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Six Honest Men

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

"I have six honest serving men

They taught me all I knew

Their names are What, and Where and When;

and Why and How and Who."

Rudyard Kipling

I seem to remember first coming across this as a quote in His Girl Friday with Cary Grant (a 1940 film adaptation of The Front Page) when he is giving the advice on what a journalist should include in any article. The same film reminds you to put all the important information up front because "Who's gonna read the second paragraph?"

For our Learners, regardless of whether they like old black and white films or know that Rudyard Kipling wrote more than If and The Jungle Book, the key point is to use this Forget-Me-Not to point them in the right directions (six of them!) to get help with the task at hand.

Given the literary nature, it's no surprise that this Forget-Me-Not is primarily for use with Reading Effectively, but like so many of the Forget-Me-Nots, it could give helpful reminders in other areas too.

Six honest men: who, what, where, when, why and how

Who reminds the Learner to look for the people in a task (or reading comprehension). If they remember that it is a person, a proper name, title (a way of addressing or referring to a person) or an occupation (i.e. describing a person in terms of what they do) they'll find answers like 'the old man', 'Bad King John', or 'the king' so much easier and quicker. Reading effectively means planning your reading in advance so you know what to look for so you don't waste time on non-essentials. If you are asked 'who' the answer cannot be 'on Friday'. It seems obvious, but worth reiterating to our younger Learners that specific questions require specific types of answers. It's also worth reminding them that 'bodies of people' e.g. companies or organisations could be the answer to a who question, too.

What means that the Learner is looking for an object of some sort. In other words, it has to be a noun. It can be qualified (e.g. three dogs, or the rising sun), but it is the thing that is important. It doesn't have to be a concrete object, though. Rather, it can be quite abstract at times e.g. what is your opinion of rap music? Your opinion, abstract though it may be, is nonetheless an entity that can be quantified.

Where leads the Learner not down the garden path (although that could be a possible answer) but to a specific location. Size doesn't matter - it could be a little nook or cranny, a house, village, town, country, continent or planet, depending on what is being discussed - but it's the locus not the object that matters.

When is to time as where was to place. It can vary from a precise moment in time to a wide range or anything in between: a nanosecond or an era, ten past 12 or a week past Wednesday, next Spring. Depending on the context it can be in the past or the future. Duration, though, would answer a completely different question - how long.

Why means they are looking for a reason or rationale of some sort. The things to look for in a text could thus follow the conjunction 'because' or use an infinitive phrase such as 'to buy a ticket'. Inference skills might be required rather than finding the answer as a direct quote in the text, but keep that because/in order to at the forefront of your mind when deciding on your answer.

How is less neat than the others as there are a number of different possibilities depending on the exact 'how' you are asking. For instance, how can be querying the way or manner in which something is done. The simplest answer for that one is to look for any adverbs (often a word ending in -ly, or an irregular adverb such as well). You might find the answer you need after the word 'by' (e.g. by car, by using a hammer) or in a longer adverbial phrase. If you are being asked to answer a how that relates to a quality, condition or state, then an adjective could be key (e.g. How is your soup? Hot. How was your holiday? Exhausting.) Degree or extent can be answers to how, too - so look closely at the keyword linked with how to help find the answer you need e.g. how old (look for an age or a date), how hot (find a temperature), how quickly (specific time taken to do something ), how many (numbers or quantity), how much (price or measurement), how long (duration, elapsed time or a measurement of length).

The tips above are very relevant for Reading Effectively, and particularly for the dreaded Reading Comprehension that our Learners will be attempting on a regular basis at school. However, the Six Honest Men can be used in other areas, too, as a way to generate ideas and solutions or suggest strategies. You could use them to help you highlight memory aids or suggest observation strategies. We'll look at some of those options in other blogs in due course.

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