But What About a Scope and Sequence?

When people ask if I use a scope and sequence, my first response is that I don’t.  But that’s not completely true.  I do have a scope in mind.  I do have a list of concepts and skills that I feel are important and that I must teach in a given school year.  It isn’t etched in stone or anything because it depends on my audience, of course.  I start where they are in their understanding of English spelling.  I also have a rough sequence for some of those concepts that I generally follow.  It also isn’t etched in stone or anything.  It is simply an order that I generally follow so I know that I can build on some basic understanding before adding layers of new information.  For example, I don’t teach my students about assimilated prefixes until they have experience with prefixes in general.  I don’t teach about Latin verbs and the resulting bases in modern English until they have an understanding of Latin’s place in the history of our language.  But other than that, the rest of the concepts are applied when the opportunity arises.  And it arises a lot because we look at so many many words in the course of a school year.

I have used a scope and sequence with other programs in the past.  I understand why teachers want them.  There is always the fear that you’ll miss teaching something important or that there will be inconsistency between one teacher and another regarding the skills taught.  As you go along, you can check off that you have covered a certain skill, and by the end of the year, all of your students have heard all of the required information.  But we all know that following a strict scope and sequence doesn’t guarantee anything.  Students can still end up with “gaps” in a specific subject.  Sometimes there isn’t enough practice before the sequence timeline moves on.  I’m not blaming the teacher here.  I’m just saying that students who kinda-almost-get it, don’t always get it solidified before the teacher moves on to the next piece in the scope.  And that is only one example of how a gap can form.

I’m not saying you have to scrap the idea of a scope and sequence.  Many districts require them.  But I want you to think of one in a less restrictive way.  A less regimented way.  If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, I bet you already know where you will start each year with the subjects you teach.  You know what concepts you will start with and what comes next.  It is the same for me.  The difference is that once we get into word investigations, I can’t predict which concepts will need a closer look.  Instead of writing down a specific order in which these concepts must be addressed, I take the opportunity to discuss them as they come up in the context of a word.  In this way, we talk throughout the year about concepts that come up over and over.  Before you know it, some students are able to explain these concepts to other students.  When that happens, I know that the understanding will continue to spread throughout the class.  More and more students will have the opportunity to explain a concept to other students and in doing so, demonstrate that they know it for themselves.

The following is a list of big topics I consider to be “must haves” for my students.  I will not get into all of the particular bits included with each of these larger topics, but I em endeavoring to explain each to give you an idea of what each entails.   I have other posts in this blog that address many of these things.

Words hold meaning.

This is a perfect spot for one of my favorite quotes from Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, “Every word is part of a picture.  Every sentence IS a picture.  All you do, is let your imagination connect them together.”  Yes, every word has a sense and meaning.  And that sense and meaning is embedded in the word.  It isn’t a case of, “Here’s the word. Go look in a dictionary to find out what it means.”  Instead, we learn to spot the bases in a word that carry a common denotation that has existed since the birth of that lexical stem in the English language.  It is a literal meaning of the word, and is comprised of the denotation of the base and the sense that is added to it by any affixes.  Yes, sometimes a word’s sense and meaning changes over time, but there are a surprising number of words that can be clearly understood once one knows the denotation of the base.

Words have structure.

A word’s structure is expressed by writing its word sum.  We begin with a hypothesis.  Familiarity with affixes is a must, but I don’t recommend  memorizing them in isolation.  I find it helpful to look at prefixes and suffixes by having small groups collect words with a specific suffix or prefix.  Then we come together to talk about what these affixes are and how they steer the denotation of the base.  After a day or two of that, I continue those discussions about affixes as they come up in word investigations.  If I see some confusion about the role of affixes, the sense they carry, or what happens when two or more are joined, I will choose a specific word family for examination that will help solidify this familiarity.

About half way through the school year, when I feel that my students are comfortably familiar with several common prefixes, I specifically have everyone learn about assimilated prefixes.  Many students know that <con-> and <com-> are prefixes.  But they don’t know that they are in fact forms of the same prefix.  And they don’t imagine that <col->, <cor->, and <co-> are even prefixes at all!  This is something I have students focus on in small groups.  They collect words that have one or another form of that prefix so we can share and talk as a class.  We all benefit from each group’s research, and they become better equipped to make hypotheses about word sums!

Connecting vowels are something we discuss when they appear.  The first time we spot them, I spend time explaining how I know that the letter in question is, in fact, a connecting vowel.  I demonstrate the questions I ask myself and the resources I use.  I also point out that you can’t tell if a letter is a connecting vowel by just looking at the word.  You can have a suspicion, but it isn’t until we have asked ourselves some questions and used our resources that we can provide evidence to back our suspicion or hypothesis.

This brings us to identifying bases and whether or not a word is a compound.  They know about free bases except they call them roots.  We clear up that distinction.  The idea of a bound base is completely new to my students.  They have been told about adding suffixes and prefixes, but with that being said, they do not know that a word like <corrode> is made up of a prefix and a bound base (a bound base simply being a base that needs an affix).  By the end of the year, they are delighted to be able to say that technology, manufacture, geography, and hallway are all compound words!

Besides learning about free bases and bound bases, they learn that some bases that derived from Latin verbs have alternate spellings.  They come from the same Latin verb and have the same denotation, but have two or more spellings.  An example of this would be the bases <duce> and <duct> that we see in <produce> and <product>.  The bases derived from Latin verbs are so commonly seen in modern words that this is definitely a worthwhile focus for my students.  By the end of the year they have gained so much in the way of understanding about the types of morphemes a word can have, that hypothesizing word sums is one of their favorite activities!

Words come from somewhere.

Some words have been around for hundreds of years.  Others are newer.  Words are being added to our English lexicon all the time.  Our language is always changing, and those changes are brought about by the people who speak the language.  In other words, words have a history and that history becomes their story.  This is the facet of structured word inquiry that always draws my students in.  They love knowing that words were, in effect, born at some point in time.  In some cases the spelling of a particular base was influenced by other languages and changed along the way.  In other cases the meaning of the word as it was used by people over time changed rather drastically!  It could be that the word now means the opposite of what it once did!  And, of course, there are many words that have retained their spelling and their sense and meaning.

In the course of conducting word investigations, students find out that words may have come from a number of different languages.  Generally, they find that the majority of the words they look up come from either Old English, Latin, or Greek.  At first I just let them get used to the idea that the words we use came from languages such as these. But by late in the first half of the year, I think it’s time to put those languages in perspective.  What I mean is to look at a timeline and think about how long ago Old English was being spoken!  Is Greek older than Latin, or is Latin older than Greek?  In small bits, I present some of the history of our language.  I talk about Proto Indo European.  It makes sense to do so since it is referenced so often at Etymonline!

While we are looking at the language of origin, we take note of certain signals in the spelling of a word that might point us in that direction.  For example, when we see a medial <y>, we see that as a clue that this word is no doubt from Greek!  Or when we see the spelling <ch> and the pronunciation of /ʃ/, we see that as a clue that this word is from French.  There is just so much understanding to be gained by knowing more about the ancestors of our modern words!

Words are not used in isolation, so they should not be studied in isolation.

So much of Structured Word Inquiry involves a scientific “compare and contrast” model of thinking.  If we look at a word all by itself and try to understand its spelling, we are lost.  But if we look at a word among its family of relatives (meaning other words that share its base and etymological ancestor), we can learn so much more.  When we are studying and analyzing the grammar in a sentence, we look to the affixes on the words to give us clues about how the word is functioning within the sentence.  We notice that some suffixes are unique to specific parts of speech while others need to be seen in the context of a sentence.  For example, when we see <-ion> added to <animate>, we think of the new word as a noun instead of a verb.  But a base with an <-ly> suffix needs the context of the sentence to reveal its part of speech.  Two possibilities are that it can be fixed to a noun to become an adjective (as is the case with <elderly>) or to an adjective to become an adverb (as is the case with awkwardly).

