“Learn to see what you are looking at.” –Christopher Paolini

The first time I heard the term phonestheme mentioned, I was taking an online class.  The presenter was talking about words that have in common a specific set of letters representing a specific pronunciation. The surprising thing is that the words also share a broad meaning.  Let me give you an example:  The letter string <gr> is initial in the following words:  groan, growl, gruff, grump, grunt, grouch, grate and grief.  Pretty obvious, right?  Now when you stop and think about the meaning of each of those words, there is a common theme here.  It is one of low unpleasant sounds.   Cool, huh?

Here’s another:  The letter string <ump> is final in the following words:  bump, dump, stump, lump, slump, hump, and rump.  When you stop and think of the meaning of each word, there is a shared sense of heavy and compactness, isn’t there? Once you begin an investigation of your own, you will be surprised at how many of these phonesthemes there are.  If you are like me, you will ask yourself, “How could something be right there in front of me all my life, yet I didn’t see it?”

With phonesthemes, it takes a bit of slowing down and thinking about each word to really appreciate what has happened here.  These words share a sound and a broad meaning without sharing a heritage.  They do not all originate from the same language, and they do not all share a root.  It makes a phonestheme all the more fascinating.  When I ask my students to investigate phonesthemes,  they willingly agree.  It seems like such a simple assignment.  If the phonestheme is initial, I recommend they grab a dictionary so they can check to make sure there is a shared sense of meaning.  A surprising number of words have phonesthemes, but just because a word has a letter combination (<gr> for instance),  it doesn’t necessarily mean the word shares this phonestheme for sure.  Here are some of the posters my students created.

***** The next time I talk about phonesthemes with my students, I will have them represent the phonestheme in IPA.  That way they will know that the phonestheme is phonetic, regardless of its spelling.

So now what?  My students have each had the opportunity to collect words that fit as a particular phonestheme.   Last year I asked my students to write poems using a particular phonestheme.  Some of the poems were fantastic.  Some felt forced.  I wanted to have them write, but we needed to talk about poetry in general first and the role sounds of pronounced words play.

I pulled out my new book by Michael Clay Thompson, A World of Poetry.  I read to them, “Poetry is not just expression in words.  It is also expression in sounds.  Poets compose sounds; they choose words that contain the sounds they need, and then they arrange the words into a composition that is an artistic combination of words and sounds.”

I read more from his book.   We talked about the vowels and the consonants, and how some consonants are breathy (like /s/, /f/, or /h/).  We said aloud other consonants like /v/,  /j/, and /z/ and found them to be hummy and buzzy.  We talked about how some pronounced letters remind us of movements or nature sounds.  I read examples of poems with end rhyme, internal rhyme, eye rhyme, and even no rhyme at all.  And then we were ready to play, to experiment, to explore.

The directions were to go out into the hall and look at all the phonestheme posters completed by classmates.  While reading the lists of words, they were to think of something to write a poem about. It was to be a poem that could incorporate words from several lists.  The words needed to fit.  I was not looking for every other word to be a phonestheme, and the poem to be about nothing.

I let them think through this and begin writing for about 15 minutes.  Then we stopped and talked again.  Some really knew what I was looking for, some did not.  I asked for some volunteers to share what they were working on so far.  I have found that this step gives the students who are unsure a better idea of what others are writing, and then they are able to think of what to write for themselves.  The point was to use the feel and meaning of the words with phonesthemes to improve the feel and meaning of the poem!  Here are a few of the finished poems.

The Former World Has Passed Away

The former world
has passed away.

All trees
have turned to stumps.
Lush lands
have turned to dumps
as we attacked each other
with fire and metal.

Now the only
beauty in the world
is the glimmering glaze
of stars above.

                                                   ~ Perry

The Wind

You swish my hair as I walk by
You blow like a trumpet
yet sometimes you’re hard to find

You knock leaves off trees
You push logs to the river
You swoosh and move plants

Blowing, moving,
huffing and puffing
in your courageous way

If only I was as powerful as you,
WIND

                                             ~Mara

Gone

He fled.
With a whoosh
he was gone –
gone down
that glossy field.

No time to flinch.
No time to whimper.

He was a flash,
a glimmer of speed,
a whisper taken away,
a glowing star.

The flick of his feet,
the glamor of his stride,
and when he finished,
a glint of pride.

                                      ~Zoey

My Little Sister and Me

My little sister
flings dust
in the places
I already swept
because I told her
to get out of the room.

I get so mad
I hit her.
She whacks me back.
I flip out,
my anger
flashing in flames.

                                                 ~Esperanza

Roots of the Past

See that stump?
It used to be a tree.
Now it’s just a clump
of what it used to be.

The tree is dead.
The stump is here.
The canopy’s lost its head.
The poor tree’s fate is clear.

Forever eternal
ash.

                                        ~Oliver

Movement

The swoosh of air that I feel
as I enter the water to swim.

The sweat tearing off my skin
into the swaying water.

Swoosh!  I pass everyone else
swimming next to me.

And that sweep of success
when I swoosh into the wall.

                                       ~Jordyn

The Candle

There was a candle
so bright and new
until somebody lit it.

The flame flickered and flicked
and magically grew.
It glittered and glistened
and gleamed out of sight
and swiftly swooped down
and died in the light.

                                      ~Francesca

I saw this poetry writing as an opportunity to play with words as one might play with Play-Doh.  We don’t always know where we are going to end up, but we start by picking something to create.  Then we add and take away  and keep doing that until we are pleased enough to share.

