My students were reading the first scene of Hamlet yesterday, trying to determining the meaning of the language using background knowledge and context clues..
In the first scene, Horatio says of Hamlet's father's ghost:
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
as needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
"Dumb" in this case means mute. The ghost refuses to speak to anyone but Hamlet. Two of my students were able to determine the meaning of dumb in this instances.
One student used context clues.
The other told me that he learned the word by listening to Elton John's version of Pinball Wizard, which includes the line:
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball!
He added that the Elton John version of the song is superior to The Who's version. Thus began a spirited debate as to why The Who's version of the song is far superior to Elton John's half-witted cover for the film version of Tommy.
Eventually, I had to wrap up the debate as other children with far less pressing, less interesting matters were waiting to speak to me, but next week, I'll be playing both versions of the song to my class so they can decide for themselves.
This is one of the reasons I teach. For moments like this.