Here’s a Suffix, There’s a Suffix

What makes a suffix a suffix?  Seems like an easy question.  As part of my “beginning of the year assessment of their understanding”, I asked my students just that.  This is what they had to say:

“It’s after the actual word.”
“There is a suffix if the word is complete before you add the suffix.”
“If you take off the suffix, it’s still a word.”
“If you take off the suffix, what’s left must be an actual word.”
“A suffix is at the end of a word, and it changes the word’s meaning.”
“A suffix is not permanent.  You can take it off.”
“A suffix is a letter or letters that can be taken off a word and won’t damage the word.”
“You can take off the suffix and look at the base word.”
“You find a word and experiment by adding letters.”

Interesting.  They understand a bit, yet aren’t very sure of what they know.  Seems like the perfect time to offer a challenge.  A suffix challenge.

The Suffix Challenge

The students are placed in small groups of 2-3.  Their task is to list a suffix and think of three words that have that suffix.  The goal is to list as many suffixes as they can in the time given, each with three example words.  As part of introducing this activity, I use the following example on the board.

<-s>
dolls
pencils
dress

Now I ask these questions.   “All three of my example words have a final <s>.  Does that automatically mean that the final <s> is a suffix? Have my three example words proven to you that <-s> is a suffix?”

Usually someone notices that in the word ‘dress’, the final <s> is really part of the spelling of the word.  It is not a suffix.  Perfect.  So as they begin this task, they are keeping in mind the difference between the final <s> in dress and the final <s> in pencils.  They recognize that while ‘dolls’ and ‘pencils’ are good examples of an <-s> suffix, ‘dress’ is not.  They are ready to begin.

When they ask where they will find these suffixes, I suggest they pull a book off the shelf.  It doesn’t have to be any specific book, just a book with words.  As they skim the text, looking at the words, they will recognize a word with a suffix.  And that is what happens.  After 20 minutes, we stop for the day.

The next day, they have 30 minutes.  Part of what they are to do this day is to print the information they have gathered on a piece of construction paper so that others may easily read it.   Then I collect the sheets.  Here are some examples of how they looked.

On the third day, I handed these sheets out, making sure that they didn’t go to the group that created them.  I also handed out a recording sheet.  They were to record the suffixes they felt were proven, and those they questioned.  They were also to list words that didn’t seem to have the suffix that was listed.  Here is an example of the recording sheet.

As the groups looked over the lists of suffixes, I circulated with my camera, catching the conversations within the groups.  Here’s a snippet of what I heard.

I really enjoy this activity.  I love hearing the students share their thoughts with their group members.  I become so aware of what they do and don’t understand about suffixes and the suffixing conventions.  I get a sense of which students have no understanding of a suffix.  These are the students who list one or two of the last letters of a word and call it a suffix.  I also get a sense of which students recognize suffixes in their reading and can easily list fifteen or more.  It’s a great beginning of the year assessment piece.  I will do this again mid year and see how understandings are progressing!

As a follow up, I asked students to tell me about suffixes they questioned.  I wrote them on the board.  We talked about the example words given and decided whether or not we felt the suffix had been proven in those words.  These discussions took off in the directions they needed to.  We talked about replacing the final <e> when adding a vowel suffix, but also having that <e> become visible once more should the vowel suffix be removed.  We talked about suffixal constructions – meaning the joining of two or more suffixes.  I could tell that this idea – that words have structure – was beginning to take hold in many of the students’ minds.

We began the next class with some history of the word ‘suffix’.

First attested in 1778, it is from Modern Latin suffixum “fasten, fixed on”, from <-sub> “under, up from under” + <figere> “fasten, fix”.  So a suffix is fastened to something.  Sometimes it is fastened to the base element itself, and sometimes it is fastened to another suffix.

It is also interesting to note that the <suf-> prefix is an assimilated form of <sub->.  They are the same suffix, but with alternate spellings.

“Why was another spelling needed?” I wondered aloud to my class.  “Let’s try this to see if we can understand why another spelling was needed.  Everyone pronounce the word as if the <sub-> prefix was used instead of <suf->.”  When everyone had said the word ‘subfix’ at least twice, I asked everyone to repeat it about five times in a row.  Then I asked if anyone noticed a change taking place.

Several said, all at once, “I started out saying ‘subfix’, but I ended up saying ‘suffix’.”

