Generating Word Electricity!

Preface:  Turning a magnet inside a generator makes the electrons flow, which in turn creates electricity.  Yes.  There is a parallel to be drawn here.

I had an amazing mother!  My favorite parts of me were influenced and/or nurtured by her.  I see that so clearly with every moment I spend remembering her.  One of my favorite memories involves our weekly trip to the library.  We each (five children and one mom) brought home a carefully selected stack of books.  The anticipation of getting home and reading those books was magical!

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Here is what I picture:  We all have our own spot in the living room, each with our stack in front of us.  We dig in and read.  It is electric in that room.  I can feel the words in everyone’s head leaking out into the room.  There is occasional laughter and it is noted by all.  There will be a request to pass that book around later.  After a lunch break, my brother pulls out one of his choice books and we all beg my mom to read it.  But what we really mean is for all of us to sing it.  It is one of those stories that is also a song.  It is called The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.

That is how I learned new words.  We all read constantly and reveled in it!  We talked about what we read and recommended books to each other from our weekly choice stacks.  Unfortunately, that routine changed when I turned six and went to live with my dad.  BUT the love for words and books was embedded deep inside me where it resides still!

The current investigations my students are engaging in create that same atmosphere in our classroom.  I hear it when I listen to the videos.  At times everyone is chiming in at the same time with enthusiasm and enlightenment!  Students are redigesting familiar words and welcoming many new words.  They are seeing the true sense of what a word family is.  They are recognizing the role of a prefix in contributing to a word’s sense and meaning.  It is electric in the room.  I can feel the words in everyone’s head leaking out into the room!

Learning about the four principal parts of a Latin verb and how to remove Latin suffixes to reveal the etymon continues to lead to some of the richest discussions in my classroom!  In this first video, we look at the Latin verb Spondeo, Spondere, Spepondi, Sponsus.  One of the first questions that comes up is in regards to the potential <e> in the final position of the bases.  I love that the students challenge each other to explain why or why not we might consider adding one.  When considering the base <sponse>, Shelby points out that in the word <response> we see that final non-syllabic <e>.  That is evidence that it belongs on our base.  When considering the base <spond>, Kaeleb points out that it is not a 1-1-1 word.  What he means by that is that although it is a ONE syllable word, it doesn’t not have ONE final consonant with ONE vowel preceding that consonant.  Many of the students know that if a word has one syllable (or the stress is on the syllable to which suffixes will be joined), and has a single final consonant with a single vowel preceding that consonant, the final consonant will be forced to double when adding a vowel suffix.  It was a delightful bonus to hear Kaeleb also give more evidence supporting the final non-syllabic <e> in the base <sponse>!

The second student on this video looks at Frango, Frangere, Fregi, Fractus.  As she was reading through the words in this family of twin bases, I noticed that she had a “dictionary definition” for fraction.  I wanted to hear how the students define that word.  Then we talked about adding a word that we explored the previous day.  It was part of another student’s investigation of these same twin bases.  The word was <fractal>.

Fractals have always fascinated me, and I thought they might fascinate my students as well.  We began by watching a short Youtube video explaining what they are.  Then we drew a triangle fractal and a tree fractal.

A basic shape repeated over and over, each time the shape is smaller in size.  The students have been drawing both ever since!

In the next video, a student looks at the Latin verb Moveo, Movere, Movi, Motus.  As is becoming usual, the students ask the same questions I would.  One of the first questions was in regards to the word <smote>.  The students had never heard of it before.  I questioned the <s> representing a prefix.   We put it on our Wonder Wall for the time being.

The discussion about the words <promote> and <demote> also created a deeper understanding of both.  I try to ask often, “How do you use this word?  How else can we use this word?”  I want the students to be able to understand these words in several circumstances.

And then, of course, someone contributes another reason that the base <move> will have a final non-syllabic <e>!  Brilliant!

One of my favorite discussions has been regarding the word <commotion>.  It is becoming obvious to me that the students still do not automatically wonder what effect the prefix has on the base’s denotation.  Once I steered the discussion in that direction, there was quite a commotion as “light bulbs of recognition” went off all over the room!

In the next video, the first student looks at the Latin verb Tracto, Tractare, Tractavi, Tractatus.  This family of words led to some great discussions as well.  Parker was able to share his personal experiences working with bees to explain an extractor.  Ilsa was able to jump in when we used extract as a cooking ingredient in the kitchen.  We had an equally interesting look at the different circumstances in which we use <contract> and <contraction>.

The second student looked at the Latin verb Struo, Struere, Struxi, Structus.  I noticed right away that this student included <struthious> as a word that shared the <stru(e)> base.  When I saw the definition she included on her poster, I knew it didn’t belong.  She wrote, “resembling or related to the ostriches or other related birds”.  While I am surprised that she didn’t recognize that this word and this base don’t share meaning, I am used to seeing this kind of thing.  Even this far into the school year, my students need to be reminded that spelling represents meaning, and that in order for two words to be in the same family, they need to share spelling and meaning.   I need to remind myself that spelling and meaning have often been considered separate tasks in their past.  Making sense of spelling is new to them.  But as you can plainly hear in their voices, their enthusiasm and confidence is intensifying as they learn to question and search!

Turning a magnet inside a generator makes the electrons flow which in turn creates electricity.  Yes.  There is a parallel to be drawn here!

