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!


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!


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!


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!

Generating Word Electricity!

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

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

img055 img058

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jazzing Up the Hallway With Latin!

Amid lots of year-end projects and activities, we’ve continued to share our Latin verb investigations with each other.  To keep the conversations regarding these findings going, we have then posted them in the hallway!  Every day we walk by these posters at least six times … and so do a lot of other people!  When reviewing the Latin bases on the posters, students continually  suggest words that might be added to the webs of these word families.  What a great thing it is for all of us to realize just how big some of these word families are!  Common and familiar words become the object of examination in the same wondrously curious and joyful manner as unfamiliar yet intriguing words.

We have also developed a great habit of doing some “so far” sharing.  Instead of always waiting until the presentation preparations are completed, we have been asking people to share their half finished posters so they can talk about what they have discovered “so far”.  In this way, the rich discussion and questions of classmates has often given the presenters the opportunity to reflect on their work, and in some cases make changes before they finalize their posters.

DSCN4278 DSCN4279 DSCN4280 DSCN4281 DSCN4282 DSCN4283Investigating in this manner (beginning with Latin verbs), the students have enjoyed finding out for themselves if the infinitive and the supine reveal a unitary base or a twin base.  Prior to the spellinar I’m taking on Latin for Orthographers, we often wondered about whether or not a base had a twin.  Now it feels so exhilarating to have a deeper understanding of what we are looking at when we read entries in dictionaries  or on Etymonline.