“Exactly.  As you were pronouncing the word, you automatically sought to make the last letter of the prefix <sub-> more similar to the first letter of the base <fix>.  The result was suffix.  That is called assimilation. ”

Now it was time to watch a video made by my students a few years ago.  It is called Can You Prove It?  It is a game show in which the two contestants are given words.  They have to decide what the suffix is and to provide evidence to support their choice.

Following the video, I wrote the word ‘motion’ on the board along with its word sum.  I know that this idea of a bound base is extremely new, so I wanted to show them how common this one in particular is.  I wrote <motion –> mote + ion>.  Then I asked if anyone knew why I put the <e> after the <t>.  One student thought it was marking the pronunciation of the <o>.

“Great! It is!  But there is another reason, as well!”  No one had any ideas, so I wrote the word sum without the <e>.  Beneath it I wrote the word sum for ‘hop’.  I pointed out the similarity between these two morphemes.  They each had a final consonant which was preceded by a single vowel.  When I asked what the final spelling for <hop + ing> would be, they knew the <p> would be doubled.  I was trying to draw a parallel and to show that adding a vowel suffix to *<mot> would force the same kind of doubling.  And we all knew that the word ‘motion’ had only one <t>.  So, to prevent the <t> from being doubled, there needed to be a final <e> on the bound base <mote>.  I also showed them that when we added a vowel suffix to ‘hope’, the <e> prevented the <p> from doubling.

After that we began to brainstorm a list of words that had this <mote>base.  Our list included:

As I wrote these on the board and we talked about what happened at the joins (the place where the morphemes joined), I could feel the understanding taking root.  All words have a structure.  That structure includes a base element which carries the main meaning in the word.  If the base element can be a word on its own, it’s called a free base.  If it must be fixed to a suffix or a prefix in order to be in a word (like <mote>), it’s called a bound base.  When a vowel suffix is joined to a morpheme (a base or suffix) with a final non-syllabic <e>, that <e> is replaced.  When the suffix is removed again, the <e> surfaces again.

At this point, I asked the students to tell me the word sum for ‘motivation’.  I wanted to see if what we were talking about was making sense to them.  Confidently, they directed me to write the word sum and then, before I wrote the complete word, we went back to check those joins.

As is usual when collecting words related to the base in this way, I asked how each of the words had that sense of “movement” that is inherent in the base <mote>.

Students recognized that when motivated, they were moved to do something. When emotional, their feelings moved from the inside to the outside and showed up in a physical way (tears, smiles, frowns, etc.). With the tv remote, they knew that waves were moving between the remote and the television.

When I asked what it means if you get a promotion in your job, one young man said, “Well, say you are sitting at your desk and typing away at your computer, and you get the news that you are going to be a manager instead. OFFICE PARTY!”  We all laughed. This boy’s delivery was exuberant and funny.

So then I asked if anyone knew what it means if you get demoted in your job. Another young man on the other side of the room raised his hand. “It means you move down in your job. It means you go home and sit on the couch and eat a cheesecake by yourself.” This time I was the only one laughing. The rest of the boys and girls were a bit confused, thinking that the cheesecake would be a reward, but I understood exactly the picture he was painting. I just wondered how HE knew what some people do to deal with bad news!

So we are building understanding.  Having a classroom of 23, I recognize that we’re never all on the same page at the same time.  But we have all stepped away from the starting line.  I love guiding them as I have this week, revealing bit by bit what has always been there, and then watching them make sense of what has never made sense before.

Some think of a suffix as something that comes at the end.  But for us, it has come at the beginning (of our year, of our journey, of our understanding).

“While We Teach, We Learn.”

“While we teach, we learn.”  This quote is attributed to Seneca the Younger, the Roman Philosopher and Statesman who lived c. 4BC – 65 AD.  In my own experience I have certainly found this to be true.  Today my students had a chance to test it out as well.

Late in October one of the second grade teachers caught me in the teacher’s lounge.  She hoped that my students would be willing to present a lesson to her students.  I was thrilled we were being invited back.  The last time we presented a lesson to her students (last year), we had focused on the <igh> trigraph.  She was so impressed that from that one lesson, second graders were able to recognize <igh> in words for the rest of the school year!  I suggested that this time we focus on the suffix <-ed>.  She said, “Perfect!”

