Suffixes – Building Familiarity

My students enter fifth grade with limited knowledge of words.  They know a fair amount of words, but they don’t really know much about them.  They think that learning to spell a word is unrelated to learning what that word means.  According to the students, those are two skills done at two different times.  They have no idea that words actually carry meaning in their elements … because they don’t know that a word is composed of elements.  In other words, they don’t know that words have structure.  They don’t know that every word has at least one base element that supplies the main sense and meaning of the word.  They’ve heard of prefixes and suffixes, but not of connecting vowels.  And even though they’ve heard of prefixes and suffixes, they don’t know that a word can have more than one of either of those.

So how do I help?

I keep thinking of activities that will help my students become more familiar with the elements in a word.  I have shared many of those activities in other blog posts, but here is one that is new. This one focuses on suffixes and being able to prove whether or not letters at the end of a word are a suffix.  I had the students work in pairs and use one Chromebook per pair.  Before I gave them paper to write on, I had them open tabs at Etymonline and at Neil Ramsden’s Word Searcher.  Then, as a class, we practiced using these two resources to find words with specific suffixes.

I had sheets of paper, each with a suffix at the top.  The students were to find words that had that suffix.  They were to write a synthetic word sum for each word they found.  I felt that if they wrote a synthetic word sum, then they might quickly recognize whether or not the letters at the end of the word were truly a suffix or just part of the word. As an example of that, I wrote the word <jumping> on the board and asked if the <ing> in this word was a suffix.  There was a resounding “Yes.”  I asked for a word sum.  A student replied, “<jump + ing –> jumping>.  Great.  Next I wrote <bring> on the board and asked if the <ing> in this word was a suffix.  This time I had a mixed response.  Some were definite in their voiced, “No.”  Others quickly said, “Yes.”

As we’ve been learning since the beginning of the school year, not all bases are easily recognized by people new to studying morphology.  We recognize what we are familiar with.  We are familiar with bases that are free, meaning we recognize that the <-ing> in <jumping> is a suffix because we recognize <jump> as a word we have been using for a long time.  But earlier this year, as my students encountered words like <hydrant> and learned that the base was <hydr>, they began to wonder about these bound bases we come across in our investigations.  When we looked at <biosphere>, they identified the two bases as <bi> and <sphere>.  The first is a bound base from Greek bios “life, living” and the second is a free base from Greek sphaira “globe”.  So in their limited experience, I have shown them that a bound base can be biliteral (consisting of two letters).  So back to the word <bring>.  Why wouldn’t some of the students be open to the fact that <br> might be a bound base?  So instead of me telling them whether it is a bound base or not, I directed all the students to the entry for <bring> at Etymonline.  Here is the part of that entry that we focused on for this activity:

We read it together looking for evidence that this word was from a root that became the Modern English two letter base element <br>, but we could not find any.  The <ing> was always part of the spelling of this word.  Therefore, we can conclude that the <ing> in <bring> is not a suffix.

Next I directed them to Neil Ramsden’s Word Searcher and showed them how to search for words that end in <ing>.  Using the legend below the search bar, I had them use the $ sign after the suffix so that only words with <ing> at the end of the word would show up.  Then we looked at the list.  Wow.  There were 6085 words listed.  “Does this mean that all of these words have an <-ing> suffix?” I asked.

“No!” replied one of the students.  The word <bring> is on this list and we know that the <ing> in that word is NOT a suffix!”

“Right.” What I want you to do is read through this list and find words that you suspect have an <-ing> suffix.  Then I want you to flip to Etymonline to check for evidence to help you in your decision making.  Once you are confident that you have found a word with a clear <-ing> suffix, write the word as a synthetic word sum.”

I let them work with their partner for seven or so minutes before I interrupted them to begin the activity.  “Now that you know what I expect you to do, let’s get started with today’s activity.  I will give each group a piece of yellow paper.  At the top of each sheet is a specific suffix.  In this way, each group will be looking for words with a suffix that is different from every other group.  After ten minutes of work time, I will come around and switch which suffix your group is looking for.  In this way, I am hoping you become familiar with several suffixes.”

Here is a list of the suffixes I believe they already encounter on a daily basis:

<-s>
<-es>
<-ed>
<-er>
<-en>
<-ate>
<-ion>
<-est>
<-ist>
<-ous>
<-ing>

Do you see the kinds of wonderful discussions that could come of the lists they are creating?  As the students got started, I walked around and listened in to make sure they were using the resources as intended rather than just guessing at words that might work.  This activity went well.  The students were engaged and enjoyed having a partner to think out loud with.

When it came time to switch the sheets to a different group, I asked that the first task be that the group read through the previously listed words.  If the new group had questions about any of the words and its word sum, they were to put an asterisk to the left of the word.  After that they could add to the list.  On this particular day, we only switched twice.

<-s>, <-es>

So let’s take a look at the sheets and see what there is to notice.  One thing I was interested in finding out is whether or not my students understood when an <-s> suffix was used and when an <-es> suffix was used.  So I compared the two sheets.

As you might expect, when the base had a final <e>, there was confusion.  Is an <-es> the suffix to be added or an <-s>?

Looking at this sheet, it appears that many students are used to adding this suffix and understand that in most cases it represents marking a word as plural.  The two words on this sheet that I would highlight to talk about would be <ages> and <lines>.  Even though <lines> is a word with an <-s> suffix, because I also see <ages> on this list, I want to make sure my students can explain why <lines> has an <-s> suffix and<ages> has an <-es> suffix.

This sheet reveals a broad lack of understanding about the <-es> suffix.  The students recognize that when an <-es> suffix is joined to a base that has a single final non-syllabic <e>, that final <e> is replaced by the suffix.  That is a good thing.  But it appears that they are using a single final non-syllabic <e> as a signal that the <-es> suffix is the one to use.  Here’s where we need some clarification!

If I make two lists on the board like the two below, and ask my students to read them aloud, they no doubt would notice that the first list has one syllabic beat and second list has two.

fox                    foxes
dish                 dishes
ace                   aces
use                   uses
ash                   ashes

If they catch on to that, I would also present the following lists:

absence            absences
excuse              excuses
college              colleges
memorize        memorizes
surprise           surprises

I would ask, “Is the same thing happening here?  How many syllabic beats in <absence>?  How many in <absences>?”  I want them to notice that we use an <-es> suffix when making the word plural adds on a syllabic beat.   I don’t want them to think this only applies to a base that has one syllabic beat to begin with.

Now I will present this next set of lists:

chicken          chickens
toe                   toes
pencil             pencils
desk                desks
shoe                shoes

Again we will count the syllabic beats and see if the plural form is one syllabic beat longer.  They will notice that making the word a plural did not change the number of syllabic beats.

Here’s the next set of words to compare:

horse                  horses
promise             promises
adjective           adjectives
tadpole              tadpoles
squeeze             squeezes

The first thing I want the students to notice with this list is that all of the singular bases have a single final non-syllabic <e>.  That will not help determine whether we use an <-s> suffix or an <-es> suffix.  I will ask, “How do we know whether we have used an <-s> or an <-es> to make these bases plural?”  Hopefully, at this point they can explain back to me that when a syllabic beat is added to the word when the word is in its plural form, the <-es> suffix is used.

(The above flow chart is being used with permission from the works of Real Spelling.  In the flow chart, an “extra segment” is what I have referred to as a “syllabic beat.” )

This discussion of <-s> versus <-es> is the place I will start with the students when I see them next.  Then, once the students can state when to use an <-s> suffix and when to use an <-es> suffix, I’ll create an exit slip, asking the students to write down a synthetic word sum for both <ages> and <lines>.  In that way I’ll be able to assess individual understanding between these two suffixes.

There are other instances of using an <-es> versus an <-s> suffix, but I will begin with the misunderstandings I have noticed in this activity.  The other instances will come up in our work at another time.  They always do!