Graphemes are another aspect of English spelling that needs to be understood in context of the word they are part of.  So many of the graphemes in English have the potential to represent several phonemes.  When we investigate the word as a whole, the etymological origins or journey can give us an understanding of why certain graphemes are used over others or why the grapheme we see represents a specific phoneme.  An example I am thinking of is the <ch> digraph which might represent the /ʃ/ phoneme in words like <chef> or <ricochet> that came from French, yet represent the /tʃ/phoneme in words like <chair> and <search> that came from Old French and further back, Latin.

Words are ours to enjoy!

Words should be appreciated because they are a reflection of the people who use them.  The dictionary isn’t a collection of the words we should be using.  It is a collection of the words we are using.  Every year we hear about words that are removed from the dictionary because no one uses them, and also, new words popping up and being used often enough to need to be added to the dictionary.  You see, dictionaries are a reflection of the words we use.  Each edition is a snapshot of use in that year.  Luckily, most words hang around a long time and so we don’t notice the age of a dictionary unless we are looking for a recently added word.

Students are so used to dry vocabulary lessons and spelling tests, that they lack curiosity and/or enjoyment of words.  I feel it is important to reinstate that idea.  To that end we look at things like portmanteau words, phonesthemes, extremely long words, and oxymorons.  The children discover that words can be playful and even make us laugh.  They enjoy discovering that motorcycle is a portmanteau word that blends the words motorized and bicycle into one!  They find satisfaction in knowing that email is a blending of electronic and mail.

Phonesthemes are so intriguing!  They are not a spelling, but rather a common pronunciation found in a group of words that also share an aspect of their meaning.  The words are not necessarily related etymologically, but there is a common “sense” among them.  An example would be /sn/ which is part of snore, snout, sniff, snot, snarl, snort, and sneer.  Have you already guessed what “sense” they share?  Right.  They all have something to do with the nose.

Oxymorons are simply two words with an opposite meaning paired together.  A few examples would be seriously funny, jumbo shrimp, and awfully good.  By giving students the opportunity to see words in this way, we make them inviting.   Words become something to share and talk about enthusiastically!

 

I hope you can see that I have a master plan.  I definitely have a master plan.  There are certain parts of this plan that need to be addressed right up front.  For instance, I always start with showing students that words have structure and can be written as word sums.  That is an idea that is never checked off as having been “covered.”  It is a part of every investigation and every inquiry we do all year.  And we spend a lot of time throughout the year conducting word investigations.  We do them as a whole class, we do them individually, and we do them in small groups.

The rest of the concepts I’ve listed overlap each other all the time throughout the school year.  I don’t feel there is one order that is more correct or makes more sense than another.   If I see something in a word investigation that I can illuminate, I do.  If I notice a misspelling in a writing sample that I think needs attention, I will do just that.  I will write a similarly misspelled word on the board so we can talk about the concept that needs to be applied in that given situation.  I am not teaching my students to spell one word at a time, but rather to learn the consistent and predictable conventions that English has, so they can apply them to the words they encounter every day.

I watch their reactions to what they are hearing. I vary what I do day to day to keep them engaged.  If I think the current activity is losing momentum, I will take a break from it and show some kind of orthography-related video.  Often, doing a bit of sharing about current projects gets everyone back on track.  I always let them work in small groups so they can talk through what they are doing.  You are encouraged to keep an eye on the groups to make sure all are involved in the talking, the researching, and the writing.  We always do a large group sharing of small group projects.  It is this time spent sharing projects that leads to the understanding of words, their meanings, their structure, and their stories.  It is when everything settles in and over time, with repeated presentations and discussions, becomes permanent information.

I mentioned earlier that there are certain inquiries that I hold off on until the students have a more solid understanding of a word’s structure, and of how to use Etymonline, our dictionaries, Word Searcher and toPhonetics.  That makes sense to me since another goal is to consistently increase their level of independent investigation.  My students know that I welcome questions, but they also learn that I will turn the question back on them if I think they can answer it themselves.  I don’t investigate for them or hand them everything they need to make anything easy.  And they appreciate that.  It is one of the comments I have been hearing every year since 2012 when I first incorporated Structured Word Inquiry into my teaching.  This is fun because they get to find out things for themselves.  And that’s the way learning should be!

When You Have a Febriferous Illness, You Need a Febrifuge!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Ricard_Canals_-_Sick_Child_%28Octavi%2C_the_artist%27s_son%29_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Ricard Canals (1876 – 1931)  Sick Child (Octavi, the artist’s son)  c1903

I received a scary call a few weeks ago from my daughter.  My 3 year old granddaughter had just had a seizure and her dad was with her, at home, waiting for the ambulance.  My daughter, who had called from her car, was on her way home from work and had just picked up her younger daughter from daycare when she received the call from her husband.  He had stayed home with June, who was sick with the fever and yucky feelings that had been going around her preschool.

We were all so scared.  I was immediately picturing my granddaughter and what was happening to her.  Was she scared?  How out-of-it was she?  How long did it last?  But then I thought of her parents and how scared they must have been.  It pulled at my heart to know all any of us could do was wait and see now.  I am still my daughter’s mom and number one worrywart of her emotional and physical well-being.  I have also grown to see what a truly wonderful husband and dad my son-in-law is, and I knew this had no doubt scared the liver out of him.

I’ll keep you in suspense no longer.  After five hours at the hospital, and after having ruled out that the seizure was caused by a Urinary Tract Infection or by the small skin infection she had on her finger, it was decided that she had a febrile seizure.  A febrile seizure is one caused by fever.  Children can have febrile seizures if their fever spikes unexpectedly and if this kind of seizure is present in the family history.  It turns out that this happened to their nephew as well.  They usually don’t happen after the age of 6, but because she’s had one now, she is more likely than other children to have another.  It was certainly scary!  Moving forward, we will all watch for signs of fever with vigilant eyes.

It wasn’t until a few days later and everything was calm again that I could think more about that word <febrile>, and wonder if it was related to February.  You see what happens once that dark cloak of “memorize the dictionary definition and you’ll be fine” has been lifted?  So many words catch my attention now.  This one was less common and therefore caught my attention right away.

According to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, febrile is an adjective “of fever, feverish” first attested in 1651.  It was either borrowed through French fébrile, or directly  from Medieval Latin febrilis.  Earlier it was from Latin febris “a fever.”

At the Oxford English Dictionary I found this sentence from 1483, “Al that yere she was seke and laboured in the febrys.”  There were also the spellings febres from 1527 and febris from 1535.  Besides these Middle English spellings, I found other relatives.  I put them in chronological order according to their date of attestation.  The words with the asterisk are obsolete, although many of the others (as you may guess) are rarely used.

febrous – adj., as early as 1425, “affected with fever.”
*febris – n., 1483, “a fever.”
febricitant – n., adj., ?1541, “affected with fever.”
*febricitation – n., 1598, “the state of being in a fever.”
febrile – adj., 1651, “feverish.”
*febrient – adj., 1651, “feverish.”
*febricitate – v., 1656, “to be ill of a fever.”
*febriculous – adj., 1656, “slightly feverish.”
febrifugal – adj., 1663, “adapted to subdue fever.”
*febrifugous – adj., 1683, “adapted to subdue fever.”
febrifuge – adj., n., 1686, “a medicine to reduce fever.”
febrific – adj., 1710, “producing fever.”
febriculose – adj., 1727, ” slight fever.”  Also febriculosity.
febricula – n., 1746, “fever of short duration.”
febrifacient – adj., n. 1803, “fever producing.”
febricity – n., 1873, “the state of having a fever.”
febriferous – adj., 1874, “producing fever.”
febricule – n., 1887, Anglicized form of febricula “slightly feverish.”

Isn’t it something to see the variety of spellings/uses for this word over 400 years? As you read through the list, do you recognize the suffixes that signal nouns and adjectives?  I’m fascinated that in that entire list there is only one form used as a verb.  <febricitate>.  Do you notice the <ate> suffix there?  It was used as a noun first, <febricitation>.  This <ate> suffix signaling a verb but then changing the function of the word to a noun by the addition of an <ion> noun, is  something I always look at with my students.  In the following list, the verb form is first and the noun form is second.

precipitate, precipitation
illuminate, illumination
infiltrate, infiltration
hydrate, hydration
illustrate, illustration

Once I get them started, they continue the list on their own.  Once they see this for themselves, and they know the suffixing convention of replacing the single final non-syllabic <e> on an element when adding a vowel suffix, they don’t believe people who tell them that *<tion> is a suffix.  I don’t have to convince them of that fact.  The evidence that they have collected convinces them.