I knew we had a lot of projects in the works, but this was something I looked forward to.  Each of my three groups of fifth graders prepared materials and practiced using them.  Then today I took the classes one at a time to the three second grade classrooms.  Here is how I introduced the lesson.  Then the fifth graders and second graders worked one-on-one to practice adding the <-ed> suffix to various words.

It wasn’t until I reviewed this film after school that I noticed the boy holding the two letter p’s.  He is obviously confused about when it is doubled.  He doubled it when the <-ed> suffix was added to <jump>, he doubled it when the <-ed> suffix was added to <tape>, and he doubled it when the <-ed> suffix was added to <tap>.  Now I know exactly what I have to do with all three classes tomorrow.

We will reenact this activity in front of the room, pausing to point out the effect the <-ed> suffix can have on a spelling.  I am quite confident that my students know that the <p> is not forced to double in the word <jumped>, but I bet they will struggle with explaining why it isn’t.   I will then thank this boy for giving us the opportunity to take our understanding to a level beneath the surface!

As the students sorted words into the three categories (1.  just add the suffix, 2.  double the base’s final consonant, 3.  replace the final <e>)  I circulated to listen to the conversations.  Back when we were preparing the post-it notes for this activity, we began by brainstorming lists of words that would fit each category.  One of the words suggested was <agreed>.  It was a great word to talk about then, and it was a great word to hear fifth graders explain to their new friends.  The word sum for <agreed> would be <agree> + <-ed> –> <agreeed>.  We don’t replace the final <e> on the base in the same way we would replace the final <e> in <raked>, because the final <e> in <agree> is not individual like the final <e> in <rake>.  Rather it is part of an <ee> digraph.  On the other hand, we wouldn’t leave this word <agreeed> with three e’s.  No complete English word has three e’s.  So for THAT reason, we write the word <agreed> with two e’s instead of three.

Once the students had completed the activity on side A of the construction paper, they gathered up their post-it notes and flipped the paper over.  On the other side were the three distinct pronunciations that can be the result of adding the <-ed> suffix to a word (1.  /d/,  2.  /Id/,  3.  /t/  ).  Here is video of that activity.

As one of the second grade teachers was watching this activity, she overheard me asking two students about words in which the <-ed> had a pronunciation of /t/.  Every word on their list had a base with either a final <p> or a final /k/.  I looked up at her and said quite truthfully, “I never noticed that before today!”  She replied by saying, “Me neither!  One of the best things about your students coming to do these lessons is that I learn something new too!  Will you please come back to do the <igh> trigraph lesson next time?”

Today was splendid!  We were warmly welcomed into each room.  The second graders were happy to participate and enjoyed working with the fifth graders.  The fifth graders took their role seriously, explained things thoroughly and left feeling pleased with themselves.  And, of course, having to explain things to the younger students definitely strengthened their own understanding!  After all, a wise philosopher once said, “While we teach, we learn.”

Looks Aren’t Everything!

I am always surprised when students new to fifth grade misspell words like makeing, comeing, and lazey.  I’m surprised because they’ve been writing these words for many years.  Obviously, they never understood whether to keep the <e> or  to replace it when adding the suffix!  I may be surprised, but I’m not particularly concerned. These are spelling errors I can help eliminate!

The following Suffix Flow Chart is borrowed with permission from Pete Bower’s book “Teaching How the Written Word Works”.

Screen shot 2015-10-07 at 6.50.14 PM
I made copies and had each student glue it in their Orthography notebook for future reference.  To begin with, we read through the flow chart together.  Someone read the first diamond.  We imagined the answer was NO, and decided where we should go next.  Then we went back and imagined the answer was YES, and followed the arrow to the next diamond.  We kept reading and following arrows until we had read all the boxes in the flow chart.  Now we were ready to practice using it.

I wrote the following word sum on the board:

smile  +  ing  –>

Then I asked someone to read aloud the first question we must consider.  Before that question was answered, we reviewed which morpheme was the base or stem and which was the suffix.  They also wrote the vowel letters above the flow chart in their notebooks.

Now the question was read again and answered.  “The suffix <-ing> begins with the vowel letter <i>, so the answer to the first question is YES.”  We followed the arrow to the next diamond shape and read the question:  Does the base or stem have a final, non-syllabic <e>?  We looked at <smile> and agreed that the final <e> was indeed non-syllabic.

Then we followed the YES arrow to the final box where it said to remove the single, non-syllabic <e> before adding the suffix.  At this point we crossed out the <e> at the end of <smile> and were ready to write the final spelling of the word.