<-ed>

As I looked over the sheets for <-ed>, I noticed that a few need to review the suffixing convention that requires the final consonant of the base to be doubled when a vowel suffix is added.  One group called me over and asked how to represent that happening in a word sum.  They were writing a word sum for <twinned>.  As you can see in the picture below, I showed them that on the left side of the word sum we do our thinking and analyzing.  I said that other people might have another way to represent it, but I like to put the doubled <n> in parentheses close to where it will be in the final spelling.

Other than that, I was pleased to see that over and over students were showing that the single final non-syllabic <e> would be replaced with the <-ed> suffix.  Our practice with that suffixing convention has paid off!

The expected use of a word with an <-ed> suffix is as a past tense verb.

Jane wanted a puppy.
Saveea walked to the store.
Landing awkwardly, he damaged his ankle.

But what if we use a word with an <-ed> suffix to modify a noun?

Her grandfather was a wanted man.
I took the well-walked path.
I returned the damaged package to the post office.

When looking at words on a list (as we are with this activity), it is important to be thinking of sentences in which we might use the words.  The context is what defines a word’s function within any given sentence.  Please keep that in mind.  Have your students suggest the sentences so they become comfortable with changing the way a word functions within a sentence.

<-er>

One of the drawbacks from an activity like this is that some children will do this on automatic pilot, meaning they will not think too deeply about what they are doing.  One of the directions I had at the beginning was that the students couldn’t use a word that they didn’t know.  In other words, I didn’t want them to just copy from the list at Word Searcher without knowing for sure whether or not the <er> was removable (a suffix).  A word that I saw on the list with this suffix was <power>.  It was on the list as *<pow + er –> power>.  That just didn’t seem right to me, so I looked at Etymonline.  I couldn’t find anything in the entry that pointed to this being a case of a base plus an <-er> suffix.  Then I looked below at the listed related words and couldn’t find any words that had the <pow> spelling without the <er>.  As far as this resource is concerned, <power> doesn’t have an <-er> suffix and should not be on this list.

I must say I was pretty impressed with one group’s word sum for <cinema + ate + o + graph + er –> cinematographer>  What impressed me is the fact that this group recognized the base <graph> that we have looked at a few times.  They also recognized the possibility of an <o> connecting vowel!

One of the other things I’d like to do with these lists is to see if we can categorize some of them as to their grammatical function.  We’ll have to be careful though.  In order to determine a word’s part of speech, we’ll have to use the word in a sentence first.  I was thinking of something like this:

     1                                2                                        3
Person                Comparison                    Thing

baker                           fewer                        mower (depends)
diver                            ruder                        dryer (depends)
farmer                         slower                      sewer  (depends)
wrestler                      older                         mixer (depends)
biker                           riper                          charger (depends)

If I wrote (depends) next to the word, that means the word could be a thing, but it might also be a person.  The context (the sentence we find it in) will be what determines its meaning.  I’m hoping the students challenge the lists and offer sentences to support their thinking!

Do you see how this might bring awareness of how this particular suffix is used?  I can imagine some great sentences being offered and some questions being raised.

<-en>

This suffix didn’t seem to present problems with spelling.  Word sums were clearly written, and if there was a suffixing convention to be applied it was replacing the single final non-syllabic <e>.

I’m thinking of looking closer at these lists as well to examine how we use words with an <-en> suffix.  Two categories that seem obvious are adjectives and verbs.  At first glance I see words that can sometimes function as adjectives such as ashen, broken, frozen, widen, and wooden.  Then I see words like ripen, sharpen, deepen, and flatten.  These are verbs.  As usual, context will be the thing that determines how a word is functioning.

adjective                      verb

ashen                               ripen
oaken                              sharpen
golden                             deepen
wooden                           flatten

I wonder how accurate my students would be at categorizing the words in this way.  Perhaps I could give them a framework that would help.  For the adjectives, I could tell them that if they say the word and can think of a noun it could modify, they can classify it as an adjective.  As an example, let’s say, “frozen ….. pond” or “frozen food”.  In this way the students know it can be an adjective because they have it modifying a noun.

One way to check to see if it could be used as a verb, would be to use the modal verb “will” in front of the word and see if that makes sense.  For example, I could say, “will ripen”, as in “The banana will ripen.”  We could also use the auxiliary verb “has” in front of the word.  For example, I could say, “has broken”, as in “The boy has broken his ankle.”

<-ate>

This sheet revealed different levels of understanding.  The students are making hypotheses about the structure, and it is obvious that the hypotheses they are making are based on an understanding that is deepening with each classroom investigation.  It is also obvious that not everyone is in the same place with their understanding.  That is what makes classroom teaching so challenging and often rewarding!

I know that the use of the plus signs can be visually confusing at times.  Some of the students do a nice job of leaving enough space between elements in the word sum.  Others circle the plus signs so they don’t look like <t>’s.

In the word sum for <situate>, the students hypothesized that the <u> is a connecting vowel.  Since the base is Latinate, that hypothesis is quite possible!  The word sum for <hydrate> is one we know.  When the students investigated <hydrosphere> earlier this year, they came across this relative and we talked about both <hydrate> and <dehydrate>.  It’s nice to see the students connect what they already learned to what they are currently focusing on.

When I first saw the word sum for <pirate>, I had suspicions that this might not have an <-ate> suffix.  But when I looked at the entry for it at Etymonline, I saw (as the students did) the related word <piracy>.  So again, their hypothesis is based on thought and evidence.  In looking at the word sum for <radiate>, I see a hypothesis in which the <i> is considered a connecting vowel.  The entry at Etymonline does not support that.  This word sum is one I will use to deepen their understanding of the information offered at this great site.  Perhaps they are not familiar enough with Latin suffixes.  Some will remember our investigation of <stratosphere> that led us to Latin stratus which became our Modern English base <strat> “layering, spreading out”, but many will benefit from having it pointed out again.

One last thing to point out on this list is the absence of the single final non-syllabic <e> on the suffix <-ive> in the word sum for <activate>.  If I asked someone to spell <active> they would no doubt include it, but when they are looking at a word sum that includes more than one suffix, they often miss it.  They are understanding the final <e> that is found on the end of many bases, but not that it is often found at the end of suffixes as well!

<-ion>

I can tell by looking at these sheets that the students are familiar with this suffix and recognize it as part of a word sum.  Since they were so focused on proving the <-ion> suffix, some missed a second suffix in the word.  One of these days I’ll write <operation> and <cooperation> on the board and ask for word sum hypotheses.  I wonder how long it will take to spot the same base element in each.  Hmmmm.  I will also see if students see the two suffixes as <-ate> and <-ion>.  Those two are often seen in combination.  (See that last word?  Ha! I proved my point!)  I might even ask for the students to help me brainstorm a list of words that include both.

Next, I could do the same with <motion> and <motivation>.  The first word has one suffix, but the second word has three.  Perhaps I could have the students brainstorm a list of words with <mote> “move” as a base.  Then I could ask questions such as, “Who can spot a word in this family that has three suffixes?  Who can spot a word in this family that has a prefix?  Who can spot a word in this family that has only one suffix?  Will we ever see this base without a suffix or prefix?”  You get the idea.  Depending on the related words we thought of, I could keep going with questions to make sure everyone is engaged and thinking about what we are seeing.  Of course we would follow up any answers given with: “Prove it by writing a word sum on the board next to the word.”

<-est>

I wonder how long it would take the students to identify which part of speech these words could be classified as.  “Were they adjectives before we added this <-est> suffix?”  This could turn into a great discussion of comparative and superlative adjectives!  If I felt some of the students didn’t understand this idea, we could use the superlative adjectives on this list and write them in their comparative and adjective forms:

superlative               comparative                    adjective

unfriendliest                 unfriendlier                          unfriendly
sprightliest                    sprightlier                              sprightly
yellowest                        yellower                                 yellow

I bet you noticed the word sum for <rainforest>.  Setting up the columns for comparative and superlative adjectives might help students recognize that this word is not like the others.  And then a glance at Etymonline will provide evidence that the <est> is not a suffix in this word.  It is just part of the spelling.