There’s just so much to notice about this list!  As I was putting it together and announcing the words to myself, I have to say that <febriferous> was my favorite.  I laughed at myself trying to say it even two times in a row!  Perhaps you’ll have better luck?

Other relatives that stick out to me are febrifuge, febrifugal, and febrifugous.  You’ve probably noticed the second base there, <fuge> from Latin fugare “cause to flee, put to flight, drive off, chase away.”  A febrifuge is a medicine that will drive off the fever.  I love imagining my little June’s fever being driven off by little medicine superheroes!

Interestingly enough, I came across the word <feverfew> which is from Old English feferfuge.  (Do you notice what I noticed? – that that second <f> in the Old English spelling is the unvoiced version of <v>?)  Earlier it was from Late Latin febrifugia, from Latin febris “fever” and fugare “put to flight.”  According to Etymonline, this modern English word is probably a borrowing from Anglo-French.  According to information at Wikipedia, feverfew was used as a traditional herbal medicine, but is no longer considered useful for reducing a fever.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Feverfew.jpg

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
By Vsion (2005).  Photo via Wikipedia public domain.

Getting back to the word <febrifuge> and the second base in that word <fuge>, I pondered that sense and meaning of “cause to flee, drive off, chase away,” and it made sense to me that this must be the same <fuge> that I see in <fugitive>.  So I went to Etymonline and looked at <fugitive> to make sure that they shared the same ancestor.  This is what I found:

Although this seems to be a match, I noticed something about both the spelling of the Latin verb this word is from and the denotation of that verb. This word derives from Latin fugere “to flee, fly, take flight, run away, go into exile,” whereas the <fuge> in <febrifuge> comes  from Latin fugare “cause to flee, drive off, chase away.”  Do you see the difference in spelling of the Latin verb for each?  They each have a different infinitive suffix.  That means they are two separate Latin verbs!  Then I looked closely at the denotation of each and realized that the Latin verb fugare has a sense of chase away something and the Latin verb fugere is the thing that has been chased away or has taken flight! I wanted to find out related words for each so I went back to Etymonline.

First I typed fugare into the search bar.  That way I would probably find words whose ancestor is the Latin verb fugare.  I found only three entries:  feverfew, -fuge, and febrifuge.  I found something very interesting in the -fuge entry.

Look at the line following the bolded <febrifuge>.  It says, “but form from Latin fugere.” I interpret that to mean that Latin fugere existed in words earlier than Latin fugare.  I took a quick look at <fugitive> in the OED and sure enough, the word is attested in 1382, which is earlier than <febrifugal> which was attested in 1663!

It was time to look at Lewis & Short.  The infinitive form of the Latin verb is the second one out of the four.

fŭgo, fŭgare, fugāvi, fugātum
“to put to flight, drive or chase away”

fŭgĭo, fŭgere, fŭgi, fŭgĭtum
“run away”

Yep!  Two separate verbs with two separate yet related denotations.  One has become more productive than the other, hasn’t it?

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There is a very thought provoking comment at the end of the post that I encourage you to look at.  It is written by someone who has studied Latin at a deeper level than I have.  She has been collecting Latin verbs, including the two I have pointed to above.  I am thinking carefully about what she has said, and I encourage you to do the same.  I know there is no rush in scholarship, so I’m not concerned that I don’t completely embrace yet what she is pointing out.  I have questions to pose before then.  This is the way scholarly learning works.  I don’t take anyone’s word for anything.  I need to understand things for myself.  I appreciate things being shown to me, but unless they make sense to me, I must keep questioning.
#####

Now that I’ve followed that interesting path, I’d like to get back to my original question.  Is <febrile> related to <February>?  I bet that at this point you’re guessing that it is not.  If it was, wouldn’t it have shown up as a related word in the OED?  So if it isn’t related to “fever”, what is it related to?

Looking further at the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, I can add to that that this idea of purification refers to the Roman feast of purification held in February, which at that time was the last month of the ancient Roman calendar.  It was after 450 BC that it became the second month and was called solmonath by the Old English which meant mud month.

The base <febr> “fever” may have had many related words a few hundred years ago, but not that many of them are still in use today.  The word that we commonly use is <fever>.  Does that mean it’s a newer word?   Interestingly enough, it’s not.  According to Chambers, it developed from Old English (c1000) fēfer, fēfor.  It was borrowed from Latin febris “fever” and is related to fovēre “to warm, heat.”  Later on in Middle English (1393) it is spelled fievre where it was borrowed from Old French fievre, which was from Latin febris.

This word also has a lot of related words that have become obsolete.
We no longer use:

feverly – adj., 1500, “relating to fever.”
feverable – adj., 1568, “characterized by having a fever.”
feverite – n., 1800, “a person ill with fever.”

On the other hand, many related words I found at the OED are still very much in use today:

fever – n., 1000, “abnormally high body temperature.”
fever – v., early OE, “affected with abnormally high body temperature.”
fevery – adj., OE, “affected by fever, perhaps causing fever.”
fevering – adj., ?1200, “becoming feverish.”
feverous – adj., 1393, characteristic of having a fever.”
feverish – adj., 1398, “relating to fever.”
fevering – n., 1450, “a feverish state.”
fevered – adj., 1605, “showing symptoms associated with a high temperature.”
feverishness – n., 1638, “the condition of having a fever.”
feverishly – adv., 1640, “in a manner relating to a fever.”
feverless – adj., 1662, “without a fever.”
fever tree – n., 1727, “bark of certain trees used to treat fevers.”

Take a look for a moment at the above list and notice how many of those words you have used.  Then notice how old those words are.  Words amaze me every day.  There is so much to know and so many connections to make!  I can’t help but wonder about these two bases, <febr> and <fever>.  They both share the Latin root febris and the same denotation, yet the one is much more recognizable than the other.  The <febr> base is still around, but probably more well known in the medical field.   The sciences are full of words with roots in either Greek or Latin.  The <fever> base is still very much around also, and known well by the common people — by the ancestors of the common people who spoke the Old English language.

One of my very favorite things to discover are bases that look the same but aren’t.  Today I found two!  I wouldn’t have done so without the help of excellent reference materials, and without having been taught how to use those materials.  I am grateful that for now my granddaughter is feverless, but like I said earlier, her parents are vigilant.  Should she get a febriferous illness again, they are ready with a febrifuge.

Below is a picture of Cinchona pubescens.  This is an example of a fever tree.  According to Wikipedia, the bark of several species of this flowering plant yields quinine which was an effective treatment for the fevers associated with malaria up until 1944.

File:Cinchona.pubescens01.jpg

Credits : US Geological Survey – Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

 

 

 

Will a Pandemic Lead to Pandemonium?

Do you remember the way you learned new vocabulary words when you were in school?  If your teachers were like mine, they said something like, “Here is a list of vocabulary words from our lesson/story/curriculum that I think are important for you to know.  Please use the dictionary and write a definition for each.  Then use the word in a sentence.”  Was that helpful as you moved forward in the lesson/story/curriculum?  Yes.  Yes, it was.  You learned what the word meant for the context you were presented with, and you learned how to use it in a sentence.  In this way, if you encountered that word in the future, you might remember what it meant and even be able to use it yourself.  For so many years, I thought that was enough.  I thought that there wasn’t anything else to know about a word.  But I was wrong.  I was soooo wrong!  Let me illustrate by choosing a word we currently see in the news every day.  Imagine that this is the list selected by your teacher as being words you should know to better understand the current health crisis situation.

~pandemic
~crisis
~coronavirus
~contagious
~quarantine

Here’s what your teacher asks you to do:   “Write a definition of each word and then use the word in a sentence.”

Pandemic:  “An outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population : a pandemic outbreak of a disease.”    The coronavirus is causing a pandemic.  (I used the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)

If we just stop there, we know something.  We can connect that understanding to what we read in the news.  But what if we looked more closely at this word?  What if we fully investigated this word using Structured Word Inquiry?  What more could we gain?