Here is how the final word sum looked:

smile/ + ing –>  smiling

Here is how the students practiced reading it:

“s-m-i-l-e   plus   i-n-g   is rewritten as   s-m-i-l   NO e   i-n-g”

When reading it aloud, the morphemes are spelled out.  Always.  The students recognize the absence of the letter <e> in the final spelling of the word by saying “NO e”, so that they are always cognizant of its place on the base or stem.

We went through a few more examples including the word sums “grate + ful” and “create + or”.  Then I gave them each a list of word sums, had them glue it in their notebooks and let them practice using the Suffix Flow Chart independently.

Everyone got right to it.  I would say that it took maybe three minutes before the questions began.

“I’m not sure about this one.”
“What is the first question to ask yourself on the flow chart?”
“Does the suffix begin with a vowel?”
“Well, does it?”
“Yes.”
“So where does the flow chart direct you to next?”
“Does the base or stem have a final non-syllabic <e>?”
“Does it?”
“Yes.  But if I remove the <e>, the word doesn’t look right!”

Student after student said the same thing.  And while I directed each one to a dictionary to check the spelling, I couldn’t help but notice a big problem.  These students had been taught to judge whether a word was spelled correctly or not by whether or not it looked correct.

So I stopped the class and asked if my observation was accurate.  In each of my three classes, 98% of the students said that they often wrote a word two or three different ways and then chose the spelling that looked correct.

So today I feel great.  I gave them a more reliable option.  Why not just rely on the simple rule beautifully laid out in the Suffix Flow Chart?  No more guessing games.  No more taking chances.  A few less words to edit when getting ready to publish one’s writing.  Who wouldn’t love it?

 

Explain How You Know It’s a Suffix!

The last few days the students have been working in pairs and trying to find and prove as many suffixes as they can.  I love this activity because over and over they are asked to explain their choices and elaborate on their thinking.  It sets the tone for the rest of the year.  I want them to experience that personal pride in being able to explain and defend one’s choices.  By doing so we deepen our thinking and weave each day’s investigations into a larger understanding of our language.

In this first film, Tyler is testing out the process he will become proficient at this year.  At first he is hesitant to come right out and make a choice.   I got the feeling he was fishing – waiting for me to tell him whether he was right or wrong.   But as I asked him questions and put the decision making back on him, I could feel him letting go of the notion that his answer must first and foremost be correct.  He began to see that logic and reasoning would help him make sense of whether the suffix in <adoption> was <-tion> or <-ion>.

The next student in this film is Ilsa.  She is playing around with structure.  She understands how the building blocks work and fit together.  Her word choices give us opportunity to be playful with words, and yet see the need to communicate meaning as well as structure.

In the next film Amanda is revealing what she understands about word structure.  In the word <daddy>, she knew that when removing the <-y> suffix, the base would not be <dadd>, but <dad>.  She also knew that in the word <user>, the suffix was an <-er>, and that the final <e> in the base <use> would not remain in place once the suffix was added.   The only things she was iffy on were the reasons why.

Hanna also understands that letters sometimes get doubled before a vowel, but she doesn’t sound too sure of when or why.  Calli is recognizing similarities in the words she found:  <graduation>, <innovation> and <irritation>.  At first she thought they each had a <-tion> suffix.  But when she actually went through the process of imagining the word without the final suffix, she realized the <t> had to be part of the base and not part of the suffix.  Kaitlyn proved that <-ive> was a suffix with the word <creative>.

As I walked around, I did mention that some of the words being looked at might have a prefix or another suffix besides the base.  The students nodded as if they understood that.  But then one of the suffixes that at least two groups identified was <-ier>.  They did not recognize that in the word <happier>, there are actually two suffixes.   In the weeks to come I will make sure they learn to investigate words to be more precise when identifying the base.  We have already created several large matrices on the board in which the students saw that a word could have several suffixes.  But today’s task was to focus on proving a final suffix and to be able to share our reasoning for our choices.

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” – Charlotte Whitton

Yesterday was one of those days when the orthographic sun was shining brightly.  I was bathed in the light, and that light warmed me from the inside out.

It all started when a teacher on our fifth grade team said she was talking about suffrage with her class, and one of the students wondered out loud if the word suffrage was related to suffer in any way since they had so many letters in common.
(Yes!  Trying to make sense of unfamiliar words by looking for relationships to known words.)

