I use this worksheet as a first- or second-day-of-school homework assignment in my middle school Humanities classes. I ask them to identify a grandparent or other adult they know well who is approximately 60 years old (i.e. 48-52 years older than the students). The first question on the handout asks them for linguistic differences – in other words – differences in speech and vocabulary – between the older person and the students themselves. I start them off with a few samples about my own grandfather, who is 52 years older than I am: he says “automobile” and for some reason calls stop signs “arterials,” and he absolutely never swears. The second and third sections ask for differences (question 2) and similarities (question 3) between the older person and the students in terms of attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking. My grandfather, for example, automatically uses male pronouns for doctors, police officers, and other historically-male professionals.
Over the course of the year, I return to this activity in several ways. First, I want students to be prepared for the fact that the literature they study may use language in ways that are not familiar to them. I lightheartedly use “the grandpa” as a unit of measurement meaning approximately 50 years. “If you found so many differences in language between yourself and your grandparent,” I say, “imagine how many you will find between yourself and Romeo and Juliet, which is – ” I quickly do the math – “more than 8 grandpas in the past!”
I also want students to see that while there are many linguistic and cultural differences between their lives and the history and literature we will study, they will also find many ways to connect to the people and works of art of the past. Most students report that finding a list of similarities between their grandparents and themselves is the easiest part of the activity. Even dozens of grandpas in the past, human beings valued friendship and family, feared war and death, struggled to form community, and all of these experiences are common and accessible to us. I use this activity to reinforce to students that even hundreds of grandpas in the past, they will find human beings and feelings that they will recognize.
I hope you enjoy this activity as much as I do!