Abstract and Concrete Words
Notes for Teachers
The difference between abstract and concrete words is a matter of semantics (meaning) rather than syntax (sentence structure). But the difference has major implications for the structure of students' sentences. For example, some of the KISS exercises on abstract and concrete words ask students to replace a single, relatively abstract word with several more concrete words. In effect, this requires replacing, for example, a single complement with several compounded ones:
In his workshop, Mr. James has many tools.
In his workshop, Mr. James has, among other things,
As the instructional material for students suggests, the second version
is much more concrete, but it is also much easier to develop -- the writer
can go on to discuss the various types of hammers, chisels, and saws, perhaps
even including their various purposes.
A few words about terminology and purpose
may be helpful here. I have seen numerous instructional material that explains
both "abstract/concrete" and then, as a seemingly separate distinction,
"general/specific." In many cases, but not always, the two distinctions
come close to what I refer to as the "two perspectives." The problem with
that is that any abstraction is a generalization, and any generalization
is an abstraction. Thus, one meaningful distinction is presented as two
different ones. In addition, the materials that I have seen appear to be
dead-end definitions. The distinction is made, and exercise (or two) is
done, and then the question is dropped.
The conclusion to draw is this: Never trust a dog!
The abstract word "conclusion" is here clarified by the concrete "Never
trust a dog!"
Because the abstract/concrete distinction is not usually needed for an understanding of sentence structure, I have included most of the exercises about it in the "Practice/Application" books. For now, these exercises are almost always the same for every grade level, but you will probably be able to adapt them if you want to use them more than once. (If I live long enough, I plan on extending the KISS site to include much more about the teaching of writing, and there you will find the abstract/concrete distinction to be emphasized much more than it is here.