A bit later, another teacher who works with one of my students asked me to follow her to her room.  She had something to show me.  The student had read a story about someone who was a philanthropist, and when the teacher drew attention to that unfamiliar word, the student began writing a word sum.  The teacher wasn’t sure how to respond to the word sum and called me in.  Here is what the student wrote:  <phil> + <an> + <thr> + <o> + <pist>.

(Yes!  My students are aware that words are made up of morphemes, and they carry clues about their language of origin.)

Later that same day, a student ran across the word aquatic while doing some science research.  She wondered aloud if the <quat> in <aquatic> was the same <quat> we see in <quaternary> (we’ve been studying primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary consumers in a food web).  She also wondered about the <a>, and if it was the same <a> that we saw in <asexual> when we discussed living things reproducing.

(Yes!  Words are made up of morphemes and those morphemes are categorized as bases and affixes.  Some bases and affixes show up in a large number of words.  Research is the only way to know for sure whether two words share a base or an affix.)

So today when class began, I shared my joy with my students.  I wanted them to know that what pleased me more than anything was the fact that they were wondering and asking questions.  They were looking for connections and recognizing previously used affixes and bases.

I wrote <suffrage> on the board.  Below it I wrote <suffer>.  Then someone called out <suffix>, so I wrote that down also.  Because we had talked about <suffer> and <suffix> earlier this year, it was remembered that <suf-> (sub-) was the prefix in each of these words.  But that didn’t necessarily mean it was a prefix in <suffrage>.  We needed to do some research.  I pulled up Etymonline on the Smartboard and we looked it up together.

We found that it was from the Latin suffragari “lend support, vote for someone”.  The next bit was quite interesting.  [Conjectured to be a compound of sub “under” and fragor “crash, din, shouts (as of approval), related to frangere “to break”.  On another theory the second element is frangere itself and the notion is “use a broken piece of tile as a ballot”.  The meaning “political right to vote” in English is first found in the U.S. Constitution, 1787.]

The words “conjectured to be” and “on another theory” brought interesting discussion in and of themselves.  Both possibilities broaden the sense of the word.  For now we are satisfied that the <suf-> in <suffrage> might be a prefix just as it is in <suffix> and <suffer> … and then again it might not be.

The conversation we had about <philanthropist> took us meandering through several words.  I wrote the student’s word sum for it:  <phil> + <an> + <thr> + <o> + <pist>.   I said, ” Looks like this student is considering whether or not this word has an <o> connecting vowel.  What language would we associate with an <o> connecting vowel?”  Several students piped up with “Greek”.  Then I asked if there were any other clues in this word that it was in fact from Greek.  After a thoughtful pause several said <ph> at once.  Beautiful.  At this point I asked everyone to consider the word sum and whether or not they agreed that there was an <o> connecting vowel.

Right away someone pointed out that <ist> is a common suffix found in words like <scientist>, <artist> and <therapist>. So if the <ist> was indeed a suffix, then the <p> would not be by itself – that perhaps <throp> all go together.  At this point we went back to Etymonline.   We found evidence that <ist> was a suffix and that this word came from the Greek philanthropia “kindliness, humanity, benevolence, love to mankind” from phil- “loving” + anthropos “mankind”.  I shared with my students that when in college I had taken a course in anthropology.

With this information we created a new hypothesis:  <phil> + <anthrop> + <ist>.  We talked about what philanthropists do. I reminded them that a few years back our school was the recipient of a philanthropist’s generosity when someone purchased Smartboards for each of our classrooms!

But as we were finishing up that discussion, I wondered out loud if there were other words with <phil> as the base.  Immediately the word <philosophy> was mentioned.  We looked it up.  We found that it comes from the Greek philosophia “love of knowledge, pursuit of wisdom”.  How delightful!

Lastly we looked at <aquatic>.  When we looked at Etymonline, we could not find any evidence to support <a> being a prefix or <quat> having to do with fourth.  We only saw references to <aqua> meaning water.  Some students may have been able to guess that without having to look, but I want to develop the habit of looking.  There have been far too many unexpected connections (delightful surprises) when we have.

I leave you with a student/teacher exchange that happened later that day (inspired by our discussions):

“I’m thinking of the word <dinosaur> and thinking that if the <o> is a connecting vowel, then the word is probably from Greek.  What do you think?”