Pandemic:  “An outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population : a pandemic outbreak of a disease.”  According to Etymonline, it was first attested in 1660.  Before that it was in Late Latin as pandemus.  Before that it was in Greek as pandemos “pertaining to all people; public, common”, from pan- “all” and demos “people”.  Interestingly enough it is modeled on the word <epidemic> which may be less broad in its reach than a pandemic. The clue to that being the morpheme <pan> “all” being used in <pandemic> versus the morpheme <epi> “among, upon” being used in <epidemic>.

Here is what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes as the difference between <epidemic> and <pandemic>:

“A disease can be declared an epidemic when it spreads over a wide area and many individuals are taken ill at the same time. If the spread escalates further, an epidemic can become a pandemic, which affects an even wider geographical area and a significant portion of the population becomes affected.”

So an epidemic can become a pandemic, but a pandemic doesn’t become an epidemic.  Interesting distinction!

Now that we have an understanding of what this word means, let’s collect some of its morphological and/or etymological relatives.  Still looking at the entry for <pandemic> at Etymonline, we see a link to <demotic> and at the end of the paragraph <pandemia>.  If we follow the link to <demotic>, we see <democracy>, <demography>,  and <endemic>.  Before I leave Etymonline to search elsewhere, I try one more thing.  I type demos, the Hellenic root of this word into the search bar.  When I do that, many of the same words come up.  But there is one I didn’t find earlier — <demogogue>.  What a worthy addition to this group of morphological relatives.

Let’s take a look at this list:

pandemic  —  disease outbreak reaching all the people
epidemic  —  disease outbreak among a group of people
demotic  —  preferring to common people
pandemia  —  epidemic that attacks all people

democracy  —  government by the people
democratic  —  favoring government by the people
demography  —  studying the statistical characteristics of a specific population of people
demographic  —  relating to the statistical characteristics of a specific population of people
endemic  —  particular to a specific place group of people
demogogue  —  leader seeking political power by pandering to prejudices, fears, and ignorance of the people

Here is the grapheme/phoneme correspondence for <pandemic>:
<pandemic>
[pændɛmɪk]

Noting the denotation of the  bound base <deme>, the relationship between all of these words is now obvious.  We’ve gone from understanding one word, to understanding ten!  Instead of meeting one member of a family, we’ve met the family!  We are much more likely to remember them when we meet again!

But have we met all of the members?  Why didn’t I come across <pandemonium> when I was looking into this family?  It appears to share both <pan> and <dem>,  doesn’t it?  I can certainly think of pandemonium as a chaotic situation involving people.  As changes are happening in the way we are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic, it certainly feels like pandemonium!   The only way to know for sure is to look at Etymonline.

The first thing I notice is the 1667 spelling of this word.  Pandæmonium.  Notice the letter after the <d>?  That is the Old English letter known as ash.  We see that John Milton coined this word putting together Greek pan- “all” and Late Latin daemonium “evil spirit” which is from Greek daimonion “inferior divine power,” and before that from daimōn “lesser god.”  We see the same <pan> that we see in <pandemic>, but definitely not the same <deme>!

If we follow the link to <demon>, we find that it was first attested in the 12 c. and at that time meant “evil spirit, malignant supernatural being, devil.”  It is from Latin daemon and before that from Greek daimōn “divine power; lesser god.”  We have all the evidence we need to prove that the <deme> in <pandemic> is not the same <dem> that we see in <pandemonium>.  But is <dem> a base in this word?  That determination is something we haven’t collected enough evidence for.  So let’s gather a few morphological relatives of <demon>.  Below the entry for <demon> we see a list of related words.

~demoness
~demonarchy
~demonic
~demonize
~demonology
~pandemonium

Looking at this list of morphological relatives, it is obvious that the base is not <deme> as it is in <pandemic>, but <demon>!  And when I highlight the base as I have, it is easy to recognize some very familiar suffixes, isn’t it?  And before you point it out, yes, <arch> is a Hellenic base “ruler, leader, chief” and <loge> is also a Hellenic base “discourse, theory, science.”

Before we walk away from this investigation with the idea that pandemic is not related to pandemonium, we need to notice one more thing at Etymonline.  It is the Proto Indo European root for both <pandemic> and <pandemonium>.  Under the entry for <demotic> we see that Greek demos is from PIE *da-mo- “division,” from root *da- “to divide.”  Under the entry for <demon>, we see that Greek daimōn is from PIE *dai-mon- “divider, provider,” from root *da- “to divide.”  Looking at the entry for *da- we see this:

So I guess we can say that these two words are distant relatives!  Fascinating, isn’t it?   So what have we gained by going beyond a dictionary definition of the word <pandemic>?  How is what we have learned useful in understanding this word in the context of a current news story?  What we have learned not only deepens our sense of this word in this context, it also connects us to related words and prepares us for coming across any words in this family in the future.  The spelling ‘dem’ within a word will now be noticed by you and by me.  We will see it and pause for a moment considering whether it is the base <deme> having to do with people, the base <demon> having to do with evil spirits, or maybe not a morpheme on its own at all!  But the best part is that we have an understanding of those possibilities and will be able to determine which it is relatively quickly and get on with our reading!  You might say that Structured Word Inquiry helps you understand what you need to understand in the moment, but then also prepares you for words you will encounter as you read in the future.  A quick look in a dictionary just helps you in the moment.

I have just one more intriguing thing to share with you.  I came across this article today at Aleteia and couldn’t believe the irony.  It is about Saint Corona, whose remains are buried in Anzu, Italy, and who just happens to be one of the patron saints of pandemics.  If you’re like me, you are sitting there saying to yourself, “Is that for real?”  It is.  Read about it HERE.  Saint Corona died a tragic and disturbing death at age 16.

  
Wikipedia St. Corona, abt 1350

 

I’ve left you with the rest of the list we started with – the list of words related to our current world health crisis.  Besides a dictionary definition, what can you find out that would benefit your understanding now and also as you encounter other words in years to come?  Structured Word Inquiry affects your reading, your writing, and your enjoyment of learning!  If you find out really cool stuff, please share!

 

Crisis:  “A situation that has reached a critical phase.”   The spread of the coronavirus has caused a health crisis.

Coronavirus:  “any of a family (Coronaviridae) of single-stranded RNA viruses that have a lipid envelope studded with club-shaped projections, infect birds and many mammals including humans, and include the causative agents of MERS, SARS, and COVID-19 .”   There are new cases of the coronavirus in the United States every day.

Contagious:  “Transmissible by direct or indirect contact with an infected person.”   The coronavirus is extremely contagious.

Quarantine:  “A restraint upon the activities or communication of persons or the transport of goods designed to prevent the spread of disease or pests.”  People who have been exposed to the coronavirus are asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves.

 

While We’re Apart, the Orthographic Understanding Can Continue …

One of the biggest strengths of teaching students Structured Word Inquiry is the level of independence that students develop while considering a word’s spelling. We ask them to notice predictable patterns and we teach them to ask questions that they can then investigate.  We show them reliable tools to use and then slowly back away, leaving the student finding out things for themselves.  Within the span of the school year, my goal is always to prepare my students to continue to wonder about words and to have the skills, the curiosity, and the understanding needed to independently investigate.

With other more traditional teaching methods, the students expect to receive information from the teacher.  The teacher becomes the one who knows whether that information is right or wrong.  The student does not learn to trust their own understanding.  They are constantly at the teacher’s desk saying, “Is this right?”

This very attribute of Structured Word Inquiry is what quiets my chaos as I prepare lessons for my students as we go to an unexpected break.  I don’t have to write out lengthy assignment directions.  As long as I know my students can get on the internet, I can count on them using Etymonline, Word Searcher, Mini Matrix Maker, Google Docs, and Youtube.  If it is determined that I need to send work that is not dependent on the internet, they can hypothesize word sums, make some games to play with someone, and write.

Yesterday our school was added to the list of schools who will be physically closing. Like most of the other schools, the teachers have been asked to continue to offer learning opportunities to the students.  Today I sat down to do some brainstorming.  If you are in a similar situation and are looking for ways to continue having your students study words with SWI, perhaps some of these ideas will work for you.  This list is not in any particular order.  As the ideas came to me I wrote them down.