<-ist>

When I ask my students to write a word sum and the final graphemes represent /ɪst/, they often spell it as <ist>.  Comparing the <-est> list to the <-ist> list might help them understand the difference between these two suffixes.  Let’s take a look at the sheet of words with <-ist>.

I hope you are starting to catch on that each one of these lists is full of opportunities for discussion and deepening understandings.  Look at the second word on this list <ageist>.  Why aren’t we replacing that single final non-syllabic <e> on the base?  Show them what it looks like when you do replace that <e>  and see how the students pronounce it.

I’m not sure why there is an <o> in the word sum for <chemist>, but it might be interesting to put this word on the board and ask for related words.  Then we could find the base and see how many different suffixes (besides <-ist>) are used with it.

As we read through this list, I might ask if these are adjectives like the list that had <-est> suffixes.  Hopefully we’ll get to the realization that words with an <-ist> suffix often refer to a person.  When they do, they are called agent suffixes.  For example, the dentist is the person who takes care of problems with your teeth.  A harpist is a person who plays the harp.  We could do down the list, reading the word sums and  identifying whether or not the word is referring to a person.

The word <copyist> is a great one to use when talking about an instance in which we do NOT switch the final <y> to an <i> before adding the suffix.  The more I can have my students vocalizing the reasons they do and do not use suffixing conventions, the better.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the word sum for <hypnotherapist>.  That looks like a great one for the board.  “What is your hypothesis?  Does anyone else have a hypothesis?  If we removed the <-ist> suffix, what other suffix could we replace it with and still have a familiar word?  Have you ever seen the beginning of this word in another word?  How about the part right in front of the <-ist> suffix?”

On the other hand, the word sum for <climatologist> is pretty impressive.  Our work with the base <log> is paying off.  They are recognizing it in new words!  The fact that this group left the <e> from the <-ate> suffix in the final spelling is something to note, but in the scheme of things I think that kind of error will correct itself with more application of the suffixing conventions and more reading aloud of word sums.

<-ous>

There are some really great things to notice about this first sheet.  In the word sum for <gaseous>, there was the recognition that the <e> would have to be a connecting vowel!  It clearly is not part of the suffix nor the recognizable free base element.  There was also the recognition that if we remove the <-ous> suffix from <famous>, the single final non-syllabic <e> replaces the suffix.  The free base would be <fame>.

The inclusion of <synonymous> is interesting.  The changes in stress, and therefore pronunciation, brought on by adding or removing the suffix might make the recognition that <synonym> and <synonymous> are related words a tad difficult.  It wouldn’t be the case for all students, but it would be the case for many.  I will definitely want to bring this word to everyone’s attention.  With some hypotheses offered, we could then investigate it further and find its relationship to antonym, homonym, anonymous, and pseudonym.  I’m sure they will get a kick out of  their respective senses:  “opposite name”, “same name”, “not named”, and “false name.”

This sheet also gives us the opportunity to see what others think of the asterisk that was placed in front of the word sum for <ridiculous>.  “If you agree that as written this word sum is questionable, what do you think the word sum is?  What makes you say that?”  Then we could go to Etymonline to find the evidence together.

One group working with this  <-ous> suffix called me over to talk about the base having a final <y> that becomes an <i> in the final spelling.  I showed them how to represent that change in the word sum.  This is definitely something we will spend some time on in the next few weeks.  Understanding the suffixing conventions takes care of so many misspellings.  The students start feeling better about themselves as spellers without feeling like they worked hard at it.  (Comparing the time they used to spend with rote memorization.  For too many that felt like hard work with few results.)

 

Summing it up

These sheets provide all the example words I need!  The activity was fun for the students, gave them valuable practice at using two trusted online resources, and revealed much to me about what kinds of practice they need next.  I was able to see patterns that could be used to help the students understand a word’s use a bit better based on its suffix!  These sheets can be used to inspire many many activities.  I could simply post any of these on the board and ask for reactions. It would be a great way to stimulate question asking and reviewing important word structure features.  I could ask any of the following:

Are there words you don’t know?
Do you see a word that could be further analyzed?
Do you see a word that you think doesn’t belong on the list?
Do you see a base identified here that you aren’t so sure of?
Is there a suffixing convention happening in any of the words on this list?

I know there are those who wish that SWI came with a scope and sequence, but really?  Why set up a generic plan for generic children when we have real children right in front of us with specific needs!  Their own work reveals what they need, and when the specific work is repeated at a later date, can reveal growth.

My first reaction to these sheets is one of optimism.  They understand so much already.  I always keep in mind that on day one of 5th grade, they believed that English spelling couldn’t be understood.   They had no expectations that I would teach them anything different from that.  But at this time of the year, they are starting to believe differently.  They have experienced for themselves the evidence and reasoning.  The rest of the year will be so much fun!  They will become better at spelling, but they won’t remember having studied or memorized letter sequences in order to do it.

 

 

 

Some Sums Are Worth Practicing!

Today we focused on the importance of a word sum, and how a word sum is to be read. I picked the base element <joy> to work with because I was confident that  the students would be able to brainstorm a list of words that are morphological relatives of <joy>.  A morphological relative shares the spelling of the base and the denotation (is from the same etymological root).

As the students thought of words, I wrote them in a column to the right. When we had a good sized list, I asked if anyone could give me a word sum for one of the words. At this point, I emphasized that the base element was <joy> and could not be made smaller without losing its sense and meaning. I compared writing a word as a word sum to splitting a spelling into syllables. Syllables carry no meaning, but morphemes do. Syllables may or may not help you with pronunciation, but a word sum will always help you understand a word’s meaning. You will find words written as syllables in most dictionaries. There is no internet site or dictionary that lists word sums.  Word sums have to be reasoned out by you!

This last bit is extremely important.  Students are used to finding answers in books or on the internet.  They are used to answer keys with which to check their work.  At first they feel confused by word sum hypotheses.  That happens because they have not been exposed to enough word sums.  With time, they begin to notice patterns and recognizable clues which in turn help them write a more likely initial word sum hypothesis.  Through experience working with word sums, they better understand that all words have structure. They become less nervous in proposing a word sum hypothesis and instead are actually excited at the prospect.  Some of my past 5th grade students have said that proposing word sum hypotheses was one of their favorite parts of orthography!

As the students hypothesized each word as a word sum, I wrote the word sum along with the ‘is rewritten’ arrow to the left of each word. That way I had the full word sum represented for each word.

Next I modeled how I wanted each word sum read. I’ll use the first word as an example: <j..o..y  plus  ful  is rewritten as  j..o..y  (pause)  ful> … joyful.  The natural tendency was to pronounce the elements as if they were words. Changing that tendency was part of what today’s practice was all about.  We don’t pronounce elements until until the word is complete.  Since a word sum is a visual representation of the composing of a word, nothing is ready to be pronounced because the word is not completed.  Everything is spelled out.  I also encourage the students to announce the spelling of the suffixes a bit quicker than they do the spelling of the base elements.  I want them to think of the suffixes that they will be seeing often as recognizable units.  I want them to rattle off, for instance, suffixes such as <-ing>, <-ed>, <-ous>, <-ly>, and <-ic>.  Then when they are in the midst of spelling a word on paper, the spelling of that suffix is in their head and there is less chance of leaving a letter off.

A few other things came up as we looked over this list.  We talked about the difference in spelling between <-ful> the suffix and <full> the free base word.  I introduced the idea of announcing the suffix <-ness> as <n..e..double s>.  It was also an introduction to looking at what each element in a word sum contributed to the overall sense and meaning of the completed word.