“I’m thinking that you know how to find out.” (said with a smile)

“Yup.” (said with an even bigger smile)

Taking on the Suffix Challenge!

After viewing a video of Dan Allen’s fifth graders taking on a “Suffix Challenge”, I was ready to have my students do the same.  My first thought was that I would find out how much they really understood about word structure.  My second thought was that we could begin the year with a nice collection of proven suffixes which would benefit the students throughout the year as they investigate words.  Beyond that I was open to anything that might surface.

Here were the instructions.  Each group of three or four students would get a large piece of construction paper and the use of both digital and hardcover dictionaries.  The task was to list as many suffixes as possible and to prove each suffix by listing at least three words that clearly had that suffix in their word sum.  The groups worked for 20 minutes on each of two days.  On day three, I gave each group a reflection sheet and a Suffix Challenge poster (NOT their own).  They were to discuss what they saw on the poster.  Which suffixes did the group believe were proven effectively?  Which suffixes did the group question?  Which example words did the group question?

So how do you actually prove that one or more letters at the end of a word is a suffix?  (We had previously had the discussion that a word can have more than one suffix, but for this activity we were focusing on the final suffix in a word.)  Well, I told them that if they could come up with three or more words that kept their meaning with or without the suffix, I would be convinced.  Many of the students began with familiar suffixes: <-ed>, <-s>, <-es>, and <-ing>.  As I circulated on the first day of the activity, I had the opportunity to see how little my students really understood about suffixes.  One group listed <-ing> as the suffix and the words <bling>, <fling>, and <ring> as words that prove it.  I wonder if this confusion is what comes of erroneously calling words that rhyme in this way  “the ing family”.  I asked this group to give me word sums for the word <ring>.  They quickly realized there was a problem.  I asked if the <-ing> suffix could be added to the word <ring>.  The light of recognition went off on one boy’s eyes, and I knew I could leave and check in with another group.

The day the students reflected on the other group’s poster was particularly fun.  The students were so engaged.  They were interested in the suffixes they themselves hadn’t thought of.  They enjoyed questioning aspects of the poster and then defending it.  I was amused when I heard several times, “We don’t even think this one is a word because we’ve never heard of it!”  I’ve learned so much in the last two years about responding to students during inquiry.  I simply said, “Well, how could you find out for sure?”  I have learned to simply put the inquiry back in their capable hands.

So many interesting things happened during this activity!  I realized that students are more familiar with dropping the single silent <e> when adding a vowel suffix and less familiar with replacing it when they remove that vowel suffix.  One group thought that <iced> and <sled> were not examples of an <-ed> suffix.  Their first response was to cover the <ed> part of the word and see what was left.  With the word <sled>, they were right.  The <ed> is part of the base and not a suffix.  But with the word <iced>, they didn’t recognize that the free base was <ice> and the suffix was <-ed>.

We had opportunity to talk about words in which the final <y> changed to <i> before added an <-es> suffix, as well as noticing that in some words the final consonant is doubled when adding a vowel suffix.  Those two conventions will be talked about again.  For now, my students are getting used to the ideas of explaining their thinking and defending their choices.

One last thought for those who want to try this in their classroom…  In addition to having the students list three example words under each suffix, have them write a word sum for each.  There was a lot of confusion about words in which the base had a final silent <e>.  By simply covering the suffix with their finger, they forgot to imagine that <e> in its place.  A word sum might help them with that.

Why We Love Orthography!

Today I asked my students to brainstorm things they have learned this year while investigating words.  When it was time to share, I was impressed with their honest responses and their sincere smiles.  Just listen to the first boy as he shares his favorite word from the year … a word he will understand and appreciate all his life.  His proud smile as he finishes sharing the word sum says it all.  When he was done, someone mentioned that the base <phot> is probably <phote>.   Yes, I thought.  But did you see the confidence and pride as he mentioned the connecting vowel <o>?

Further into the video, a girl mentions that she was interested in the prefix <cide> which means kill.  As she finished her comments, a wonderful conversation sprouted.  Someone recognized that <cide> is really a base.  Someone else asked about the word <suicide> and wondered if the prefix was <sui>.  Then other words were thrown out like herbicide, pesticide and homocide.  With each word, students offered definitions as the word related to ‘kill’.  As word scientists, it is never a big deal to make a mistake.  Mistakes are like springboards for fascinating discussions!  They are an opportunity to clarify thinking.  My classroom has become a safe place to question each other without seeming critical.

