus has a healing effect on the sea.

In the next issue

On Dec. 10–only a week away–a huge announcement!

Copyright 2006 Kevin McCaughey & I.M. Poosheesty

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