Thinking Out Loud About Grammar

I didn’t always love teaching grammar.  That’s not to say I hated it.  Personally, I remember being one of the few who could make sense of sentence diagramming back in my own middle school years.  But having a sense of something does not necessarily equate to being able to pass that on to others – especially those whose eyelids and shoulders drop at the mention of the word “grammar”.  These days I love teaching it  … using the 4 Level Sentence Analysis that I learned about from Michael Clay Thompson.

Using a 4 Level Analysis of a sentence allows for my students to think through their decisions, to defend their choices and to create their own sense of understanding.  There is definitely some groundwork that needs to be laid before the analysis can begin.  The first thing we do at the beginning of the year is to review the eight parts of speech and the five parts of a sentence.  Then as we begin analyzing sentences, we add discussion about phrases, sentence structure, and sentence types.

We begin by having a group of volunteers label the part of speech for each word in the sentence on the board.  The students in the class are then expected to look at the labels and to question them when they don’t seem to fit with what he or she understands.  These questions often lead to rich discussions on the role of each part of speech, the relationships of the parts of speech to one another and the idea represented in the sentence as a whole.

In the sentence we analyzed on Friday, the students had two opportunities to contemplate the idea that often words can be more than one part of speech, depending on how they are used in the sentence.  So while we may appear to be looking at the sentence one word at a time, we are always keeping the idea represented by the sentence in mind.

The first word questioned was ‘so’.  Many of the students recognize it as a coordinating conjunction.  That great question allowed us to revisit the role of a coordinating conjunction.  It also allowed us to think about how the word was being used in the sentence.  When the students thought about it in relation to the other words around it, it became obvious that in this particular sentence the word was an adverb.  The second word questioned was ‘student’.  Most of the time it is thought of as a noun.  I especially loved the way Elizabeth recognized that it can be a noun … sometimes.  Again, we need to look at it in the context of the sentence!

Looking back at the video, I realize that you can only see part of the two magnet charts I refer to at the top of my white board.  The first one lays out the parts of the sentence in a visual way.  Here is a better picture of it:



The students decide if the clause has an action verb or a linking verb.  Then they know what to look for next.  If they have an action verb, they look for a direct object.  If there is one, then they look for an indirect object which will be found (if there is one) in front of the direct object.

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I like this visual of the main sentence structures because I can incorporate the correct punctuation for each sentence structure as we find examples of each.  Teaching grammar in this way is more intriguing to the students.  With each sentence their confidence grows because they are asked to explain their thinking which helps them build their own sense of how grammar works.


Relatives We Didn’t Know Words Had!

When I first replaced ‘spelling’ with orthography, I had much more enthusiasm than knowledge!  I put it right out there to my students when I said,  “We’re going to try something completely different.  I won’t know all the answers, but I’m excited by that.  It means that maybe you’ll figure out something before I do, and you’ll help me understand it.”  What an amazing year that was!  The students and I took a 180 degree turn when thinking about a word’s spelling.  We started searching for the logic that we were never taught to see.  We absolutely delighted ourselves with the realization that words have structure, and that structure has nothing to do with syllables.   Once we knew about a word’s structure, we began looking at words that shared a particular base.  There was such a sense of delight when words previously thought to have no connection to each other, obviously had one!

Since then, the excitement has not lessened!   Hungry to replace years of misinformation, I have taken spellinars at Real Spelling and lexinars at Linguist-Educator Exchange.  Last year, I took a spellinar through Real Spelling called “Latin for Orthographers”.  Talk about a constant flow of wow moments!  One of the things I learned about and then shared with my students was the four Principal Parts of a Latin Verb.  I learned which of the parts were of interest to orthographers.  Then I learned to remove the infinitive suffix and the supine suffix in order to reveal an etymon that became either a Modern English unitary base or a set of Modern English twin bases.  Suddenly we see connections between words like never before!

Listen to Tyler and Nathan in this first film.  Only two students have presented before them so there is a hint of “pretty sure of myself, but not completely”.  I love the audience participation.  The Modern English bases being “discovered” seem to set everyone’s mind on its own search for relatives.  Listen for the student in the audience who jumps in to share how “rogue” is used in the sports games he plays.

In the next video, Elizabeth and Hanna explain what they have learned about the twin bases they found.  I absolutely love the excitement generated in the whole class when someone asks Hanna how ‘lavender’ has anything to do with “washing” (which is the denotation for the twin bases <lave> and <lote>).

The last video is of Elliot, who analyzed the Latin Verb he was given and found a Modern English unitary base.  Elliot does a great job explaining the related words he has collected.  I also enjoyed the short story he created using those words.  One of the students in the audience brings up a great point about the potential <e> in the final position of a lot of these bases.   He wonders if there should be one on the Modern English base <aud>.

I had each student investigate their own Latin Verb and its Principal Parts.  That means that we’ll have two presentations (along with lovely discussions) every day for another week and a half!  There is just no reason to rush with the presentations.  Each day that the students use the terminology (and hear it being used) makes them more sure of what they are saying and doing.  Each day that the students question/defend/share their understandings reinforces the expectation of seeing logic and structure in our language!

I’ll leave you with this lovely classroom moment…   Just two days ago, I asked the students to clean up so we could switch to science.  Teagan remarked, “Aww.  Why do we have to stop?  We are doing orthography and that’s science, isn’t it?”  I smiled and said, “It is in this room!”