My favorite comment is the last one.  I think it is beautifully put!

 

Great Questions Are Especially Fun To Answer!

Well, I’m back from an intense, yet exhilarating 3 day workshop on Structured Word Inquiry. In the serene setting of Wolfe Island, Canada, Pete Bowers enthusiastically convinced the participants by use of evidence that the language we have been taught to think of as quirky, nonsensical, irregular and incomprehensible, is in fact a well ordered writing system that adheres to rules.  Now, these are not rules with exceptions (one thing many of us have been erroneously taught), but rules that do not allow exceptions.   It turns out that the English language has structure that we can count on and spellings that we can explain by means of scientific inquiry.  How refreshing!

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I left the workshop with a better understanding of how to turn word inquiries into focused lessons, as well as how to more effectively use the resources available to me.  In other words, my curiosity is super charged!  I’m looking forward to the question I can’t answer straight away.  I’m looking forward to being part of the search  and to listen to students draw conclusions based on evidence gathered.  I’m looking forward to my classroom being a place where we celebrate words, their meanings, and our new understandings of their spellings.

With all of that super charged enthusiasm surrounding me, imagine my delight when checking my email upon my return and finding a message from a student.  It seems Hailee was writing a story.  While writing, she began wondering about the word <especially>.  She wondered why the <l> was doubled.  She knew that in monosyllable words that have a single vowel in front of a final consonant, the final consonant is doubled.  But she also knew that that was not the case in <especially>.

So … in response to Hailee’s excellent question …

The first thing I did  was to think of a word sum hypothesis.  I recognize the word <special>, so I can guess that <e> is a clip of <ex> and is a prefix.  Besides, that would make sense that if something is referred to as <especially>, it is being pulled “out” as being extra special or being set aside as being extra special.

And because I recognized <special>, I suspect that <ly> might be a suffix.  So far my hypothesis is  <e> + <special> + <ly>.  But then I wondered about <special>.  Is that the base, or can I peel off another affix.

At this point I went to etymonline and looked up <especially>.  This is what I found:

There’s my proof that <ly> is a suffix.  (And that is also a big clue to the answer to Hailee’s question – but I’ll explain better at the end.)
From there I clicked on <especial>.

That gave me an idea that perhaps <special> might not be the base.  So then I clicked on <species>.

If you notice, <species> comes from the Latin word <species> and is related to <specere> meaning to look at, to see, behold. (Which also fits with what we think of when we think of something as special!  Now, if you remember that Old Grouch taught us that <ere> is a latin suffix, that means the base of <species> and <special> and <especially> is <spec>!

Back to my hypothesis about it’s word sum.  I’m going to change it to <e> + <spec> + <ial> + <ly>.

Just to make sure that <ial> is indeed a suffix, I went to Word Searcher and put in <ial$>.  Three words I found that have <ial> as a suffix are burial (<bury> + <ial>), facial (<face> + <ial>), and partial ( <part> + <ial>).  Since this post, my students and I have done further research and discovered that <ial> is NOT a suffix.  The suffix is <al>.  The <i> in some words is a connecting vowel.  In other words it was once a <y> and has been changed to an <i> before adding an <es> suffix.  In other words the <i> is part of the base.

Phrew!  Now to answer Hailee’s question about the double <l>.  As you can see, there is an <l> in the final position of the suffix <al> and an <l> in the initial position of the suffix <ly>, so the <l> has not been doubled.  NOW in a word like stopping, the base is <stop> and the suffix is <ing>, and when we add that suffix, we do indeed double the consonant<p> because of the reason Hailee brilliantly stated in her question.  When I sent a reply to Hailee, I also asked her to write word sums and then to create a matrix for the base <spec>.  Below is her matrix.

 

The next wonderful thing that came from all this was that I presented this matrix to my summer school orthography students and asked them to write word sums.  Then we had a great discussion about “checking the joins”.  That means that when adding suffixes, we may need to apply some suffixing rules and make some spelling adjustments.  The students became familiar with the structure of a matrix and how the suffixes are arranged in a particular order to accommodate the spelling of many words.

Thanks Hailee!  And keep the questions coming!

Teach It! Then You’ll Know If You Know It!

