Rewriting Proverbs

Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 15-30 minutes

Put students in groups. Give each group a list of proverbs like the one below. Tell students that their first task is to rewrite each proverb as a warrant, a larger principle about how the world works. (Sometimes it's easiest to do this in an "If x, then y" or "Whenever x, then y" statement. ) Give them an example: "If the cat's away, the mice will play " becomes "Whenever there's no obvious authority figure, then people are liable to goof off." Rewrite the first proverb as a class.
The second task for each group is to decide whether or not they think the warrant (and the proverb) is always true. If not, they should come up with an alternative warrant that would take into account the exceptions. For example: "If people really love what they're doing, they won't care about whether there's an authority to make them do it. Or, if an authority figure is really really scary, she doesn't even need to be there to make people work."
NB: Because the proverbs are unfamiliar, and because there isn't a clear statement of claim and reason, this exercise is trickier than Claim and Reason, Where's the Warrant? and Handy Warrants. It's probably best to do one of those exercises first.
List of Proverbs
1. No man can paddle two canoes at the same time. (Bantu)
2. The block of wood should not dictate to the carver. (New Zealand)
3. The church is near, but the way is icy. The tavern is far, but I will walk carefully. (Ukraine)
4. Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. (New Zealand)
5. Speak the truth, but leave immediately after. (Slovenia)
6. When the sun rises, it rises for everyone. (Cuba)
7. You eat an egg, but you don't understand how painful it was for the chicken. (Netherlands Antilles)
8. When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee's house some day. (The Congo)
9. A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. (China)
10. When you go to a donkey's house, don't talk about ears. (Jamaica)
(Proverbs from
Answer Key
1. If people want to do something well, then they must concentrate.
2. If you want to make a difference, then you must not let circumstances/the powerless dictate your plans.
3. When people want to avoid something, then they will make any excuse to get out of it; when people want to do something, they will overcome any obstacle.
4. If people are optimistic, then their problems will disappear.
5. If you tell a person the truth, then that person will get angry with you.
6. When something beautiful happens, then everyone is entitled appreciate it.
7. Whenever one person experiences pleasures, another person experiences pain.
8. If you treat people kindly, then one day they may return the favor.
9. Beauty and happiness don't just come from solving problems; it's our nature to create beauty and to be happy. Or, art exists for it's own sake, not to solve the world's problems. Or, people have the right to speak. Or, the world does not exist to solve your problems (the bird's just singing, not singing to you).
10. If someone has a flaw, then you shouldn't talk about it (if the donkey is embarrassed by his ears). Or, if there is an expert, then you will look foolish talking about the expert's specialty (if the donkey is the king of ears).