Little in American culture represents spring the way baseball does. It doesn’t just represent spring, though. It’s an inextricable part of the season in this country. At this time of year, with the days getting longer and the temperature rising, an English language arts teacher might want to take advantage of the season’s essence by bringing the game into the classroom. Below are some suggestions for how baseball can enliven ELA instruction.
1. Examine baseball through literature – Baseball and American literature have grown up together. Literature with a uniqueness that made it distinctly American evolved during the early to mid-19th Century, around the same time baseball as we know it today became a phenomenon. An ELA teacher could begin a unit on baseball in literature by sharing these parallel timelines. A way to meld the two would be through teaching a novel such as Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, which famously was adapted into the film Field of Dreams. The novel is set early 20th Century and depicts one of baseball’s early scandals. It has elements of historical fiction and fantasy, along with themes involving family and change. All this gives an ELA teacher several angles to work with while presenting. The film can be used to enrich the unit as a comparative piece, as can works about the same scandal such as the film Eight Men Out. Dozens of other novels and non-fiction works depict baseball in more matter-of-fact terms, but few capture the love of the game as well.
2. Study idioms through baseball – The game’s importance in our culture might be most apparent through it’s appearance throughout our language. Any time someone in business or other endeavors someone knocks one out of the park, moves up to the major leagues, or throws a curveball, they’ve referenced our national pastime. Most baseball idioms are quite literal, but their application in other arenas is less so. Their appearance is so ubiquitous that people don’t necessarily think of the sport when using the idioms. In an ELA class, students might trace the origins of the idioms, search for their use in news articles or literary works, or write original pieces that use the idioms. This could be an introduction to a broader exploration of idioms in which students search for and use those without baseball origins.
3. Write about the game – Sports writing is its own literary niche. Some sports writers are able to describe their beloved sports in a manner that rings of high art. Others just report on the games for the sake of providing a clear synopsis of events. An ELA teacher can work with students to write about games for divergent purposes and audiences. A class might be assigned to watch a game (some students will love this; others won’t). The teacher can require students to write a summary of the game written for local fans. This would be a clear, factual, immediate description of the event meant to be a quick read that provides the necessary details. Writing effective pieces like this takes some practice and would be a worthwhile writing experience. From there, students can be assigned to write a more literary piece about the same game. They might write a poem using some extended metaphor to describe the game. Instead, they might write an introspective account of how a single moment from the game (an embarrassing error; a touching interaction with a young fan) made them consider some larger aspect of life. Such a piece might be aimed at a wider audience than sports fans. Students would get to experiment with different approaches for different audiences using baseball as the common theme.
Baseball season can be a perfect catalyst for exercises in an English language arts class. The ELA teacher doesn’t need to be a baseball fan to use the game as a platform for instruction. Fan or not, by incorporating the game into instruction, the teacher will be doing a service to students by exposing them to an important slice of cultural literacy.
Written by Jeff Hartman