Giving Definitions In Terms Of Use

PROCEDURE. Use the words: _Chair_, _horse_, _fork_, _doll_, _pencil_,

and _table_. Say: "_You have seen a chair. You know what a chair is.

Tell me, what is a chair?_" And so on with the other words, always in

the order in which they are named above.

Occasionally there is difficulty in getting a response, which is

sometimes due merely to the child's unwillingness to express his

thoughts in sentences. The e
rlier tests require only words and phrases.

In other cases silence is due to the rather indefinite form of the

question. The child could answer, but is not quite sure what is expected

of him. Whatever the cause, a little tactful urging is nearly always

sufficient to bring a response. In this test we have not found the

difficulty of overcoming silence nearly as great as others have stated

it to be. In consecutive tests of 150 5- and 6-year-old children we

encountered unbreakable silence with 8 words out of the total 900

(150 x 6). This is less than 1 per cent. But tactful encouragement is

sometimes necessary, and it is best to take the precaution of not giving

the test until _rapport_ has been well established.

The urging should take the following form: "_I'm sure you know what a

... is. You have seen a .... Now, tell me, what is a ... ?_" That is, we

merely repeat the question with a word of encouragement and in a

coaxing tone of voice. It would not at all do to introduce other

questions, like, "_What does a ... look like?_" or, "_What is a ...

for?_" "_What do people do with a ... ?_"

Sometimes, instead of attempting a definition (of _doll_, for example),

the child begins to talk in a more or less irrelevant way, as "I have a

great big doll. Auntie gave it to me for Christmas," etc. In such cases

we repeat the question and say, "_Yes, but tell me; what is a doll?_"

This is usually sufficient to bring the little chatter-box back to the


Unless it is absolutely necessary to give the child lavish

encouragement, it is best to withhold approval or disapproval until the

test has been finished. If the first response is a poor one and we

pronounce it "fine" or "very good," we tempt the child to persist in his

low-grade type of definition. By withholding comment until the last word

has been defined, we give greater play to spontaneity and initiative.

SCORING. As a rule, children of 5 and 6 years define an object in terms

of use, stating what it does, what it is for, what people do with it,

etc. Definitions by description, by telling what substance it is made

of, and by giving the class to which it belongs are grouped together as

"definitions superior to use." It is not before 8 years that two thirds

of the children spontaneously give a large proportion of definitions in

terms superior to use.

The test is passed in year V if _four words out of the six_ are defined

in terms of use (or better than use). The following are examples of

satisfactory responses:--

_Chair_: "To sit on." "You sit on it." "It is made of wood and

has legs and back," etc.

_Horse_: "To drive." "To ride." "What people drive." "To pull

the wagon." "It is big and has four legs," etc.

_Fork_: "To eat with." "To stick meat with." "It is hard and has

three sharp things," etc.

_Doll_: "To play with." "What you dress and put to bed." "To

rock," etc.

_Pencil_: "To write with." "To draw." "They write with it." "It

is sharp and makes a black mark."

_Table_: "To eat on." "What you put the dinner on." "Where you

write." "It is made of wood and has legs."

Examples of failure are such responses as the following: "A chair is a

chair"; "There is a chair"; or simply, "There" (pointing to a chair). We

record such responses without pressing for a further definition. About

the only other type of failure is silence.

REMARKS. It is not the purpose of this test to find out whether the

child knows the meaning of the words he is asked to define. Words have

purposely been chosen which are perfectly familiar to all normal

children of 5 years. But with young children there is a difference

between knowing a word and giving a definition of it. Besides, we desire

to find out how the child apperceives the word, or rather the object for

which it stands; whether the thing is thought of in terms of use,

appearance (shape, size, color, etc.), material composing it, or class


This test, because it throws such interesting light on the maturity of

the child's apperceptive processes, is one of the most valuable of all.

It is possible to differentiate at least a half-dozen degrees of

excellence in definitions, according to the intellectual maturity of the

subject. A volume, indeed, could be written on the development of word

definitions and the growth of meanings; but we will postpone further

discussion until VIII, 5. Our concern at present is to know that

children of 5 years should at least be able to define four of these six

words in terms of use.

Binet placed the test in year VI, but our own figures and those of

nearly all the other investigations indicate that it is better located

in year V.