 

 

Phenomenal Phonesthemes!

When I first heard about phonesthemes, I was fascinated.  What? Really? How cool!  They were simple, everyday words that have been part of my living breathing vocabulary most of my life, and yet here was a new way to think about them!

J.R. Firth, an English linguist, first coined the term in 1930 and wrote about it in his book Speech.  He defined a phonestheme as a particular sound or sound sequence that suggests a certain meaning.  The word itself is derived from Greek phone “sound” and aisthema “perception”.  A phonestheme can be found initial, medial or final in a word.  My students recently investigated and made collections of phonesthemes that were found either initially or final in words.

DSCN6164

There was a list of words that begin with <wr> and have to do with twisting or turning (wrench, wrestle, wreath).  There was a collection of words that begin with <sn> that have to do with either the nose or the mouth (snore, sneeze, snout).  There was a collection of words that end with <ack> that have to do with abrupt contact (whack, smack, crack).  In all we collected words to represent 9 different phonesthemes.

Then we paused and reflected on the collaborative results.  Time to have some fun.  Time to play with our phonesthemes!  Students were asked to look carefully at all the lists and then to choose a particular phonestheme.  Keeping that particular phonestheme in mind, the challenge was to write a poem using as many words with that same phonestheme as possible.

The poems have been delightful to read!  And as I have been doing so, I’ve been realizing how important it is for students to have playtime like this.  Even though the words on each list share a sense of meaning, they are definitely not sharing an exact meaning!  The students were able to explore those sometimes subtle differences and practice using the words in a way that intrigued them and delighted them.  So many times we talk to students about “word choice”, but how often do they have the opportunity to play with the way a set of words feel in their mouths or with the poetic feel and flow of the way words sound when used in a particular sequence?

As you watch the video below, watch the expressions on the faces of these students.  Most can’t keep the smile from surfacing.  This has been such an enjoyable investigation.  And has resulted in poems that range from funky and fun to phenomenal!  We love phonesthemes!

 

School – We All Experience It Differently

In order for a poem to connect with a reader, it has to have truth and be full of honest feelings.  I recently asked my students to think about some aspect of their school week and to gather some thoughts.  Their topic had to be something they felt strongly about, whether that be strongly for or strongly against.   I’ve been delighted with their finished work.  I hope you are too!

<Orth> + <o> + <graph> + <y>

you taught me…

bases,
roots,
twins.
History,
like a British Council.
Challenge,
a chance to try my hardest.
Learning,
a symphony.

How can words be so …
interesting?

 Amazing,
glimmering,
fascinating,
enchanting.

When I study about you
it feels like an ocean’s waves
churning against me,
children laughing, throwing, reading.
A lovely sound.
The world of words can’t grow without you!

 Entertaining,
peaceful,
triumphant,
bewitching.

words, words, words …

 Could you tell me more?

                                                                Elizabeth

The Topic of Science

Science, you speak to me.
I love the way you make me curious,
full of wonder, I am now.

I especially love marine biology.
Take me to the ocean and show me
orcas, dolphins, narwhals,
maybe even anemone.

Let’s go to the beach
grab some shells and figure out
what species they are.

C’mon, let’s travel across
the country to Cali
so we can examine dino’s in tar.

You make me squeal.
You make me smile.
Don’t go away, stay for a while.
We have so much more to learn
so much more to do
me and you.
The topic of science.

                             Calli

Recess

Oh, recess!
The worst time of the day.
Too much excitement!
Balls getting thrown,
hitting people in the face.

excluding
bragging
bullying

I’m telling you
the truth.
Recess is
a dangerous place.

This is why
instead of going out
in the evil world called
recess …

Just go to the library.

                                                    Maddy

Gym

Gym is like a bird
always fun
moving and flying in the air
like a dodge ball
about to hit someone in the head.

Or Steal the Pin
always running and moving to get the pin
or to protect it.

It’s like flying on a plane
jumping around in the air
to make a loop.

It feels like you are in an army
when you are on a team
fighting to win.

                                               Collin

Art

My favorite
because of the freedom.
no rules
no mistakes

glue
paper
scissors

Quiet chit chat
throughout the room.
The colorful walls
instantly making my day
as I am laughing
at the hilarity on the posters
hanging on the walls.

The smells
of oily crayons
and fresh clay
are
wafting through the air
to my nose.

Taking in
complicated instructions.

It’s Tuesday morning!
I’m skipping
to art!

How many more steps?
3 …
2 …
1 …
We’re here!

                                            Ada

Math

A peaceful subject
in my mind

Finding the right answer
to an equation
is like the rush you get
when you win a basketball game.

I love math
almost as much
as I love my family.

It’s like the gears
in my mind are turning
at just the right speed.

But then once we switch classes,
the gears in my mind seem to
slow down almost
to a stop.

That’s when I feel like
I’m going to fall asleep.

Once I get to social studies and reading,
my brain is completely shut off.

I struggle to stay focused.

Nothing can keep me occupied
and upbeat
like math.

                                                                   Shelby

Recess

Dear recess,
I cannot describe you with
any word but
awesome.

I think it’s wonderful
that you have
basketball hoops,
soccer goals and
a kickball fence.

I just love the feeling
when I make a
“nothing but net”
shot at Lightning or
when I make a
game winning goal at soccer.

I also think that
it’s cool that you have
a play structure and a four square area.

                                                    Ivan