Relatives We Didn’t Know Words Had!

When I first replaced ‘spelling’ with orthography, I had much more enthusiasm than knowledge!  I put it right out there to my students when I said,  “We’re going to try something completely different.  I won’t know all the answers, but I’m excited by that.  It means that maybe you’ll figure out something before I do, and you’ll help me understand it.”  What an amazing year that was!  The students and I took a 180 degree turn when thinking about a word’s spelling.  We started searching for the logic that we were never taught to see.  We absolutely delighted ourselves with the realization that words have structure, and that structure has nothing to do with syllables.   Once we knew about a word’s structure, we began looking at words that shared a particular base.  There was such a sense of delight when words previously thought to have no connection to each other, obviously had one!

Since then, the excitement has not lessened!   Hungry to replace years of misinformation, I have taken spellinars at Real Spelling.  Last year, I took a spellinar through Real Spelling called “Latin for Orthographers”.  Talk about a constant flow of wow moments!  One of the things I learned about and then shared with my students was the four Principal Parts of a Latin Verb.  I learned which of the parts were of interest to orthographers.  Then I learned to remove the infinitive suffix and the supine suffix in order to reveal an etymon that became either a Modern English unitary base or a set of Modern English twin bases.  Suddenly we see connections between words like never before!

Listen to Tyler and Nathan in this first film.  Only two students have presented before them so there is a hint of “pretty sure of myself, but not completely”.  I love the audience participation.  The Modern English bases being “discovered” seem to set everyone’s mind on its own search for relatives.  Listen for the student in the audience who jumps in to share how “rogue” is used in the sports games he plays.

In the next video, Elizabeth and Hanna explain what they have learned about the twin bases they found.  I absolutely love the excitement generated in the whole class when someone asks Hanna how ‘lavender’ has anything to do with “washing” (which is the denotation for the twin bases <lave> and <lote>).

The last video is of Elliot, who analyzed the Latin Verb he was given and found a Modern English unitary base.  Elliot does a great job explaining the related words he has collected.  I also enjoyed the short story he created using those words.  One of the students in the audience brings up a great point about the potential <e> in the final position of a lot of these bases.   He wonders if there should be one on the Modern English base <aud>.

I had each student investigate their own Latin Verb and its Principal Parts.  That means that we’ll have two presentations (along with lovely discussions) every day for another week and a half!  There is just no reason to rush with the presentations.  Each day that the students use the terminology (and hear it being used) makes them more sure of what they are saying and doing.  Each day that the students question/defend/share their understandings reinforces the expectation of seeing logic and structure in our language!

I’ll leave you with this lovely classroom moment…   Just two days ago, I asked the students to clean up so we could switch to science.  Teagan remarked, “Aww.  Why do we have to stop?  We are doing orthography and that’s science, isn’t it?”  I smiled and said, “It is in this room!”

18 thoughts on “Relatives We Didn’t Know Words Had!

  1. Now I get to enjoy the comments to your students scholarship as well! One thing that I can’t resist is highlighting one of my favourite twin base pairs ‘move’/’mote’ that were revealed by one of your students.

    Here’s just one story that builds on this family that I draw from all the time.

    I remember when I first shared this formulation “nothing motivates learning like understanding” with Old Grouch. I enjoyed the raised eyebrow it inspired — but more important was his almost immediate response/challenge, “And of course you see the paradox in that statement.”

    Of course I had not considered it, but that provocation did spark me to find it! Perhaps some of your students would enjoy that same provocation. You have already identified the orthographic denotation in the base ‘mote’. It might be fun to consider which word offers an interesting counter point to that idea. And when you find the etymology of the word I’m thinking of, you are likely to notice something interesting about that word that you may not have considered before.

    On on!


    • I love it! I can’t wait to see who can spot this paradox! We have visited the “other” base several times so someone may recognize what this seemingly straightforward phrase holds!