    Suggestions for At-Home Orthographic Studies

1)    One of the activities I will ask them to do is the “Word Bag“. We did this earlier this year in groups of four. Each group was handed an envelope with words in it and asked to draw a circle.  They had to cooperatively decide what fit inside the circle, and what did not.  They had to write a word sum to show they understood the structure of the words inside the circle and how they all shared a base.  They also had to write a note to explain why the words outside of the circle did not fit.  As part of at-home work, I will ask students to create their own word bag. I will use this example in explaining what I want. It shows that we use no more than 10 words and that some are there, not because they fit, but because they are similar in some way without being related in meaning or in spelling.  For so many years, my students went without the understanding that morphology brings to spelling.  This practice will be valuable!

Whether they show them to their family or save them for when we reconvene, they will spend time thinking about words and word sums! I’m thinking of inviting students to Zoom on some of those days so we could do one together.  This idea is one I first read about at Lyn Anderson’s blog, Beyond the Word.  Check it out HERE.  She was working with very young beginning readers.  If your students are kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd, I recommend you look around at Lyn’s blog.  There may be other activities that you will know how to incorporate!  I have also read about the use of this idea at Rebecca Loveless’ blog.  Check it out HERE.  It was at Rebecca’s blog that I first heard of having the students create their own word bag.  The students she was working with were also at beginning reading level. 

2)  Matching game.  Give the students sheets that they can cut apart in order to play a matching game.  It could be a continuation of what has already been studied in the classroom.
It could involve matching:
~~bases to denotations (make sure these are bases they are familiar with)
~~bases to same base with a prefix (ex.  happy to unhappy)
~~assimilated forms of a prefix to bases  (ex. <col-> to <lide>, <cor-> to <corrode>)
~~bases to same base with a suffix  (ex. make to making)
~~two bases to make a compound word (ex. dog and house to make <doghouse>)
I’m sure you could add to this list.  Pick one or more and encourage the student to play with a sibling or family member.
3)  If you feel like this would be a good time to review the suffixing conventions, I have three videos featuring each one.  You could assign students to watch one and then follow it up with a list of words for which they could write synthetic word sums, and when “checking the joins”, decide if the suffixing convention would be applied or not.
***Replacing final <e>:

*** Doubling the final consonant on the base:

*** Toggling <y> to <i>:

 

4)  Conduct a word investigation.  Ask the student to choose a word to investigate.  Perhaps they will come across an intriguing word while reading a book, having a family discussion, completing some chores, or even playing a board game with their family.  Maybe they will come across a word that catches their attention while studying their math, social studies, or science.  I would supply them with a checklist so they collect the kind of information you want them to collect.  Here is an example of a checklist I use towards the beginning of the year.  At this point, my students know what kind of information is most handy, but without a teacher “check-in” the parents might appreciate such a checklist.

My students know that the amount of information they are able to find varies from word to word.  It might be a good idea to include links to Etymonline, Word Searcher, and Mini Matrix Maker.  For help with writing the word in IPA, my students use ToPhonetics.

They may not be able to make a poster, but they could make a booklet with regular sized paper.  They might also use either Google Slides, Power Point, Prezi, or any other creative presentation tool to share their findings.  Perhaps I will be able to offer them the opportunity to share their presentations via Zoom with me and any other interested students!

Here is an example of small group work my students did last year when they collaboratively chose a word and investigated it.  They originally created these as podcasts, but we extended them by adding images and made videos.  Perhaps you have a student who would enjoy taking it this far on their own or by involving their siblings or family!

 

5)  Have them google what a portmanteau word is.  Once they have a definition of one, ask them to collect some examples of portmanteau words.  There is an exceptionally long list at Wikipedia.  Ask them to read through the various collections to find the ones they find most fascinating.  Have them write the two words that became the one.  Perhaps they can also collect images or do some drawing to illustrate a few of the collected portmanteau words.

6) Have them google what an oxymoron word is.  Once they have a definition of one, ask them to collect some examples of oxymorons, in a similar manner as they did for portmanteau words.  I like to incorporate this type of learning because they see how playful our language is!

 

7)  There are some great Youtube videos that are student friendly.  My students love watching this Greek Alphabet song.  They almost have the Greek alphabet memorized because of it.

8)  Another great video is one by lexicographer Erin McKean.  It is a TED talk called “Go Ahead:  Make Up New Words!”  This makes such a great point about dictionaries being a reflection of the people who use them rather than an authority about how people should use words.  Again, it also brings forth the notion that we can have fun with words.

9)  The last Youtube recommendation is any of Arika Okrent‘s videos.  My students are as intrigued by the illustrator of her videos as they are with the information shared.  We often watch them twice because of that.  Here is just one example of what I mean.  Her Youtube channel is filled with videos!

10)  Now how about some creative writing!  I love to suggest story or poetry writing using a prompt that is unexpected.  My students may furrow their brow at the first mention of the topic, but what they write is always amazing!  So what if the writing was from the perspective of a prefix or maybe a bound base.  Not only would they bring out their creativity, but they would be highlighting what they understand about their chosen topic.  I have done this in the past in science.  Possible topics were producers, herbivores, carnivores, detritivores, etc.  Some spoke generally and some named a specific herbivore/carnivore, etc.  They revealed who/what they were in the last line of their poem.

Possible topics in this situation might be:

~~bound bases
~~free bases
~~prefix
~~suffix
~~connecting vowel
~~compound word
~~word sum

I’m sure you could think of other possibilities as well.  If a story is what the writing leads to instead of a poem, that’s great too.  The point is to have the opportunity to think about what each of these are and what their role is in creating words.

 

11)  Make a board game.  Just last week, I had a student finish a board game that he created in which he was reviewing the assimilated prefix family <sub->!  He drew out a game board on paper and cut out cards with words that had an <sub-> prefix or one of its assimilated forms.  Using a dice he explained that each person had to collect four cards to finish the game.  You went around the board as many times as needed.  If you could explain why the particular prefix was being used (perhaps why <sup-> was used instead of the default prefix <sub-> with a base like <ply>), you could keep your card.  He and a friend played it several times and they both determined it was fun!

 

So!  Those are some suggestions for you.  I will be assigning several of them, depending on how many days we are away from our regular learning environment.  If I think of some more, my brain will make my eyes pop open sometime around 1:00 am this morning.  That is what usually happens.   In the morning I will reconsider those middle-of-the-night thoughts and add them to this list if I think they would be helpful to you.

Abstract Nouns – So Inspirational!

When I first meet my students, they have little experience writing poems.  They have only written haiku poems as far as I know.  And although I love haiku poems, I want them to experience writing in free verse.  I find so much more of a person’s personal truth can be revealed in a free verse poem than in any other type.  No matter what the topic is, bits of the writer start to show up in their very first poem.  It’s the kind of thing you recognize the more you know the student.  Their writer’s voice is there in their word choice.  It’s there in the way they put words together.  It’s there in the message they embed.  It’s there in the poem’s tone and feel.  My goal is to get them to recognize that they have a writer’s voice.

The very first poems we write towards the beginning of the year are poems inspired by a place.  That place is always the woods that is conveniently located out the backdoor of the school just beyond the k-2 playground.  The students go out with pencil and paper and I ask them to collect words that describe what they see.  I ask them to describe what the woods feels like, smells like, looks like, and sounds like.  They aren’t writing a poem at this point.  They are collecting described images.  I tell them that the more descriptions they collect, the more material they have to work with when we sit at our desks back in the classroom.  When it feels as if they have written all they are going to write (and of course, that is less for some and not enough time for some), we head back in.

Now I give them time to play around with what they wrote down.

“Have you grouped descriptions of the same object together?  Is there a logical order in which to arrange the thoughts?  Are there words that are close to what you intended but not quite?  Do you need a thesaurus?  Reread it.  Does it reflect what you saw, smelled, felt, heard?”

When there has been enough time to write a rough draft of their poem, we stop for the day.  The next day, I ask them to pull them out again and reread them.  Are they happy with them?  Does it reflect their experience in the woods and the way it felt to them?  If not, change up lines or words.  Feel free to move lines around.  When they are satisfied, they come to my desk and show me.

