Strategies for Empowering Students

  • To motivate students to read
  • To encourage students to use their critical thinking skills
  • To foster cooperative learning and shared experiences
  • To promote an understanding and appreciation of one's own culture as well as those of others

  • Use of knowledge and experiences
  • Use of metacognitive skills
  • Integration of listening, thinking, writing, and reading skills
  • Development of a knowledge base of different cultures

  • Social Studies
  • English
  • Language Arts
  • History
  • Character Development

Students, working in cooperative groups, will select two to four familiar and unfamiliar maxims from the list provided. Students and/or teachers are encouraged to make additions to this list. This activity is an excellent avenue for addressing cultural diversity, as many of the maxims originate from various racial, religious, and cultural groups. This is an effective way to involve parents and grandparents. Have students ask their relatives to share some of their adages, old sayings, or proverbs. Have students be prepared to share information concerning the ancestry of their family and origin of these maxims.

Each group will discuss the possible meaning of their selections and write their interpretation of the maxim or adage, with an example of the interpretation. Students will then write about how the maxim does or can apply to their lives.

Maxims, Sayings, Phrases

  • Opportunity knocks but once.
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.
  • Many receive advice; only the wise profit by it.
  • The qualities we have do not make us so ridiculous as those we affect to have.
  • The attempt, not the deed, confounds us.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
  • Each man's belief is right in his own eyes.
  • Birds of a feather will gather together.
  • Age is like love, it cannot be hid.
  • I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
  • Well begun is half done.
  • Every beginning is hard.
  • It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest.
  • If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch.
  • Character is destiny.

Maxim: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Interpretation: If you don't do something right the first time, don't give up; keep trying until you succeed.

Example: If you didn't pass this week's math test, you should study hard all week and try to get a better grade next Friday.

Read the quote by G. W. E. Russell: "People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style."

  • Ask the students to interpret what they think Russell meant by "style."

  • Have students give their definition or connotation of what they think style is. Do they feel that they have a certain style? Explain why or why not.

  • Have students, using their definition of style, share stories they have read about other characters, relatives, or friends who they consider to have style and give their rationale for selecting these people.

  • Have students research G. W. E. Russell regarding his:

    • profession, career, or vocation
    • beliefs, values, and views about life and people

  • Have students research and list other quotes, statements, or stories that Russell wrote. Ask them to determine if a particular style of writing or thinking is evident in his works.

  • Based on their research, have students explain how Russell's beliefs and viewpoints are reflected in his statements, such as the one quoted.

  • How did the students exhibit their ability to interpret the maxims?

  • How effectively did students use their knowledge and metacognitive skills to aid them in the interpretation?

  • How was cultural information acquired and shared through this activity?

  • How was the skill of critical thinking applied or used?


Excerpted from Beyond Rhetoric and Rainbows: A Journey to the Place Where Learning Lives ©1996 University of Illinois Extension.