Together Again For The First Time

Only three days into the new school year and it already feels like we’re a family of sorts.  There’re those genuine smiles that are given and received.  There’s that willingness to learn new things in new ways.  There’s that surprise when looking at the clock and realizing that the day is almost over.  There’s that promise of great learning and experiences to come.  And there’s that grin of satisfaction at the end of the day, coupled with the comforting thought that tomorrow will equal or better the experiences of today.  Yes, it feels like we are back together again when in reality we have only just met.  What a sign of great comraderie and discovery to come!

After great experiences with my 5th graders last spring and an absolutely fabulous training in Canada this summer, I was very excited to introduce orthography to my new students.  I had carefully prepared a lesson using our Smartboard.  I also had a great video lined up -one of Dan Allen’s students Skyping with Old Grouch just two weeks ago.  But then, computer problems forced me to change my plans.  For a moment my head was spinning … where to start?  I decided to begin by simply asking the students for a word they have sometimes misspelled.

Dominick offered the word <important> and explained that he remembered spelling it <importint>.  First we talked about what the word means.  Next we looked at how it is built.  I introduced the idea of having hypotheses about how words are built.  I asked if anyone recognized prefixes or suffixes.  Our first hypothesis was <im> + <port> + <ant>.  Our second was <im> + <por> + <tant>.  (I noticed that the student who offered the second hypothesis had clapped out syllables to help him make his guess — we did not address it then, but when the students have more experience with this process, I’ll let them decide the best strategy to use.)

Our next step was to prove whether or not <ant> was a suffix.  We tried to think of other words with an <ant> suffix, but weren’t having much luck.  We decided to shift gears and look at whether or not we could prove that <im> was a prefix.  We had much better luck with that.  Our list included improve, impressive, immature, immigrant (the minute this word was suggested, someone noticed that it had an <ant> which might possibly be a suffix), import, impeccable, and imbecile.  At this point we talked about the list we had.  Someone recognized that <immature> could be <im> + <mature>, <immigrant> could be <im> + <migrant> and <import> could be <im> + <port>.


Ezra grabbed a dictionary and looked up <im>.  It was identified as a prefix that is used in the same way as the prefix <in>.  The dictionary also mentioned that when the prefix <im> is used, it is followed by a morpheme that begins with either a <p>, <m>, or <b>.  When we looked back at our list, that piece of information fit every one of our words.  What a cool discovery!


Since someone has suggested that <immigrant> might have an <ant> suffix, I created a word sum for it.  I wrote <im> + <migr> + <ant> on the board.  Using this word sum as an example, I was able to talk about bound bases (a base which needs an affix to exist as a word).  We contrasted that information with the word sum for <import> which is <im> + <port>.  In this situation <port> is a free base (meaning that it can exist as a word without any affixes).

All in all many principles were introduced which will be questioned and researched and proven throughout the year.  It is all very exciting indeed!

4 thoughts on “Together Again For The First Time

  1. Hi. Its Saphire! I miss you so much, Mrs.Steven! You were so awesome as a teacher for us (my class). I wish that I could see you more often, but now… Its middle school time…. Ugh. But I am so glad to be talking to you!!!!!!
    Well I hope you like your new room and class!
    And Its pretty sweet that Old Grouch is answering still 🙂


  2. Sounds like you guys are having so much ortho+graph+ic fun! I love orthography! I am still breaking apart my spelling words, always trying to figure out why the word’s spelled that way…. You guy will have a blast this year! Have fun,

    • It’s great to hear from you! Keep on wondering, and please share what you figure out. If you get stuck, I love a thorough investigation 🙂

      Hope your new year is going well. And … Happy Birthday!

      Mrs. Steven

  3. Congratulations to you and your new band of lexical sleuths on identifying the suffix ‘-ant’, and the consequent analysis ‘im + port + ant → important’.

    So far so good, so let me give you all something further to think about. There is also a suffix spelled ‘-ent’ that has the same pronunciation as ‘-ant’ when it’s final in a word. Here are some examples.

    accident different consequent

    So how can real spellers decide whether to spell a suffix that is pronounced /ǝnt/ as ‘-ant’ or ‘-ent’? The pronunciation of each isolated word won’t help.

    Spelling’s primary function is to represent sense and meaning, and connections of meaning. No word is an island, entire and of itself, and real spellers never – never – investigate words in isolation. Spelling choices can be governed by connections of meaning between related words.

    So how can I tell which of the spellings ‘accident’ or ‘accidant’ makes orthographic sense? Simple! The related word ‘accidEntal’ makes it clear that this word family has the suffix ‘-ent’. The same goes for ‘different’ and ‘consequent’, as the related ‘differEntial’ and ‘consequEntial’ demonstrate.

    So what about ‘importAnt’. Couldn’t it be ‘*importEnt’? No – because it is related to ‘importAtion’ (and if you want to know what is the connection between ‘importation’ and ‘important’ there are clues in Etymonline to carry you further).

    This is a great start to your new school year.

    con + grate/ + ule/ + ate/ + ion + s !

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