I showed them a chart that would be at the board to remind them of the types of elements we might see in a word sum.  I pointed out that bases and affixes are written morphemes.  In the first few weeks of school, we have been talking about the difference between a base that is free and a base that is bound.  The students will be investigating twin bases later in the year.  Since the students (in groups of 2-3) have already begun investigating science words, we have also talked a bit about everything else on this poster.  Each small group is investigating a word similar in structure to <biosphere>.  Each word is compound with <sphere> as its second base.  Each word also has a connecting vowel – in this case an <o> because one or both bases in their compound word are Hellenic (from Greek).

I started at one end of the room, and asked each student to read a word sum and finish by pronouncing the completed word. When we came to the bottom of the list, we started over.  In that way, every child was able to individually read a word sum. In listening to the readings, the process became familiar to all.  This is a practice I will continue doing throughout the year when we collect any list of morphological relatives.  Hearing themselves announce the word sum will help this idea of a word sum become part of what they understand about all words.   When they are writing and asking themselves how to spell <really>, I want them to remember that the base is <real> and they are adding the suffix <ly> to it to form the word <really>.

A few students inadvertently said “equals” instead of “is rewritten as” when they saw the arrow. That was a great opportunity to compare a word sum to a math equation and to point out the use of “sum” in our use of “word sum”.

I also used this opportunity to talk about the difference between a synthetic word sum and an analytic word sum. I pointed to the poster card I now have on my board to remind them of these new terms and what they mean. (Check out the store tab on my blog if you are interested in a set of my cards. 🙂) I explained that the word <synthetic> means to put together and the word <analytic> means to loosen. So a synthetic word sum is the kind of word sum that begins with elements and combines them (puts them together) to form a complete word. An analytic word sum is the kind of word sum that begins with a completed word and loosens it into its elements.

I told my students that my goal is for them to spell a word by its morphemes.  I want to replace the often torturous memorization of “letter letter letter” type sequences with knowing that a word has, for instance, a base <joy>, a suffix <ful>, and another suffix <ly>.  This will not be accomplished by sounding out words, but rather by learning about structure and repeatedly seeing and using some common affixes and bases.

The students enjoyed this activity and asked if we could do it again sometime.  Yes.  We can and will do it many many times!  I promise!

A Simple Base Element That Has a Lot to Say

Today everyone grabbed a piece of paper. I asked them to put their name at the top and then to copy down the four words I had written on the board.  Once that was done, the students were to look carefully at the four words and identify the base that they all had in common.  Some spotted it right away.  That usually happens.  Hands went up right away, but I didn’t call on anyone.  I wanted each student (those who usually offer an answer and those who usually don’t) to think through what the base might be.
 
 
Once they had identified the base, they were asked to write word sums for each of the words.  One of the students said, “We’ve already got the words written down, so it will make sense to write analytic word sums.”  I just smiled and nodded.
 
Now I was ready to ask someone what they thought the base was, and how they came to that decision.  A student told me the base was <dict>.  He figured that out when comparing dictionary and dictator. They both had <dict> in common, but nothing beyond that.
 
I wrote the base <dict> on the board and next to it I wrote its denotation “say, tell”.  Right away the students started thinking about how each word was related to that meaning.  The hands shot up!  I said, “Pick any of the four words and tell me what it has to do with “say, tell”.
Dictionary
Kyla said, “A dictionary tells you what a word means.” I pointed to our rack of dictionaries and agreed that a certain kind of dictionary will do that.  What a great opportunity to talk about different kinds of dictionaries!  We know that the dictionaries we often refer to give us definitions of words.  We have a large collection of dictionaries in case what we are looking for is not listed in the first one we grab.  I even have a dictionary that has only words related to science!
But we also use the Online Etymological Dictionary almost daily, and that has a different purpose.  That dictionary gives us information about a word’s history.  We use it to find a word’s ancestors, and to learn its story.  We read about the ways a word has been used in its life.  We learn about spelling and/or meaning changes that have come about over time.  We also discover related words.  Sometimes it is valuable to cross reference words in our other etymological dictionaries as well.  I have copies of the Chambers Etymological Dictionary,  Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, the Dictionary of English Down The Ages, and a Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms.
I showed them my Latin Dictionary by Lewis and Short.  It is an old copy and well loved.  It is used when we want to find out more information about a Latin word.   I keep it on the shelf next to my Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott.  In both of these dictionaries, the words are listed in alphabetical order according to their respective alphabets!  These are valuable resources once one knows a bit about Latin and Greek.
Another kind of dictionary is one that one of our students carries – her Italian/English dictionary.  She speaks Italian and is learning English.  Just yesterday she was writing a poem.  Since she has only been in the U.S. since September, it is easier for her to think and write in Italian.  So she asked if she could write the poem in Italian and then translate it into English.  That system works well for her.  When she finishes, we look at it together, and I help with further editing.
I also have a few Rhyming Dictionaries on my shelf.   Students use these when they are writing rhyming poetry. By using this kind of dictionary, a student can often find a word that not only rhymes, but is a perfect fit!
Once we finished talking about dictionaries, we realized that we might want to revise our definition of a dictionary.  Katya said, “A dictionary lists words and gives us more information about them.”  Perfect.  And the type of information it tells us depends on the type of dictionary it is!
Prediction
Megan said, “Isn’t that like saying what will happen, but you don’t really know for sure?”  Then Clayton added, “Like our Science Fair Projects.  We are making predictions, but we haven’t run the experiments yet.”  I extended  the sense of this word by including those times when we predict how a movie will end, when we’ve only just begun to watch it.
I asked if anyone was familiar with the prefix <pre>.  A few hands in each class went up, and the students said it had to do with “before”.  Then I asked, “Isn’t that cool?  The word itself is revealing its own meaning!  The base has a denotation of “say, tell” and the prefix has a sense of “before”.  We use this word when someone is telling about something before the something has happened!
Dictator
There were very few fifth graders who clearly understood what a dictator was.  One or two mentioned that is was a person who told other people what to do.  I stepped in and explained that a dictator was a person who ruled a country and had absolute power over that country.  The most famous dictators in history were often cruel to the people they ruled.  They were more interested in having power.  Amelia asked, “So Hitler was a dictator?”  I told her that he was one of the worst dictators in history.  I told them that in the next few years they would also be hearing about Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Tse-tung and others.
Next we talked about the <or> suffix on this word.  I told them it was signaling that this word is referring to a person.  An <or> suffix can do that in a number of words.  So a dictator is a person who dictates  orders to the people he rules.  An actor is a person who acts.  A governor is a person who governs.  A donor is a person who donates something.
Then I pointed out that the <er> suffix can sometimes behave in the same way.  A teacher is one who teaches.  A baker is one who bakes food.  A joker is one who makes jokes.  I could tell this was an idea they hadn’t thought about before.  They were intrigued.
Contradict
When I asked about this word, only one person offered a guess.  Hyja said, “Doesn’t it have something to do with arguing?”  That was a great place to start!  When someone contradicts something someone else says, it can be thought of as a counter argument.  A contradiction is often saying the opposite or something very different than what has already been said.  For example, if I said that our science journals were due on Tuesday, and Aiden said they were in fact due on Saturday, I could ask him why he was contradicting me.  We both can’t be correct.
Now I pointed out the base <contra> “against”.  I compared the word contradict to contraband.  With the use of contradict, a person is saying something against or with an opposite feel of what has already been said.  With the use of contraband, there is a feeling of smuggling something.  When you bring an object into an area and you know that object has been forbidden to be in that area, you are going against the rule or the command.  That object is contraband.
Word sums
At this point, I asked students to come up to the board, choose one of the four words and write a word sum.
You’ll notice a space in the word sum where a plus sign was.  I erased it and shared that the first base in this compound word was <contra>.  Then I mentioned that given our discussions recently about the prefixes <con> and <com> and their assimilated forms, I could understand how the students might spot the <con> here and think it was a prefix.
The interesting follow up discussion we had here was with the first word sum.  Someone asked, “Is <a> even a connecting vowel?”  What a great question!  We were able to review that the Greek connecting vowel was <o>, and the Latin connecting vowels were <i>, <u>, and <e>.  We were also able to review the suffixing convention of replacing a final non-syllabic <e>.  I asked if we could remove the <or> suffix and still have a recognizable word.  Everyone agreed that we would be left with dictate.  So I asked how we would spell that.  Immediately students recognized the final non-syllabic <e> on the suffix <ate> that would be replaced with the <or> suffix in this word.
It is important to keep pointing out that a final non-syllabic <e> may not always show up in a final word, but that doesn’t mean it is not part of a word’s construction or word sum.
This activity was well received.  Students who have been hanging back, not expecting to understand this are starting to volunteer to write word sums at the board.  Students who are thoroughly enjoying this way of looking at words are asking amazing questions.  As we were discussing how the words were related in meaning to the base <dict>, Kayden raised his hand and asked, “How does the word addiction fit in to all this?”  He recognized that <ad> would be a prefix, <dict> would be a base, and <ion> would be a suffix.  I told him that the prefix <ad> brought a sense of “to” to the word.  And that a person with an addiction is a person who has declared a specific habit to be controlling in their life.
We didn’t delve all the way into this base today.  We didn’t make a matrix full of <dict> possibilities.  But we did practice using a list of words as evidence for proving a base element.  And we did practice taking the time to understand the meaning connections between members of a word family.  And we did review a suffixing convention as well as learn about two agent suffixes.  Today was about building our knowledge base.  It was about learning things to take with us as we move forward in studying other words and their families.

“Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking.” ~ Antonio Machado

Last fall Daniel came into my classroom with writing that was almost indecipherable.  Even the most common words were misspelled.  When asked to read his writing, he stumbled, often saying, “I don’t know what that says.”  But he had a lot to say.  His head was full of humorous stories and his life was full of interesting moments.  This was fifth grade!  I wondered, “How did he get this far with such an obstacle?”

Knowing that whatever happened or didn’t happen in his previous years of schooling wouldn’t help me now, I put that on the back burner in my brain.  The only consideration given to those thoughts was the recognition that I had something to offer Daniel that hadn’t been offered to him before.  Orthography.  Perhaps this would be the year when misunderstandings about English would stop blocking his ability to express his ideas in written form.

All you need to do is read back through this blog to see the kinds of activities and explorations that happened in my class during the last year.  Beyond what I’ve posted about, we spoke ‘words’ every day.  Often I pulled misspelled words from student work, and we talked about them.  I wasn’t looking to spot out “wrong” spellers, but rather what the student might have been thinking about as he/she spelled the word.  What strategy was being used?  How might this misspelling benefit us?  What might we all learn from it?  Often times it was this activity that dictated the direction we needed to take next.

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at the suffixing conventions.  We started with knowing when to replace the final non-syllabic <e> and when not to.  I used a flow chart so that they could see the predictability of this convention.  It didn’t take long before the majority of the students were writing <making> instead of  *makeing.  We looked at the other suffixing conventions in the same way.  There was always an immediate effect in their writing.

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at the use of <k> and <ck> in words.  Students made a list of words whose spelling included <ck>.  They compared that to a list of words whose spelling included a <k>.  When comparing, they looked at the position of the phoneme within the base (initial, medial, final).   For instance, the <ck> in <picking> is not medial, it is final.  The base is <pick> and the <ck> is final in the base.  When they got the hang of keeping their focus on the base element, they found that <ck> is most often found in the final position of a base and is never initial.  The next thing to compare were the letters immediately preceding the <k> or <ck>.  They noticed that a single vowel always preceded the <ck>, and it was always short.  They also noticed that when <k> was final in the base, there were either two vowels preceding it or a consonant (usually <r> or <n>).  Students conducted research in the same way for <ge> and <dge>.  This particular research felt so scientific that I had the students calculate percentages to represent how often they found certain things (<r> before a final <k>, for example).

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at the phonology of <c>.  Students made lists of words in which the grapheme <c> represented /s/ and /k/ in words.  We made lists for several days in a row, until students could confidently explain why the /s/ or /k/ pronunciation was used.  Knowing that there was a reliable way of knowing how to pronounce the grapheme <c> in a word was a light bulb moment for my students.  “Why didn’t we know this in second grade?  It would have been so helpful!”

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at the phonology of <t>.  Students made lists of words in which the grapheme <t> represented /t/, /ʃ/, or /tʃ/.  Students who have already memorized the spelling of <motion> know that *moshun is wrong, but they don’t understand that the mistake is related to the phonology of the <t>.  In order to talk about these three phonemes, I needed to explain that the IPA symbol /ʃ/ represents the pronunciation of <t> in words like <lotion>, <action> and <edition>, and the IPA symbol /tʃ/ represents the pronunciation of <t> in words like <creature>, <actual>, and <question>.  This inquiry really made the students slow down and think about pronunciation.  It also made them aware of what is really going on in the spelling of the word – especially since they wrote the words in the lists as word sums.  They began to realize that pronunciation of a final <t> in a base element can change depending on the suffix that follows it.

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at assimilated prefixes.  In groups of three, students were assigned a prefix group to explore.  For example, one group looked at <con->, <com->, <cor->, <col->, and <co->.  Another group looked at <in>, <il>, <ir>, and <im>.  Once they realized that many prefixes have variations in their spelling, the students slowed down and spent a moment considering when making hypotheses about a word sum.  I began seeing <immature> instead of *imature, <illegal> instead of *ilegal, and <corrode> instead of *corode.

Because of looking at misspellings, we looked at the role of the final non-syllabic <e> in various words.  It didn’t take the students long to be able to share with others at least 6 or 7 reasons for it to be there.  One way of sharing what was learned was to make a video called, “For <e>’s a Jolly Good Fellow“.  Knowing why the final non-syllabic <e> is in a word makes it easier to remember to include it when spelling!  I began seeing <change> instead of *chang and <breathe> instead of <breath> (when breathe was what was needed).

There was certainly much more we learned by looking at the words my students were using and misspelling, but I think you get the idea of how I turned “spelling mistakes” into something rich and useful.  Which takes us back to Daniel.  The orthography we were doing encompassed wonderful things he had never been asked to think about before.  But was it enough?  Will his next teacher wonder about his writing obstacle the way I had last fall?  The truthful answer is, “maybe.”

Daniel made a lot of progress.  He improved his writing in a lot of ways.  Besides looking at orthography, we studied grammar and writing.  There was a lot of practice at all of it.  But when I ran into Daniel’s mom a week after school was out,  I offered to tutor him for the summer.  Why had I done that?  What did I think I could accomplish in a few sessions that I wasn’t able to accomplish in a school year?

Some things that I learned about Daniel during the school year:   He is a dodger.  Anytime he is in a group, he counts on someone else to take the lead and he waits for their direction. He does what they tell him.  He writes what they tell him. It’s easier that way.  He pretends to be listening in class, but isn’t always.  He does not ask questions when he is confused.  His misspellings and poor writing have been pointed out so many times that he accepts failure as the norm.  He is not angry, just accepting.  He sees no point in trying to fix something that is part of the definition of who he is.  The strategy that he sticks to (that gets him into more spelling errors than not) is to “sound it out”.

I knew he “hid” in a larger class.  If I worked with him one-on-one, I felt he stood a better chance.

I started our first session by asking him to write a few sentences about his summer.  As usual, I was looking for mistakes he was making in his writing.  As it turned out, he wrote great sentences and there was only one word misspelled.  It was *calfes.  This led to a great investigation of pluralizing words such as <wolf>, <wife>, <half>, <knife>, and more.