If they know how to format a poem, great.  If they don’t, I help them with that.  Next they type up their poem, leaving off their name.  The reason I have the leave off their name is so that I can make a packet of the poems (and yes, I include the poem I wrote on the same day).  Several days later, I pass out the packet of poems.  I give specific directions that we are going to read the poems without asking or trying to figure out who wrote them.  Instead of wondering who wrote them, we are going to focus on the poems themselves.  I call on three or four students to tell me something specific they liked about each poem.  If I notice that some students are not participating, I will tell them that I will be asking for their opinion on the next poem, so they should listen carefully as it’s being read.

Once we have read every poem in the packet, we go back through the packet and I let them have 3 guesses as to who wrote each of the poems.  If they don’t guess, I ask, “Who wrote this poem?”  The person who wrote it raises their hand.  It is fun to see the reactions when the writer is revealed because often this changes the way some students think of other students.  If we do this two or three times in the school year, students begin to guess correctly about certain poems because they begin to recognize the writing voice that students have.  That’s really cool to see!

The great thing about doing this is that every student gets some positive feedback on their poem.  It might be the way they ended the poem.  It might be a particular word they used that fit just right.  It might be an image they created with words that others could relate to.  It might be the overall feeling and tone of the poem.   It’s been an effective way to show each student that they have a point of view that others can relate to, and that they can communicate that with words.

After sharing poems in this way, the students are more willing to spend time writing poems.  I try to inspire that writing by giving them a poem to use as a model or by taking them to an inspiring location.  One day we went outside on a slightly drizzly day.  Another day we donned our coats and boots and walked into the woods on a day it was snowing!

This past January we were writing new poems.  The weather wasn’t particularly inspiring, so I thought of another idea.  Several years ago, I bought Sara Holbrook’s book, Practical Poetry.  I really liked the way she had her students develop poems around emotions.  I had my students do the same.  The poems were great!  But before long, I had broadened the topic to abstract nouns in general.  Emotions are abstract nouns, but so are personal characteristics and all sorts of things that end up being interesting poetry topics.

The day we began, I let the students brainstorm a collection of abstract nouns.  As a student thought of one, I had them write it on the board.  Once the board was full, I told them that they would be choosing one of the nouns to write a poem about.  They weren’t to describe the noun directly, but instead were to talk to the noun as if they could!  They were to say what it felt important to say.  I read some examples written by former students who used the topics of hatred, segregation, and prejudice (we were studying the Civil Rights Movement at the time).  I told them to try writing about a few of the nouns, testing to see which one they had the most to say about.  Here are ten examples of the poems written that week.

 

Positivity

You’re the motor that keeps me going when I feel down.
You pick me up when I’m lacking strength.
You’re my best friend.
You cheer me up.
When I doubt myself, you say otherwise.
When I’m playing sports, you give me a boost.
In basketball, you say I can make it when I have a free throw.

~~Jack

 

 Anger

Anger, I hate you.
You’re the one who gets me in trouble.
You bring out the fire in me
that either hurts someone
mentally or physically.

You make me mad.
When you take over,
I get out of control, and
I sometimes do bad things.

What I hate most about you
is that you bring out
the demon inside of me.
I hurt people when you come out.

~~David

 

Embarrassment

You sir, are a super glue.
You stick to my memory
and become a forever regret.

I wish I could break the handcuffs
that keep us together,
but it will never happen.

All the faces staring
make me want to disintegrate
and fall into a world without you.

I wish I could just forget you,
or the time I was forced
to sing a stupid song
in a humiliating outfit.

Embarrassment scars you for life.

~~Adalina

 

Darkness

Stuck in the dark,
with nowhere to go.
Stuck in the dark,
With no one I know.

Stuck in the dark,
But still there is light.
Stuck in the dark,
All through the night.

Stuck in the dark,
But I’ll make it to the day.
Stuck in the dark,
But I’ll be okay.

~~Kailyn

 

Anger

Anger you burn inside me
like a fire
burning a house.

You make me want to shout
and yell
and hit things.

Sometimes you stay for a little bit,
other times
you decide to stay for days
or even weeks.

When I feel anger,
it feels like I’m trapped
in a world of your tricks.

Anger, you have no place inside me.
Leave.

~~Addison

 

Shadow

The scary dark figure
right behind you.
follows you ‘till night.
Then with a blink of an eye
he’s out of sight.
Nowhere to be seen.

Then it’s a new day.
And he follows you again.
Terrified, you scream.
Oh, it’s just my shadow.

~~Ari

 

Future

I can not see you or feel you,
but  I know you’re coming.

All I wonder is,
are you going to change?
Will I change because of you?
Will my life change?
Can I be the reason that you change?

So many questions
for the future.

~~Sina

 

AIR

You are the breeze
that knocks me down a mountain.

You are faster than an airplane
yet slower than a turtle.

You can be disastrous
like hurricane Katrina
or nice and cool
like at a picnic.

~~Ali

 

Creativity

I like it when you come.
I can do things and have
a more open mind with them.

You help me at home, at school,
at art, and everywhere in between.

Sometimes you give me
more than I can use.
Sometimes you are
just out of reach.

~~Colin

 

Lies

You hurt.
You start fights and rumors.
You cover things up.
You go on.
You don’t.

People could tell the truth,
but they use you instead.
With a lie, you can create
pain,
misery,
questions, and
ruined friendships.

Why do you exist?

~~Sofia

 

One thing I really like about these poems is that it helped my students better understand how they feel about the meaning behind the nouns they chose.  I often tell them that writing helps you know your own thoughts better.  When you write about them, you don’t necessarily plan out how you feel before you start.  But by the time you are done, you have a pretty good idea of what that word means to you!  And if you can write it in such a way that others can relate to what you say, you’ve written a poem.  If you can write it in such a way that others can relate to it and are touched that you said it in a way they hadn’t thought of, then you have written a great poem!

A Symphony of Suffixes

When I sat down to lunch with my grade level team today, I was bubbling over with satisfaction after a rich and wonderful discussion that had just taken place in my room.  I couldn’t help myself.  I had to share what had just happened.  I was too excited.

As I sometimes do, I wrote a word on the board and was asking the students to take a minute to think of what the word sum might be.  I was looking for a hypothesis.  From there we would see where the conversation went.

The word I began with today was <scientist>.

I made sure I gave time for the students to think about it.  I have a few students whose hand shoots up automatically, and when I call on them, they need to pause to think of their response.  You too?  Then I also have a consistent core group of students who love to participate, and who, once they’ve thought about it, raise their hand in order to share.  And then there are the rest of the students who watch and wait.  They tend to keep their hands by their sides and their eyes looking down.  I recognize that some are feeling unsure, but it is so important to participate in the discussion.  Today I felt that this question could be asked of one of the students in this third group.  I looked over the group and chose carefully.  The student I called on thought for a moment and then suggested <sci + en + tist>.

Me: “That’s very interesting.  Thank you for that.  What do the rest of you think about Vanessa’s hypothesis?  Is there a part of it that you have seen before in another word?  Do you recognize any affixes you’ve seen before?”

Student: “I kind of think that it isn’t <tist>, but rather <ist> at the end.”

Me: “Can you think of another word with <ist> at the end?  If we can, we will have collected some evidence that the <ist> is a suffix.”

One of the students who is usually reluctant to raise his hand, raised his hand.  I called on him.  He said, “Mist?”

Me: “Oooooo.  Now that’s an interesting word.  I want to come back to that word in a minute.  Thank you for thinking of it.”  I called on another student whose hand was raised.

Student: “I was thinking of biologist. ”

As I was writing ‘biologist’ on the board, other words were being called out.  I wrote them down as fast as I could.  There was paleontologist, archeologist, arsonist, tribologist, and zoologist.  And almost before I could finish writing the last word, a student blurted.  “Hey!  Almost all of them have an <log> before the <ist>!”

Me: “Brilliant!  Scholars are people who notice things!  Thank you for noticing that.  Can anyone tell me what a biologist is?”

Student: “It’s someone who studies living things.”

Student: “And the <o>’s a connecting vowel, isn’t it?”  (The student was referring to the <o> that follows the <bi> base.  We had looked at ‘biosphere’ earlier in the year.)

Me: “It sure is!”

Student: “And isn’t a paleontologist someone who studies fossils?”

