From An Claidheamh Soluis, November 17, 1906.

In dealing with the qualities possessed by objects it is especially necessary to proceed methodically and gradually, appealing at every step to the observative and reasoning faculties of the pupils, and availing of the natural association of ideas in their minds. It is simply fatuous to hold up a book and say: ‘Tá an leabhar glas. Tá an leabhar mór. Tá an leabhar trom. Tá an leabhar daor,’—expecting the pupil to grasp the meaning of ‘glas,’ ‘mór’, ‘trom,’ and ‘daor,’ as soon as they are informed that another book held up for their inspection is not ‘glas,’ ‘mór,’ ‘trom,’ nor yet ‘daor.’ Each idea must be approached gradually, and must be treated of in association with kindred ideas. We have discussed devices for teaching the names of colours. Other qualities are dealt with similarly. As illustrating the principle that there should be a gradual and methodical approach to a new idea, let us take the case of size. It is desired to familiarise the pupils with the words in the new language which render the ideas conveyed by the English words ‘large,’ ‘small,’ ‘long,’ ‘short,’ ‘broad,’ ‘narrow,’ ‘thick,’ ‘thin,’ etc. I will describe a lesson on size which I witnessed in a Belgian school. The language being taught was German. Some of the children were Walloons, some Flemings, but neither French nor Flemish was spoken during the lesson. It was, in substance, a language lesson on the Direct Method of the type familiar in the Berlitz schools.

The teacher was armed with a long and rather wide ruler (Lineal) and a short slender lead pencil (Bleistift). Carefully comparing them in size he announced:—

Das Lineal ist lang. Der Bleistift ist kurz.

The quicker pupils grasped the idea at once. For the benefit of the slower, the teacher gave further illustrations,—drawing long and short lines on the blackboard, comparing his middle finger with his little finger, comparing one boy’s hair with another’s, and so on. In the same way, drawing attention by expressive gestures to the respective widths of the two objects, he brought the pupils to realise the facts expressed in the sentences:—

Das Lineal ist breit. Der Bleistift ist enge.

Further practice in the use of the new words was given before the next stage was approached. Pupils were required to point out objects in the room which were ‘lang,’ ‘kurz,’ ‘breit,’ or ‘enge’; negative and interrogative sentences introducing the terms were formed; a proverb in which the word ‘lang’ occurs was written on the blackboard.

Next, enforcing his meaning with the aid of vigorous and eloquent gestures, the teacher went on:—

Das Lineal ist LANG UND BREIT: es ist GROSS.


Der Bleistift ist KURZ UND ENGE: er ist KLEIN.

A host of further illustrations of the meaning of the words ‘gross’ and ‘klein’ were given. A big boy was compared with a little one; an elephant was compared with a mouse (a picture of the two being produced); two houses—a large and a small—were sketched on the blackboard, as also were a variety of odd little pairs of figures, one being always smaller than the other,—two pigs, two ducklings, two men dancing, two boats in full sail. Needless to say, there were thus afforded endless opportunities for useful and entertaining conversation.

By precisely similar methods the pupils were brought to understand the meaning of:—

Das Buch ist dick. Das Papier ist dünn.

Similarly with:—

Das Buch ist schwer. Das Papier ist leicht.

The next step was the teaching of comparison. With a less intelligent class, or one new to Direct Method instruction, this might be reserved for a separate lesson. In the instance I refer to the pupils had no difficulty in following, almost as soon as they were pronounced, such sentences as:—

(1). Der Bleistift ist lang. Die Feder ist länger. Das Lineal ist am längsten. (So with kurz, kürzer, am kürzsten.)

(2). Die Feder ist länger ALS der Bleistift. Der Bleistift ist kürzer ALS die Feder.

(3). Der rote Bleistift ist EBEN so lang WIE der gelbe.

(4). Der Bleistift ist nicht so gross WIE das Lineal.

To translate the type-sentences into Irish for the benefit of those unacquainted with German:—

Stage A. Tá an riaġail FADA. Tá an peann luaiḋe GEARR. Tá an riaġail LEAṪAN. Tá an peann luaiḋe CAOL.

Stage B. Tá an riaġail FADA ⁊ LEAṪAN: tá sí MÓR. Tá an peann luaiḋe GEARR ⁊ CAOL: tá sé BEAG.

Comparison. (1) Tá an peann luaiḋe FADA, tá an peann NÍOS FUIDE, ‘sí an riaġail IS FUIDE (so with gearr, níos giorra, is giorra).

(2) Tá an peann NÍOS FUIDE (IS FUIDE an peann) ‘ná an peann luaiḋe. Tá an peann luaiḋe NÍOS GIORRA (is GIORRA an peann luaiḋe) ‘ná an peann.

(3) Tá an peann luaiḋe dearg ĊOṀ fada LEIS an bpeann luaiḋe buiḋe.

(4) (a) Níl an peann luaiḋe ĊOṀ mór LEIS an riaġail. (b) Níl an peann luaiḋe ĊOṀ MÓR ⁊ BÍ sé.

All this is treated admirably in Feargus Finnbheil’s ‘Mac-Léighinn,’ which is, as far as it goes, by far the best adaptation of Direct Method principles to a course of instruction in Irish.