After that I pictured a spelling error I had seen him make during the school year.  He had used the letter sequence ‘ints’ when he should have used the suffix <-ence>.  He was trying to sound out the word and spell it according to what he though he was hearing.  So he and I made two lists.  We made a list of words with the <-ence> suffix and a list of words that had a final ‘nts’ letter sequence.  The first list included words like <difference>, <reference>, <influence> and <evidence>.  The second list included words like <cents>, <quotients>, <agreements> and <payments>.  When asked to compare the two lists, Daniel recognized that the second list of words were all plural!  Then we went through each word, identifying its morphemes and talking about how it is used, and then spelling it out.  By that I mean he wrote it down, and then spelled each word aloud with a pause between each morpheme.  By doing this, he saw that <-ence> was consistently a suffix.

During the next session we reviewed the phonology of <t>.  We made lists and he spelled the words out.  We talked about the morphemes, their sense and meaning, and any related words.  We also reviewed <wolf> to <wolves>.

At the most recent session, we went back to the <-ence> suffix.  I wanted to fluctuate between <-ence> and <-ent>.  So I asked him to spell <evidence> and then <evident>, <influence> and then <influential>  (Reviewing the phonology of <t>).  We talked about them, and then I had him spell them out.  When we came to <dependence>, we paused to talk about the bound base <pend>.  We talked about a pendulum and a pendant and how they relate to being a dependent child.  Daniel spelled the word on paper and then out loud.  Thinking about another related word, I threw out the word <independence>.  Daniel quickly explained how the prefix <in-> brought a sense of “not” to the word before he proceeded to write the word on his paper.  When he spelled it out, I was surprised.  He had spelled <in – du – pend – ence>.

Interesting!  I asked him why the spelling of the prefix <de-> changed when we added the prefix <in-> to the word.  He said, ” I don’t know.  It just does?”  Interesting.  So even as I’m training him to spell out with morphemes, he’s still listening to the Queen of Hearts in his ear bellowing, “Sound it out!”

It was time to switch gears and talk about stress and the schwa.  When we pronounce the word <dependence>, the stress is on the second syllable.  Even though the first syllable is unstressed, the <e> is still pronounced clearly as a long <e>.  When we pronounce the word <independence>, there is stress on both the first and third syllables.  Some might consider the third syllable to be the primary stress in this word and the first to be secondary stress.  Either way, the second syllable becomes even more unstressed than it was in <dependence>, and the <e> in <de-> is pronounced as a schwa <ə>.  In this word, the schwa pronunciation is similar to the way we pronounce a short <u>.

To illustrate the point better, I brought up the word <chocolate>.  I asked him to say it.  We both noticed that when you say the word, there are two syllables, but when you go to write it, you think of three.  That <o> in the middle is a schwa with zero pronunciation when this word is spoken!  He played around with this idea for a bit and smiled as he spoke and the schwa syllable disappeared.

This discussion led us back to the first time Daniel spelled <dif-fer-ence> as *dif-r-ints.  I showed him both spellings and asked why he might have missed the <e> in the bound base <fer>.  The idea of written syllables versus spoken syllables was becoming slightly comfortable one.  The idea of a vowel having a schwa pronunciation was almost a relief!  When we meet again, we will pick up where this left off.  I’ll be ready with a list of words in which the schwa has altered the way the letter used might typically be pronounced.

*** Note to reader:  Daniel is a real student.  Daniel is not his real name.

 

 

Reviewing a Word’s Structure While Getting Better Acquainted with its Family

Almost all of the students have presented the Latin verb poster they put together.  We have had wonderful and rich discussions with each one.  And as we talked we noticed that not all Latin etymons became productive modern English bases.  Some of the bases we identified are found in a remarkable number of words while others are found in only a few.

For example, the twin bases <mote> and <move> are two that have become very productive in English.  My students can easily name words like remote, demote, promote, motion, emotion, motor, motel, movement, remove, moving, removal, movable and immovable.  That is certainly not a complete list, but it does demonstrate how common these two bases are.

Some of the Latin etymons became modern English bases that have not become very productive.  Take the Latin verb frango, frangere, frego, and fractus for example.  By removing the Latin suffixes on the infinitive and supine forms of this verb, we get the Latin etymons <frang> and <fract>.  The modern English bases that are derived from those etymons are spelled exactly the same!  You will no doubt recognize the following group of words with <fract> as the base: fraction, fracture, fractal, refractive, diffraction, and infraction.  But the only words my students found that share the <frang> base are frangible and refrangible.  See what I mean?  In English <frang> has not become a very productive base.

Since we have lined our hallway with Latin Verb posters, all we had to do was take a walk in order to identify those very productive modern bases!  We chose ten.  Some are twin bases and some are unitary.  We have decided to spend time looking at the words in these ten families and seeing what else we can notice.

We began with the bases <lege> and <lect>.  The denotation of these twin bases is “to gather, select, read”.  I asked the students to get out a piece of lined paper.  I read some words from this family and asked them to do two things. They were to write the word and they they were to write the word sum, keeping in mind that the base would either be <lege> or <lect>.  Some of the words they wrote down were lecture, select, lectern, collection, election, legion, legible and legibly.  The next step was for the students to come to the board and write the word and word sum up there so we could look at it and talk about it.

One of the first things I noticed was that someone wrote the word sum for <lectern> as <lect> + <urn>.  I wonder if that is a result of misguided practice in which students have been asked to search for a word within a word.  If this word was split into syllables, it might just be seen as ‘lec – turn’.  Anyway, I adjusted the suffix to read <ern>.  Then the students helped me list words with that suffix.  I got them started with lantern and cavern.  They added eastern, western, govern and modern.  Even though most knew that the suffix in <lecture> was <-ure>, we still brainstormed other words that use that suffix like treasure, pleasure, measure, nature and capture.

A third interesting thing to discuss was the way most students used an <-able> suffix in <legible> instead of an <-ible> suffix.  One certainly can’t choose which to use based on pronunciation!  I asked for  <-able>/<-ible> to be written on the Wonder Wall.  I have more information in a Smartboard presentation and will show it next week.

The most important thing of all, though, was how the students felt when they saw that they could spell these words when they concentrated on the morphemes.  They didn’t have to struggle with thinking about all the letters at once!  Instead they focused on each morpheme as it came and the spelling fell into place!

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Yesterday when the students walked in the door, I had <scribe / script> on the board with its denotation “to write”.  I didn’t even have to ask them to get out paper.  They sat down and quickly pulled out paper and pencil.  I read words like describe, subscription, prescriptive, scribble, scripture, subscribe, and scriptorium.  More students volunteered to write their word sums on the board than had volunteered yesterday!  They were enjoying seeing what they could figure out.

With this collection, we had the opportunity to talk about the way the <t> (final in the base <script>) represented a different sound in <prescriptive>, <subscription>, and <scripture>.  I’m sure that in their minds (until yesterday) the letter <t> represented only one sound – /t/.   When I saw that a boy in the front row had spelled <subscription> as ‘subscripshen’, I said out loud, “Wouldn’t it make sense for someone who has been told to sound out words when spelling to use an <sh> in <subscription>?  But look what is really happening.  The pronunciation of the letter <t> can be altered by the first letter of the suffix.”  We all said the three words so that we could feel the difference in pronunciation.  We talked about how some people pronounce <scripture> as if there is a <ch> following the <p> and some people pronounce it as if there is a <sh> following the <p>.  Another great opportunity to prove to the students that spelling is not about pronunciation.  It is about meaning!

An additional highlight with these particular twin bases (besides the students smiling at their increased level of successful today!) was the word sum for <scriptorium> that someone had written on the board.  It was written as <scriptorium> –> <script> + <or> + <i> + <um>.  I wasn’t so sure about there being a connecting vowel between two suffixes, and when I mentioned that, the students thought that made sense.  But instead of leaving it at that, we scheduled a Zoom session with our favorite French friend, Old Grouch!

