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The Printable KISS Grammar Workbooks KISS Vocabulary Exercises

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,
hammers, chisels, and saws.

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.
     I foresee a problem here -- the instructional material is included starting in grade three, and I'm not sure that most third graders will be able to understand it. This may be a major problem that I am currently unable to address. I'm assuming that teachers will adapt it to fit their own students, or just skip it. Indeed, most of the exercises in Level 1.8 can probably be done without the instructional material. For example, they just give students a list of words and ask the students to put those words into more abstract groups that have already been listed for the students -- "animals," "food," "birds," "people," etc.

      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.
     To be honest, it is also more or less dropped in the KISS workbooks. I think that you fill find at least some connections. Consider, for example, the exercises in Level 3.1 on the punctuation and logic of compound main clauses. The implication of the instructional material is that colons or dashes are used when the first main clause makes an abstract (general) statement and the second main clause is a more concrete (specific) version of the first. 

The conclusion to draw is this: Never trust a dog! 

The abstract word "conclusion" is here clarified by the concrete "Never trust a dog!"
     And there is the  exercise on writing a "general to specific paragraph" based on "Why The Hoofs of The Deer Are Split" from The Book of Nature Myths by Florence Holbrook:
 

Directions:
1. Place parentheses ( ) around each prepositional phrase. 
2. Underline verbs twice, their subjects once, and label complements ("PA," "PN," "IO," or "DO").
3. Place a vertical line after each main clause.

     Everything is good and happy. The green leaves are whispering merrily together, the waves are lapping on the shore and laughing, the squirrels are chattering and  laying up their food for winter.



     Note that the second sentence has three main clauses, each of which gives a specific example of the idea in the first sentence. Write two sentences. In the first, state a general idea. In the second, use compound main clauses to give specific examples of the idea in the first sentence.

     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.