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Where Do Hippos Eat? – Assuming Too Much

I had a enlightening moment yesterday with my seven-year-old. He came to me with his homework packet, saying, “Daddy, I can’t find the answer to this question.”

He handed me a worksheet with a picture of two hippos in a grassy field next to a lake. The question he was having problems with was, “Where do the hippos eat?”

He said that he couldn’t find the answer in the story above the picture. I read the story, and I saw the answer right away. The sentence stated, “The hippos were grazing by the lake.”

I was a little surprised that he couldn’t answer the question, so I asked him to read the section with the sentence aloud to me. He did, and still he didn’t know the answer to the question: “Where do the hippos eat?”

Then it hit me. He didn’t know what the word “grazing” meant. It wasn’t a new vocabulary word. The creators of the worksheet evidently assumed that second-graders knew what the word, “grazing” meant.

So I asked him, do you know what “grazing” means?

He said, “Yes.”

Now I was really confused.

That’s when I asked him, “What does ‘grazing’ mean?”

He smiled and said, “Making out.”

I laughed too.

Evidently , he understood the passage in the story to mean that these two hippos in the picture were in the grass by the lake  – making out.

I’m laughing too.

Here’s the lesson I learned for my classes. It’s also Today’s Tip for New Teacher: Never assume that students know even the most obvious words. You’ll be surprised how many students have not been exposed to words that we as educators consider common knowledge. I’ve run into this a lot in my classroom, so I’m always asking the question, “How many know what this word means?” Just because we know what a particular word means doesn’t mean that the kids know it also. I just never expected to be reminded of this lesson so close to home.


Here’s to lots of Success In The Classroom.

Got to go graze.



  1. October 20, 2010    

    Never assume that kids know the meaning of words is excellent advice. It’s a lesson I seem to have to keep relearning.

    • admin's Gravatar admin
      October 21, 2010    

      Hi Elona,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m always being surprised with what words the students don’t know. Yesterday’s word was “ratify.” I guess I should have known that my 8th graders wouldn’t know that one.

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