Synesthesia: “J is purple…Meat is sharp, and August is acid green…”

Synesthesia is an involuntary, and complex neurological phenomenon in which one or more of the physical sensors are linked. For example, in one form, a person with synesthesia, might percieve a letter of the alphabet (written in black) as a color. They also might percieve numbers, days of the weeks, and months of the year as colors. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. Children are also affected since synesthesia begins at birth. The following article describes this extraordinary phenomenon.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post  with Answer Key.

The World of Synesthesia. Photo- The Big Think

Excerpt: A Rainbow Is A Song: The Wild, Curious & Wonderful World of Synesthesia, By Megan Erickson, Big Think.

“On a late winter day in 1922, the sound of a gun shot resounded with a loud boom in the hills surrounding the house of three-year-old Edgar Curtis. The sound itself wasn’t out of the ordinary, since the Curtises lived near a firing range. What was extraordinary was the question the boy turned to ask his mother: “What is that big, black noise?” 

How a person with synesthesia might percieve letters and numbers-Wikipedia.

A few days later, when his mother was putting him to bed, Edgar heard the chirping of a shrill cricket and demanded, “What is that little white noise?” For Edgar, low, rhythmic notes were dark in color. High-pitched sounds were pale, and, researchers later discovered, tones in between were variously red, blue, and purple. A rainbow was “a song.” 

Amazon.

Edgar Curtis’ story is an early example in the scientific literature of synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which one or more sensory modalities are linked. “There are many different forms,”  says David Eagleman, a neuroscientist known for his ability to garner important insights into the nature of perception and consciousness through idiosyncratic methods…It used to be thought this was very rare,” says Eagleman. “The original estimates were 1 in 20,000, but we now know it’s quite common. 

Probably up to 4 percent of the population has some form of synesthesia… Perhaps five was gold simply because you saw it as a child, painted on the side of a fire truck racing through the streets. Siri Husvedt states that before brain scans and before recent research into the brain, people were very reluctant to do any studies… it just seemed so wacky…

Sounds Like Blue? Article by Daniel Roden, Boston University.

Today, we understand that synesthesia is internal, automatic, involuntary, and unconscious… Synesthesia is experienced from birth, so synesthetes are often unaware that there’s anything unusual about the way they see the world until it’s pointed out to them. To a synesthete, it’s just self-evidently true that J is purple, as Eagleman says, or that meat feels sharp, or that August is acid green.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level:  High Intermediate -Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective:   Students will read and share their thoughts about the article through discussions, and writitng, and drawing. They will learn new vocabulary and practice reading comprehension.

I. Pre-Reading Tasks

Stimulating background knowledge

Brainstorming

Directions: In groups, have students generate ideas/words that may be connected to the article.  Students can use the he Word organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with new vocabulary.

II. While Reading Tasks

  •  Vocabulary

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and word chart  for assistance.

  1. On a late winter day in 1922, the sound of a gun shot resounded with a loud boom…
  2. What was extraordinary was the question the boy turned to ask his mother…
  3. …synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which one or more sensory modalities are linked.
  4.  David Eagleman, a neuroscientist known for his ability to garner important insights into the nature of perception…
  5. The study of synesthesia has historically been marked by such misconceptions.
  6. 19th century romantics and early 20th century surrealists were intrigued…
  7. …since the impressionistic perceptions of synesthetes seemed to jibe with the generally fluid and emotional sense of reality…
  8. …synesthesia is biologically-based, perceptually real…
  9.  Less common, but still prevalent, is the linking of color with touch or taste with touch.
  • Questions  for Reading Comprehension

True / False

Directions:  The following statements were taken from the article.  If  a statement is true, students write (T) if  a statement is false they  write (F)  and  provide the correct answer from the article.

  1. Edgar Curtis  is a four- year-old with synesthesia.
  2. David Eagleman, is a neuroscientist…
  3. Synesthesia, is a neurological phenomenon in which one or more sensory modalities are linked.
  4. The study of synesthesia has historically been understood.
  5. … synesthetes were seen as especially sensitive to typical memory associations…
  6. Today, we still don’t understand that synesthesia is internal, automatic, involuntary, and unconscious.
  7. Less common, but still prevalent, is the linking of soundwith touch or taste with touch.
  8. Synesthesia is experienced from birth, so synesthetes are often unaware that there’s anything unusual…
  9. It was recently shown to be heritable, and researchers at the Laboratory for Perception are tracing the genes for it right now.
  10. Most synesthetes… have lived their whole lives…without suspecting that they’re seeing reality differently than someone else.
  • Grammar Focus

Identifying Parts of Speech

Directions:  Have students identify the adjectives in the following paragraph, then use as many of the terms as possible to write their own paragraphs concerning Synesthesia.

“Edgar Curtis’ story is an early example in the scientific literature of synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which one or more sensory modalities are linked. “There are many different forms,”  says David Eagleman, a neuroscientist known for his ability to garner important insights into the nature of perception and consciousness through idiosyncratic methods. Essentially, any cross-blending of the senses that you can think of, my colleagues and I have found a case somewhere.”  

III. Post Reading Tasks

• Reading Comprehension Check

Graphic Organizer

Directions:  Have students use a graphic organizer to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article. A good choice is the Topic organizer by Enchanted Learning.  

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas students can write an essay on one of the topics.

  1. The article states, “The number of publications released per decade on synesthesia dropped from about 135 in the 1920’s to about 5 in the 1960’s.” Describe how you think people with synesthesia were probably treated in the 1920s.
  2. Some people feel that synesthesia adds depth to the ordinary senses, while others feel it’s too much of a distortion of reality. Discuss the pros and cons of synesthesia.

IV. Listening Activity 

Video clip: Seeing Sound, Tasting Color: Synesthesia

Pre-listening 

The following video is an interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman.

“There are many different forms,” says David Eagleman, a neuroscientist known for his ability to garner important insights into the nature of perception and consciousness through idiosyncratic methods. “Essentially, any cross-blending of the senses that you can think of, my colleagues and I have found a case somewhere.”

While Listening Task

Multiple choice

Directions: Students are to choose the correct response from the ones provided from the video.

1.Anesthesia means

a-some feeling

b-no feeling

c-feeling in general

2. Synesthesiameans

a-joined feeling

b- too many feelings

c-no feeling

3. An example of Synesthesia  would be

a-hearing music while hearing tones

b-seeing colors  while distinguishing shades

c-hearing  music while seeing colors

4. Examples of over -learned sequences are

a-letters, numbers, weekdays

b-another language

c-algebra

5. The characteristics of Synesthesia are

a-conscious, planned, external

b- rehearsed, mindful, aware

c-  automatic, unconscious, and internal

6…of the population have some form of Synesthesia.

a- 3 percent

b- 4 percent

c- 6 percent

7. The study of Synesthesia  provides insight into understanding

a-  how  different brains can percieve reality

b- how different brains can percieve colors

c- how different brains can percieve numbers

8. Historically, most people who had Synesthesia

a-knew they had it.

b-have lived their lives not knowing they had it.

c- thought that they had it.

Post-Listening Tasks

Directions: Place students in groups and have each group create a list of questions they would like to ask David Eagleman.

Video Link.

ANSWER KEY: Synesthesia

Related article

See Like a Child, Paint Like Picasso by Daniel Honan

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