Me: “Yes.  And an archeologist?”

Students said they heard of it, but no one knew what exactly an archeologist studied.  So I told them that this person would be studying old times and ancient civilizations.  At this point, a student who hadn’t previously joined the discussion raised his hand and said, “What’s an arsonist?”

The person who had suggested the word replied, “A person who starts fires.”  There were a few confused by that.  I could tell by their facial reactions.  I went on to say that there are people fascinated by fire and they start fires to watch how the fire travels.  Then I added that sometimes other people get hurt either fighting these fires or because they got caught in the fire.  Arsonists usually get in trouble for starting fires.

When we were ready to look at the next word, at least three people spoke at once and explained that a tribologist was a person who studied rubbing things together.  Yes, it’s true.  About a week and a half ago, we watched a TED video about Jennifer Vail, a tribologist.  She is really quite fascinating.  Obviously the students thought so too because they suggested this word and remembered a lot about the video too!  Click HERE for a link to the video in case you are intrigued.

Lastly, someone identified a zoologist as someone who studies animals.

Me: “I notice that all of these words have an <-ist> suffix, and they each refer to a person.  We call that kind of suffix an agent suffix.  There are others, but for today we are noticing this one, the <-ist> suffix.”

At this point I went back to the word <mist>.  I asked if <mist> belonged on this list.  I asked if it was referring to a person?  The student who had suggested it, said that it did not fit.  I followed up by saying that the <ist> in mist is like the <ing> in sing.  Neither are suffixes.  They are coincidences of spelling.

Me: “If the <-ist> suffix is the part of the word that tells us this word is referring to a person, which part of the word is telling us that the person studies something?”

Student: “The <log>?”

Me:  “Excellent.  So notice now that the biologist is the person who studies living things and the paleontologist is the person who studies fossils, but the arsonist is the person who starts the fire.  It is NOT the person who studies fires.  Right?  There’s no <log> in that word.  And so the scientist is the person who does the science just like an artist is the person who does the art!  <Loge> is a bound base with a denotation of “science of.”  We usually think of it having to do with studying the science of something.  That makes every word up here with <log> in it a compound word!  Awesome thinking everyone!  Now let’s get back to the word we started looking at, <scientist>.  We’ve figured out that the <-ist> is a suffix.  What are your thoughts about the rest of the word?”

Student:  “Well, I’m thinking about <science> and wondering if what happens is that when the <-ist> suffix is added to <scient>, the <t> changes to <ce>?”

Me:  “Interesting.  The suffixing changes I have seen are a final consonant being doubled, a <y> changing to an <i>, and a single, final, non-syllabic <e> being replaced.  I haven’t ever seen a change like you are describing.  Could it be that <ent> and <ence> are both suffixes and are used to get two forms of the word?  Can anyone think of a word with an <ence> suffix?”

Student:  “Coincidence!  You just said that the <ist> in <mist> was a coincidence of spelling!”

Me:  “So I did. Can anyone think of another word?  The more words we can think of the more evidence we have.”

Student:  “Evidence.  You just said the word evidence!”

Me:  “That is so funny.  I surely did!”

Student:  “How about violence?”

Student:  “How about brilliance?”

Student: “Brilliance is spelled with an <-ance>.”

Me:  “Right.  Brilliance does have an <-ance>.  I’ll write it to the side in case we think of more like that.”

Student: “And silence.”

And then it dawned on me.  And I pointed out that we can switch out the <-ence> suffix in ‘coincidence’ for <-ent> and make the word ‘coincidental’.  We can switch out the <-ence> suffix in ‘evidence’ with the <-ent> suffix and make the word ‘evidently’.  At this point the students began to anticipate that ‘violence’ could be ‘violent’ and ‘silence’ could be ‘silent’.  So we decided that the suffixes <-ence> and <-ent> can work with the same base.  And of course we thought about <-ance> and <-ant> having the same kind of relationship.

Student:  “Could it be that these suffixes are different forms of the same suffix, kind of like the assimilated prefixes we are studying?”

Me:  “That’s something to think about, isn’t it?”

I will admit that the last question put the biggest smile on my face.  I love that the students are making connections to what else they are learning about English spelling.  I love that they are asking questions and getting caught up in these classroom discussions.  It was so much fun!  I’m beginning to recognize that from February to June is my favorite time of the year.  This is when the pieces start to fit together and the understandings start falling into place.  The students start having words on their minds all the time.  Here is a picture of the board.  You will recognize how everything ended up where it did from my description above.  You may also recognize that I misspelled paleontology.  I didn’t notice that until tonight when I was looking back at the picture.

All of the above happened with the second class I see during my day.  There was one more group to come in.  They needed to take this journey for themselves, so I erased the board and started all over.  Different words were suggested, but the ending observations were the same.

Now I want to take you back to my lunchtime discussion with my grade level colleagues.  As I was going on about what the students were thinking of and what we were noticing as a class, I could tell that it was one of those times “you had to be there.”  They weren’t feeling as excited as I was.  They listened and followed along, but didn’t get why this was such a big deal for me.  And then one of them said something that explained her perspective to me perfectly.  She said, “That’s just it.  If some words can have an <-ence> and some can have an <-ance>, how will our struggling spellers know which one to use?  What can you tell them so they know which one to use?”

She is used to false rules that focus on what is on the surface of a word without having to really know much about the word.  I told her that we would need to know more about the word’s etymology to know which to use.  In the meantime, the understanding gained today will help if, for example, the student can spell ‘silent’, and want to spell ‘silence.’  Instead of phonetically spelling it as *silints (which they may do anyway – phonics runs deep), they have a chance of knowing that it will have an <-ence> suffix.  I have no magic fix-it fairy dust.  I just keep letting students see for themselves what is really happening in spelling and how consistent it is. Progress comes more slowly than others would like, but that is because instead of “know this by Friday for the test”, I am not telling students what to know.  I let them see for themselves.  I give them time to let things sink in. We revisit concepts often and hope that much of the understandings they develop here, will be theirs for life.

I can hardly wait for tomorrow so I can take the discussion in this same direction with my first group.  We talked about some of these things this morning, but we didn’t take it in this direction.  I’d like to see what words they think of, and if they recognize for themselves what the other students recognized today.  Below is a picture of the board from the discussion I had with my last group of the day.  I love looking at this and knowing that between the three classes, we collect a lot of evidence to support what we understand about spelling.  That much is evident.  🙂

 

Twelve students and twenty minutes … Let’s make the best of this!

For about two months in late fall, I worked with a group of 12 students for 20 minutes a day, four times a week.  These were students I also saw for 90 minutes every day when they came in as part of their homeroom.  This small group opportunity is part of what our school calls WIN time (WIN stands for What I Need).  As a grade level team, we talk about the needs we see and how to group the students so we can address those needs.  I asked for this particular group of 12 based on spelling errors I saw in their writing samples at the beginning of the year. What an opportunity to reinforce some reliable concepts in our language!

We started by looking at words that take an <-es> suffix versus those that take an <-s> suffix.  I picked this because it’s a great place to begin noticing things about suffixing, digraphs, and roles of the single final non-syllabic <e>.  I could have started with any number of activities.  In fact, it seems that no matter where I begin when talking about English spelling, we end up reinforcing many ideas, just in different contexts.  That is the beauty of teaching with a Structured Word Inquiry focus.  We think about something particular, we collect some words to examine what it is we are focusing on, we make some observations about what we are seeing, and in the process of all that, we deepen our understanding of many things.  Most important of all, we build an understanding of the connectedness of these concepts and facts about how our spelling system works.

Another reason I chose to start with the <-s> and <-es> suffixes is that I wanted to give this group a preview of them before we discussed them as a larger group.  It always amazes me how much we can talk about in only 20 minutes!  We began by talking about using angle brackets to represent a spelling.  When we see a word in angle brackets, we spell it out.  We don’t announce it.  When we want to announce it, we can either write the word without angle brackets at all or we can represent the pronunciation in IPA.  If we use IPA symbols, we use slash brackets.  As you can see below, I demonstrated with the word <teach>.  I also showed the students how we might represent the graphemes and digraphs in the word <teach>.  The word has 5 letters and 3 graphemes.  One of the graphemes is a single letter grapheme, and the others are digraphs.  I don’t spend too much time on what I have just described because with this group beginning in mid-October,  this information is already something we are reviewing.