Our class was invited to teach the three second grade classrooms in our building about word sums!  With great enthusiasm and excitement, we accepted.   We chose the word <star> because we knew they were studying the solar system.  Next, the fifth grade students brainstormed a list of words with <star> as a base.  Once we had that list, we sorted out the compound words from the “base plus suffix” words.  Someone volunteered to create the matrix based on our brainstormed list, and we were ready to practice.

For three days, the students practiced explaining what they knew to a partner.  We talked about naming bases and suffixes.  We talked about adding vowel suffixes to <star>.  We talked about spelling out loud while writing the word sum.  We talked about the “is rewritten as” arrow.  We talked about having in mind a logical order in which to share all this. We talked about compound words.

I was fascinated by our first visit.  The second graders were eager to please.  A few of the  fifth graders weren’t as secure in their own understanding as I thought.  I heard the “is rewritten as” arrow referred to as “equal” and “combines”.  There weren’t enough second graders spelling out loud.  But there were also these lovely moments when the joy of teaching and the joy of learning lit up each pair of students.

 

 

After that first experience, my students were looking forward to visiting the second and third classrooms and doing it again, only better!  We talked more about the importance of repeating the spellings out loud and of having slight pauses between two bases (compound) or between a base and a suffix.  I also stressed the importance of teaching that the arrow be referred to as “is rewritten as”.

With experience grows confidence.  The fifth graders thoroughly enjoyed being the teachers.  I enjoyed seeing them cement the cracks in their own understanding.  One second grade boy was paired up with his fifth grade sister.  He asked if she would teach him more when they got home!  Another second grader asked why there wasn’t another matrix on the back side of the paper!  Both groups decided this was fun!

 

Exploring Orthography … and Loving It!

Today we pulled a word from our study of the Civil Rights Movement and took a closer look.  We chose the word prejudice.  I asked students to hypothesize what its word sum might look like.  We had some thoughtful ideas.

It seems that everyone remembered that pre is a prefix!  Earlier this year we made a list of words that included preschool, predict, pretest, prepare, pretend, and preview. With each of these words the students could explain how the meaning of the word had something to do with before (which is what pre means).  But, no one knew for a fact what the base was.  We went to Etymonline to look up the word prejudice.

prejudice (n.) Look up prejudice at Dictionary.com
late 13c., “despite, contempt,” from Old French prejudice (13c.), from Medieval Latin prejudicium “injustice,” from Latin praejudicium “prior judgment,” from prae- “before” (see pre-) + judicium “judgment,” from judex (genitive judicis) “judge.” Meaning “injury, physical harm” is mid-14c., as is legal sense “detriment or damage caused by the violation of a legal right.” Meaning “preconceived opinion” (especially but not necessarily unfavorable) is from late 14c.

 We noticed that we were correct in regards to pre meaning before.  Looking at judicium “judgment” and judicis “judge”, we decided to go to Word Searcher to look for words.  Would the root be jud, judi, judic or even judici?  What we found there was an extensive list of words.  Most of them had jud in them.  Few had the other letter combinations we had wondered about.  We came to the conclusion that jud must by our base.  Then we wondered if ice was a suffix.  We tried to think of words we knew that had an ice suffix.  We easily thought of justice, practice, service, and, of course, prejudice!  Based on that list, we decided that ice is a suffix.  Then we were reading to think of word sums built around the base jud.  Below are some of the word sums we found.

un + jud + ge + ment + al –> unjudgemental
un + jud + ge + ed –> unjudged
un + jud + ge + able –> unjudgeable
pre + jud + ice –> prejudice
pre + jud + ice + i + al –> prejudicial
pre + jud + ice + i + ous –> prejudicious
pre + jud + ice + i + ous + ly –> prejudiciously
jud + ge –> judge
jud + ge + s –> judges
jud + ge + ed –> judged
jud + ge + ing –> judging
mis + jud + ge + ed –> misjudged
mis + jud + ge + ing –> misjudging
mis + jud + ge + s –> misjudges
jud + ge + ment + al –> judgemental
jud + ge + ment –> judgement
jud + ge + ment + s –> judgements

Then we created a matrix featuring the base jud.

The students suggested we use a notebook to keep together all these valuable investigations!  Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to organize it …. a section for matrices, word sums, and related words … a section for prefixes … a section for suffixes … a section for bound bases … a section for free bases … and a suffix checker on the inside cover.  Sounds like an awesome idea!