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He helped us understand the Latin stem suffix <-i>, the Latin suffix <-um> and the present day English suffix <-ium>!  He showed us his own scriptorium and the students decided that a person who does the writing would be called a scriptor.  This recognition also lead to a discussion of agent suffixes (those that indicate the noun is a person).  That discussion led to a review of using the agent suffix <-or> instead of <-er> if the base can take an <-ion> suffix.  The examples Old Grouch used was profession/professor and action/actor.  Later, the students added animation/animator, instruction/instructor, and division/divisor!  My personal favorite is one that I noticed at an airport I visited in November.  The pair is recombulation/recombobulator!  If I was in the recombobulation area after going through security, and I was getting all of my things back in order, then I was a recombobulator!

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We are so grateful to be able to ask Old Grouch questions.  We always walk away smiling, and with a head full of interesting information to ponder!  Knowing that we began our Zoom session at 8:20 a.m. and knowing that it was 3:20p.m. where Old Grouch lives, one of the students asked if he had a nice siesta.  When he was remarking that he had, he also asked if we knew the word <siesta>.  We did not.  He explained that it is from Spanish for six.  Siesta is held six hours after daybreak!  Like I said, we always walk away smiling, and with something interesting to ponder!

You Say Spelling Makes Sense? Show Me.

A new group of fifth graders.
A promise to prove that that spelling makes sense.
Skeptical looks.
An introduction to the matrix.
Smiles and head-nods.
The evidence begins stacking up.

Our mission today was to build a matrix using the base word <hope>.  I began by asking students to suggest words built from that base.  Here is the list we ended up with.

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Next I moved to a clear area of the board and wrote the base word.  I spelled it out loud as I wrote it.  I told the students that when working with words on a matrix or in a word sum, we always spell out the base and the affixes.  The look on their faces told me they needed to know why.

I moved to the side and wrote the base <sign> on the board.  I said, “This is a free base.  It is a word by itself.  It does not need an affix to be a word.  If it is used all by itself, how is it pronounced?”  The students read it as you might expect – /saɪn/.  Then I wrote the following word sum:  <sign> + <al>  –> signal.   I said, “Look carefully at what I did.  I added a suffix to the base <sign> and the pronunciation of the base changed!  In the word <sign>, the <g> represents no sound at all.  In the word <signal>, the <g> represents /g/.  Now look what happens when I add the prefix <de> to the same base.”  I wrote the word sum <de> + <sign> and asked someone to tell me what word we just made.  The students now had a look of understanding on their faces when they read the word <design>.  The pronounced /s/ in <sign> was now a pronounced /z/.  Three words.  Three different pronunciations of the base.  No change to the spelling of the base.  We must spell out morphemes until our word is finished.  Then we can look at pronunciation.

Now I went back to building our matrix.  I asked for suffixes that could be added directly to our base.  Students suggested <-ed>, <-ing>, <-ful>, <-s>, and <-less>.  I arranged them in a column since they could all be added directly to the base.

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On the matrix you can see that I drew a vertical line to separate <-ful> and <-less> from <-ness> and <-ly>.  That is to show that <-ness> and <-ly> would never be added to the base directly.  They would only be added to the suffixes <-ful> and <-less>.  In this way we can make the words <hopeful>, <hopefulness>, <hopefully>, <hopeless>, <hopelessness> and <hopelessly>.  The horizontal line is drawn separating <-ed>, <-s> and <-ing> from <-ful> and <-less> because the suffixes <-ness> and <-ly> cannot be added to the top three suffixes.

Next it was time to talk about writing word sums.  What you see below would be read as, “h – o – p – e   plus   e – d   is rewritten as   (check the joins) … [at this point the student pauses and checks the places where the two morphemes, in this case a base and a suffix, are being joined.  Because we are adding a vowel suffix, the <e> in <-ed> will replace the final <e> in the base.  The final <e> in the base then gets crossed out and the reading out loud continues.]  … h – o – p –  (no   e)  –  ed.”  It’s important to say “no <e>” because in doing so we are acknowledging that the final <e> on the base is being replaced. The student realizes it is part of the base, and when deconstructing the word <hoped>, that final <e> needs to resurface.

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The plot thickens and so does the understanding.

Next I posed this question to the students.  “Why is there only one <l> in <hopefulness> and two in <hopefully>?

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There was no hesitation.  Using the matrix, the students easily explained that there was one <l> in the suffix <-ful> and one <l> in the next suffix <-ly>.

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I used this opportunity to ask if anyone ever had to ask themselves if a specific word had one <l> or two.  Many hands went up.  We talked about the difference between the free base word <full> and the suffix <-ful>.  I asked someone to tell me if <really> had one <l> or two.  I said, “This is how you will always know.  Simply ask yourself what the base is.  Then ask yourself what the suffix is.  As you get more and more familiar with suffixes, you will see how they are used over and over with many different bases.  And you will begin to realize that unfamiliar words are often made up of familiar parts.  So far, you’ve been taught to listen to what words sound like.  Now we’re going to add to that and learn to see what words are made of.”

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As a final piece I wrote the word <doeing> on the board, pointing out that this was how one of the students had spelled this word yesterday.  I asked, “Why is it logical that this student inserted an <e> into this word?”  The students recognized that there is an <e> in the related word <does>.  I asked for the base of this word and together we built a matrix.  With this example I was again able to reiterate what I had said earlier.  “You don’t ever have to wonder how to spell <doing> again.  Think of what the base is and what the suffix you are adding is.  We don’t randomly add letters and we don’t randomly drop them.”

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Twin Base Investigations Always Reveal So Much!

Working with Latin twin bases is a lot of fun. In the following video, Kyla and Aevri looked at Invado, Invadere, Invasi, and Invasus.  They began by practicing probable pronunciations of these four principal verb forms.  They looked at Latdict for a definition of this verb and then determined whether or not they were dealing with twin bases.

I liked the way Aevri and Kyla used color to indicate a word sum of sorts when listing their words.  The base was written in purple and the suffix(es) were written in green.  We talked about the fact that the <e> seen in the base <invade> gets replaced by the vowel suffixes <er>, <ing>, <ed> and <er> + <s>.  If the suffix(es) are removed, then the single nonsyllabic <e> makes its appearance once more.

When Cooper suggested that perhaps <evade> was related to these words, I was thrilled.  As soon as we were done filming, Aevri went to Etymonline and looked up the word.  Its structure is <e>(a clip of <ex>, meaning ‘out’) + <vadere> (from Latin, meaning ‘go, walk’).  On the very same page was the word <invasion>.  Its structure was listed as <in>(meaning ‘in’) + <vadere>(meaning ‘go, walk’).  Another word that could be added to a matrix with <vade> as a bound base would be pervade, meaning ‘to spread or go through’.

 

In this next video, Cooper and Haley looked at Frango, Frangere, Frangi and Fractus.

This investigation brought some interesting words to our attention.  Refractory and diffract were two of those.  It was interesting to find out that refractory prisoners in the late 1800’s were subject to a frog march.  This meant that they were carried face down by four people, each carrying a limb!  So if your behavior is refractory (stubborn, obstinate), you are breaking away from what is expected.

When we discussed <diffract>, we noted that the prefix <dif-> was an assimilated form of the <dis-> prefix and that they both mean ‘apart or away’.  Diffraction is a noun that is typically used in science when talking about what happens when an obstacle is placed in the path of a light or sound wave.

“Orthography Makes Spelling Less Complicated”

This year I had a high school student who came to my classroom every day to help out.  The other day while she was here, two 5th graders shared their poster about the digraph <wr>.   They were listing words that began with <wr> and had something to do with twisting and turning.  (Wringing, wrench, wrinkle, wrist, …)  After the bell rang and the 5th graders left, she turned to me.  “Every time I’m in here and these students present like this, I am blown away.  This stuff is so cool and interesting!  Do they have any idea just how lucky they are to be learning this stuff?”  I had to admit that I’m not sure my students realize how unique their situation is.