      And now I’ll be singing the Gilbert & Sullivan song, ” A Paradox, A Paradox, A Most Ingenious Paradox” all night long! 😀

  2. I can only echo all the sentiments already here in the comments. Your students will provide a basis from which so many other students (and teachers) can be provoked to ask more questions about their own understandings. I’m totally inspired by the posters representing their thinking, and by the questions posed by everyone in the audience. A big, giant wow!

  3. Ah!! So much to learn from! My 5th graders enjoyed your presentations and are eager to study their own now. We stopped often to discuss the questions these young scholars posed to one another to see if we could answer them. Wonderful questions, word studies and bravery to take this learning on for all of us to see and learn from.

    One question a student of mine asked was, ” Is (mote) related to (Mozart)?” She posed this question based solely on how we pronounce (Mozart) [at least in the Mid-West], with a /tsz/ instead of a (z) [sorry, no IPA font and apparently the website does not recognize angle brackets] . This question was valuable in that it allowed us to explore the placement of our tongue as we say the sounds of /t/ and /z/ — we noticed how similar they are and that the difference was a tap of the tongue vs holding it in place. We also discussed that names do not often follow meaning connections to base elements and we discovered when we wrote those out on the board, we could immediately see there was not a structural connection either.

    Thank you for posting your presentations of Latin verbs, it helped us review concepts, solidify a few and add even more to our banks of knowledge and understanding orthography. Mrs. Stevens — I enjoyed seeing my own journey echoed in yours (albeit behind… is better to start than to never have begun).

    • Thank you! My students were so intrigued at the question about ‘mote’ and ‘Mozart’. It was another opportunity to look at spelling as the key to a word’s meaning as opposed to pronunciation as a key to a word’s spelling!

  4. What a pleasure to watch the presentations and to hear the connections made by the audience members – a community of orthographers in action discovering the power of words.

  5. Shining examples of excellence in orthography–both students and teacher! Old Grouch recently mentioned in a Spellinar that before microphones, actors auditioned to be sure they could be heard at the back of the auditorium. Your scholars will find that to be an interesting refinement of our understanding. And thank you once again for sharing these enlightening episodes.

    • Even though it is hard for fifth graders to imagine a world without microphones, they could imagine needing to project their voices deep into an auditorium. Thanks for taking our understanding another notch deeper!

  6. You and your class are an inspiration. How precise is their understanding of the Latin verb from meaning, structure, relatives and even pronunciation. I will be sharing this with my fifth grade classes today! Thanks for sharing, Mary

  7. This post from your young scholars has started my day gloriously.

    Watching and listening to them engage with these Latin verbal etymons and how they still enrich our lives through their modern derivations reminded me of what Apollo, the classical embodiment of all that is noble in humanity and the intellect, is made to say by the Roman poet Vergil:

    sic itur ad astra
    “this is the way we go to the stars.”

    And stars these students are.

    At some point it might be useful to talk over why the supine stem is presented with the suffix -um in some references and with the suffix -us in others.

    Your opening paragraph is a concise masterpiece. The official schooling literacy industry has a lot to answer for.

    • Old Grouch,
      Your wonderful comments brought lots of smiles today! We’re thinking that “sic itur ad astra” might be a wonderful quote to hang above our classroom door! What an inspiring mindset to have each time we enter the room and begin our investigations!

  8. Wonderful Mary Beth! Eloquent, concise, thoughtful and I feel all the clearer for these students’ explanations, examples and questions. I love how they handle the questions from their peers while effortlessly referencing the infinitive and supine forms!! Bravo grade five!

    • Thank you, Ann! I love the interaction between the presenter and the audience. One cannot anticipate the questions that will be asked, but when they appear they create magical moments of opportunity!

  9. Just a first brief response after watching the first video.


    The orthographic knowledge in this community of scholars is so rich and deep. Please pass on my appreciation for this scholarship, and the willingness to share. I will be sharing this post with my own Grade 5 class and the students in my high school electives as a means of inspiring ways that we can develop our own understanding together — and hopefully to share it right back!

    So wonderful.


    • Thank you, Pete! We are delighted to know you will be sharing this post with both your Grade 5 class and your high school elective class! We often refer back to the Grade 5 student who investigated ‘sist’. Inspiration like a slinky!

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