To know God and to make Him known.

Hunting Echoes

I have a confession to make: I do not like change. Change is like breaking in a new pair of slippers—every time I slip them on and take a step, the soles of my feet remind me that all is not familiar; however, new slippers and change are inevitable. My classroom liturgy found a new pair of slippers after I finished reading an ancient book this year. In the Iliad, Homer, the teacher of the Greeks, weaves together Achilleus’ dramatic glory story with echoes, remembrances, and reflections. Each chapter or collection of chapters repeats or echoes other groupings in the epic. A hero’s speech routinely foreshadows an action or reminds the reader of a past speech or event. The structure of echoes in the poem leads one to ask: Could echoes serve as a teaching tool? Could this method become a much loved, cozy pair of slippers? My answer is a resounding yes! In my classroom, I started to ask my students, “What does this remind you of?” and now they hunt echoes like Greeks hunt Trojans.

Echoes are a natural teaching tool. Asking “What does this remind you of?” gently leads students to link knowledge just apprehended to prior knowledge, cementing in the new information. The question also subtly communicates that all present knowledge has roots in the past, either the student’s personal past or Western culture’s past. Signaling agreement with Solomon that “there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9 KJV), students learn to look back and join the greater conversations. Also, this question works in accordance with a student’s nature. We have been given memory from God who remembers. To build this remembrance muscle is to learn to imitate the Father.

Training students to ask themselves “What does this remind me of?” forms a healthy thought habit. Practiced times of reflection at the end of a day or week help students to begin assessing their lives in imitation of God, who reflected at the end of each day of creation and declared it good. Teaching students to listen for echoes helps them to see that they are part of a larger community. They are not the center of the universe but an important part of a whole. As such, they will amplify important echoes for others to hear. Recognizing remembrances teaches students to obey Scripture’s imperative that we remember. Just as we are purposeful to practice the Lord’s Supper until He returns, we can remember God’s mighty acts for strength to continue.

The question “What does this remind you of?” slays the elusive integration monster. For example, pondering this question invites students to spiritual applications. During a lesson on the distributive law, I changed the form from a (b + c) = ab + ac to a (b + c + d + e + f + g + h) = ab + ac + ad + ae + af + ag + ah to practice the principle of distributing. After discussing how much of a was given to each of the variables, I asked the question, “What does this remind you of?” Almost immediately one student raised his hand and said, “The Holy Spirit—He gives himself fully to each believer!” Asking students for echoes also aids in building their excitement for learning. While discussing Amos Fortune, Free Man, we paused on one chapter title,“Boston 1725–1740.” When asked, “What does this remind you of?”, one student recalled that Nathaniel Bowditch, from Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, was in Boston around the same time. Students scurried back home that afternoon to verify whether the two men could have met on Boston’s streets.

This new question also provides opportunity for personal application. After a logic lesson using The Fallacy Detective, the question was posed. A young lady answered that her younger sister had used the fallacy that morning trying to persuade their mother to dole out sweet treats before breakfast. One argument some may have against asking “What does this remind you of?” is that the answers cannot be objectively assessed. What is the standard for the answer? How does a teacher decide if the remembrance or echo is correct? Consider assessing student answers this way: If students can express how or why they tied it to the original discussion’s subject matter, the response is acceptable. It does not take long for students to realize that they must also answer “Why?” each time they respond with an echo. The focus is to help students learn how to reason across time and subject matter.

“What does this remind you of?” is my new favorite discussion question since it is a natural teaching tool, gives students a healthy thought habit, and integrates the curriculum. I love this question in spite of the change it required of me. Possibly only after students have long left the classroom for the real world will they be thankful for this gift. It has given them the ability, as Dorothy Sayers wrote, to make “an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon—or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art.” Perhaps we, too, will be thankful in our old age to pass off governance to a younger generation that can think using successes and failures from the past because they learned how to hunt echoes.


CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

Leave a Comment