So today I gave them the opportunity to reflect on our study of orthography.  Each student spent 5 or so minutes writing down some of the things they learned.  Then I asked them to share.  Some were comfortable letting me record their thoughts.  Others preferred to give me their thoughts on paper.  Here is what some of the students had to say:

~Orthography makes spelling less complicated.
~I used to just write the word.  I didn’t know nothing about the word or the base of the word.  Not even the prefixes or suffixes.  Some words are hard to understand, but this way helped me.
~I learned that the <carn> in carnival has the same meaning as the <carn> in carnivore.
~Syllables are not word sums.
~Orthography is not just learning the meaning of a word.
~Instead of learning how to spell words we learned their history and how they were made, allowing us to sort of understand what they mean.
~Word sums are not found in a dictionary.
~Yes!  There were no spelling tests!  We worked on something new almost every day!  I now know new and harder words.
~I don’t like spelling, but I like orthography.
~Words have connections to other words that we don’t always recognize.  Example:  lavendar and lava.
~It helps me because I can remember the morphemes, and they help me remember how to spell the word.
~Lots of words have histories and were spelled different back then.
~Words have not just one meaning but multiple meanings.
~Back when some words were spelled a little different, they also had meanings that were a little different than their meaning today.
~Orthography helps you find bases so you know if the words have something in common like in sign and signal.
~I liked this more than spelling because it had more thought in it rather than just memorizing the spelling of a word.
~There is actually a reason words are spelled the way they are.
~I always used songs to remember how to spell words.  Now I just need to break them down into morphemes and I can spell the words I don’t know.
~In the past we’d just get words and the teacher would be like, “Make sure to study!”  But none of us did.  Now we don’t have to study.  It just kind of sticks.  I can spell much better.

Focusing on Word Structure

As we were watching a video about the water cycle, I wrote the following words on the board:

condensation                  evaporation                         transpiration
infiltration                       percolation                          precipitation
interception                     evapotranspiration

What an orthographic opportunity!  The students were quick to recognize that everyone of these had an <ion> suffix.  Next I asked students to say and then spell the word that would remain if the <ion> suffix was removed.  The words listed were now:

condensate                     evaporate                            transpirate

infiltrate                         percolate                              precipitate

intercept                        evapotranspirate

With the exception of the word <intercept>, all the rest had something in common.  The students again pointed out an <ate> suffix.  I asked why the <e> on the end of <ate> didn’t show up once we added the <ion> suffix to the word?  Everyone knew that it was dropped when the vowel suffix <ion> was added.  At this point I recognized though, that some of the students thought the second suffix was <at> instead of <ate>.   In our recent “The Great Suffix Challenge” activity I learned that some of those same students have little understanding of suffixes, other than their position in the word.  We must keep writing out word sums and talking about each morpheme’s role in the word.

Next I asked if anyone recognized any proven prefixes.  Several recognized <inter>, meaning between and <pre>, meaning before.  Even though we had previously discussed <e> being a clip of <ex> (meaning out) and <con> (meaning together), no one recognized them offhand.    I grouped the students and had each group further investigate each word.

As the bases were identified, discussions took us in all sorts of fascinating directions.

The meaning of the word <evaporation> became something we could clearly picture once we knew that <e> was the prefix meaning out  and <vape> was the base meaning steam.  We pictured water evaporating from a tea kettle, a puddle, and a lake.  Our complete word sum hypothesis was <e> + <vape/> + <or> + <ate/> + <ion>.   When deciding whether the base was <vape> or <vapor>, we looked for other words sharing this meaning and found <vapid>.  This word was our evidence that <or> was a suffix.  We decided that without the final <e> on the base, the final consonant <p> would be forced to double when adding a vowel suffix.  Since we know that in words like vaporize and evaporate there is only a single <p>, then we also know there must be a final <e> on the base <vape>.  For those who were confused as to why the base might have a final <e>, I wrote <hoping> on the board and asked them to remove the <ing> suffix.  When they said the base was <hope>, I showed them that the final <e> in <hope> is doing the same job as the final <e> in the bound base <vape>.

Another intriguing discussion arose with the word <infiltration>.  The word sum hypothesis was <in> + <filtr> + <ate/> + <ion>.  As we typically do, we looked for other words that shared the base <filtr> and its meaning.  We found filtration, infiltrate, infiltrator, infiltrated, filter, filtering, filtered, and filters.  Much to my delight, someone asked how we could add an <er> suffix to the base <filtr> to get the word <filter>.  The student knew we wouldn’t just drop the final <r> in the base, but also knew that simply adding the <er> suffix wouldn’t get us the spelling of <filter> either.

The bound base <filtr> behaves similarly to <centr>, <metr>, and <theatr>.  Structurally it makes sense to spell these four with a final <re> rather than an <er>.  Let me give examples using word sums:

<filtr> + <ate/> + <ion> –> <filtration>
<centr> + <al> –> <central>     OR     <centr> + <i> + <fuge/> + <al>  –>  <centrifugal>
<metr> + <ic> –> <metric>       OR    <metr> + <o> + <nome>  –>  <metronome>
<theatr> + <ic> + <al>  –> <theatrical>

In other countries, these words are indeed spelled <filtre>, <centre>, <metre>, and <theatre>.  At some point in American history, the <re> ending was reversed so that these words resembled all of the other words in our language that have an <er> suffix.   Alas! In doing so, another road block to understanding word structure was set in place.  Center and central seemed to be two words that were related in meaning, but not in spelling or structure.  But, of course, that is not what scholarly research and evidence reveals!  My students are now as fascinated with this information as I am.

One final treasure was when we found the base of <transpiration> to be <spire> which means to breathe.  The students began collecting other words with that base and we talked about how each word shared that sense of breathing.  When we studied photosynthesis, we first used the word <transpiration>, and knew that it was that plant action of pulling water up from the roots, through the xylem, through the leaf into the cell and out the stomata.  In this way the plant is breathing.  When we came across the word <perspiration>, the light bulb of meaning connection went off in my own head and I said, “Transpiration.  Perspiration.  Anybody seeing any similarities in meaning?”  Eyes widened and hands shot up.   From there we talked about <respiration>, <inspiration> and <expiration>.  THIS is the stuff you don’t find in spelling workbooks!

 

Shedding Light on Plant Processes

Wow!  It’s been a very busy eight days since I first handed out the scripts for our Photosynthesis Follies.  Yesterday and today we performed for twelve different audiences!  They included almost all of the students in our building and lots of parents and family members.  Over and over again we explained the process of photosynthesis to all those who came to listen.

Back in our classroom, in the chunks of time between those performances, the students took a closer look at the words photosynthesis and transpiration.  They began with basic definitions and then created word sum hypotheses.  Watching the videos it is obvious there is more to discover.  In the first video, Jacob’s research took him in many directions!  He was one of three who rather excitedly asked if he could work on this at home too!  This was the first time the students were off on their own to explore.  The lists of words he found to prove the <ic> suffix and the <photo> prefix are impressive.  He had come across many examples of <syn> as a prefix as well, but didn’t have them all written down.

 

 

In this video Zoe is also looking at photosynthesis.  She has found evidence to support her word sum hypothesis  <photo> + <syn> + <thesis>.   Next up is understanding what each morpheme means and how they help us uncover a deeper sense of what photosynthesis is.

 

 

In the next video this team of girls came up with some interesting ideas.  It is so second nature for the students to begin with the notion of sounds in words.  I found it interesting that this was one of the few groups that recognized that there is an <e> that was dropped when the suffix <ion> was added.  More investigating will uncover the other morphemes in this word.

The boys in the second half of this clip made a great discovery minutes after my camera battery gave up.  They had found the word <expire> and were comparing it to <transpire>.  I can’t wait to see what comes of this!

 

 

What an exciting time.  The students are ready for the challenge of figuring things out on their own.   This is going to be a wonderful year!