The next thing we did was to talk about words that can take an <-s> suffix.  If you look at the left side of the picture below, you’ll see that as the students suggested words, I was writing the final letter of the word + s.  In this way I could encourage the students to think of words that ended in other ways (besides words that end with the same letter that was previously named).  Since we already had the word <teach> on the board, I asked what suffix we would add if we wanted to talk about the person who teaches in the next room.  In this case, we are not adding a suffix in order to make the word plural.  We are adding a suffix to indicate the verb tense.  A few of the students knew we would add an <-es> suffix to <teach>, <peach>, and <coach>, but no one knew why.

When someone asked about <bounce>, I wrote it out as a word sum.  When a word ends in a single final non-syllabic <e>, it is not as obvious to the students that the suffix being added is an <-es>.  When we compare the spelling prior to adding the suffix to the spelling of the word after the suffix has been added, it would appear that only an <s> was added.  But that is not the case.

In order to understand why we need an <-es>, I directed the focus to the word someone had thought of that ended with a final <t> – <pits>.  We announced the word <pits> as /pɪts/ and noticed that we could easily feel ourselves adding the /s/ after the /t/.  Then we announced the word <teaches> as /titʃɪz/ and noticed that immediately following the /tʃ/ we said /ɪz/.  In fact we found it awkward and unsuccessful to follow the /tʃ/ with either /s/ or /z/ by itself.  In other words, we needed the suffix to be <-es> which would add an /ɪz/ to the pronunciation of the base.

Now we took a look at <bounce> (the rest of that list wasn’t there yet).  We tested to see if we could just add an <-s> suffix to bounce.  The students realized quickly that the word ends with an /s/ already.  Adding an <-s> suffix wouldn’t work. In announcing the word with the suffix added, we wouldn’t know where one /s/ left off and the next one began!  Then they tried adding the /ɪz/ of <-es> to the base /bɑʊns/.  That worked!

My next question to the students was, “Why does the word <bounce> have a final <e>?”  No one was sure.  There were guesses about the vowels in the word, but in this word, the <e> had a different role.  I asked if anyone could think of two more words that were similarly spelled.  The words <spice> and <fence> were suggested.  I asked, “Why weren’t we able to just add an <-s> suffix?”

“Because there was already an /s/ at the end of the word and it would end with /s..s/!”

Of course that led to lots of students trying to demonstrate how it wouldn’t work.  But that’s okay.  I know they understand.

“Does the <c> always represent /s/ in a word?”

“No.  It’s a /k/ in <cat>.  Oh!  The <e> tells us the <c> is /s/!”

We noted that in <spice>, the <e> was doing two things.  It was also indicating that the <i> would be pronounced as /aɪ/.  Next I asked if they could think of words that ended with a /s/ pronunciation, but were not spelled with a <c>.  They quickly thought of horse, house, and mouse.  We discussed the role of the single, final non-syllabic <e> in these words.  The <e> in these words had yet a different role!  It was preventing the words from looking like plurals when they clearly weren’t!  My favorite examples of where leaving off the final <e> would truly confuse a reader are please and pleas and dense and dens.  A student may not recognize why someone would think *hous is a plural word since *hou isn’t a word in English, but they will recognize that dens are where some animals live.

I left our notes on the board and explained the work my WIN group had done to my regularly scheduled classes.  The 12 were scattered among three classes and were eager to explain things for the rest of their class when the opportunity came up.

 

Day 2

The next day I wanted to continue looking at words that take an <-es> suffix.  I wanted to focus on the ending grapheme/phoneme correspondences when the word was in its singular form.  I listed the headings and together we noticed which graphemes could represent those phonemes.  In the first column, I started by underlining the final <tch> trigraph and/or the <ch> digraph. then we moved to the middle two columns that ended up including four different graphemes that could represent a final /s/!  As you can see, I wrote out word sums so they could see over and over that with these word final phonemes, we would need to use an <-es> suffix.  I also underlined the final graphemes in each word.  As we went along, the students tried adding an <s> pronounced as /s/ and then quickly knew they needed to add an <-es> pronounced as /ɪz/.  With words in the last column, we talked about the single, final non-syllabic <e> that was following the <g>.  The students wondered aloud if it was like the <e> that follows a <c>!  So then we could compare the <g> grapheme (when followed by an <e>) to the trigraph <dge>.

The last thing I did was to point out the vowel in front of the trigraphs <tch> and <dge>.  I asked if the students recognized whether they were considered short vowels or long vowels.  We said them together and they identified them as short.  I underlined them in red.

Again, I left our work on the board and shared our findings with the three larger classes.

 

Day 3

While sharing with the larger groups yesterday, someone asked about words with a final /z/ phoneme.  How brilliant, right?  Of course we added another column today and explored the graphemes that could represent the phoneme /z/.  Once more we went over the different final graphemes and proved to ourselves that they couldn’t take an <-s> suffix, whether it was representing an /s/ or /z/ phoneme.  The words with these final grapheme/phonemes needed to take an <-es> suffix that would be announced as /ɪz/.

 

Day 4

Today we went back to explore the words with either a final <tch> trigraph or a <ch> digraph.  The students brainstormed a bunch of example words of each.  Then we made observations about what was immediately in front of each.  We began to notice some consistencies.  In front of a word final <ch> digraph there was either a consonant or a vowel digraph.  In front of a <tch> digraph there was a single short vowel.  We wondered if this could explain why a <ch> is used in <bench> and not a <tch>.  It was time to get the students working on their own.  I split them into groups of two.  This is my favorite group size for word investigation.  Here are the specific topics of inquiry for each group:

~words in which a consonant precedes a final <ch> digraph.
~words in which a vowel digraph precedes a final <ch> digraph.
~words in which a single vowel precedes a final <tch> trigraph.
~words with a final <t>, but whose pronunciation changes when an <-ion> suffix is added.
~words with a final <t>, but whose pronunciation changes when a <-ure> suffix is added.
~words that take an <-es> suffix.

And they were off!  They got out their orthography notebooks and turned to the next available page.  One in each group grabbed a Chromebook so they could look at Word Searcher to find words with the targeted word ending.  They also had a dictionary handy in case there was a word they didn’t know.  I walked around to make sure each group was clear on what they were looking for.  Then I let them work on their own for the rest of the time.

 

Day 5

Another group work day.  They were collecting words and keeping track of them in their notebooks.  I walked around and checked in to make sure they weren’t collecting words they didn’t know when there were plenty of words they did know to choose from.  That seems like something I shouldn’t have to do, but my students are new to tasks that ARE NOT busy work.  They are used to mindless spelling tasks in which they aren’t expected to really think about what they are doing and why.  After years of Words Their Way, they are used to shifting words into piles that don’t necessarily make sense to them.  The words are moved there because of some surface-y reason that does not have any basis in the logic of our English spelling system.  And the students learn to do the task without asking the kinds of questions that lead to a better understanding that logic.

 

Day 6

I circulate, guiding the students in now grouping the words they found.  If they found a vowel digraph in front of the <ch> digraph for instance, how many words did they find with that same vowel digraph?  How many different vowel digraphs did they find?  Each group had some organizing to do before they could make observations.

 

Day 7

By this point, the groups were not all at the same point in their investigations.  That makes sense because they were investigating different things.  When one group starts making a poster or chart, the other groups get a little concerned.  They ask, “When is this due?” I always tell them that they will be given the time they need, provided they stay focused and productive each day.  The groups that were investigating digraphs and trigraphs were given large graph paper so they could share their findings by creating bar graphs.  The groups looking at a word final <t> and what happens to its pronunciation when an <-ion> or <-ure> suffix is added, made their own posters.  I asked them to include a page where they color coded the graphemes and phonemes in each word so we could see how the grapheme <t> ended up representing more than one phoneme.

As the groups finished, I asked them to write scripts.  What would they say as they presented their findings?  I told them that when they had a script written, I would revise it, edit it, and then I would record their presentation with my camera.  They liked that idea!  I liked the idea that they now had to think through their observations as they were writing them down.  This took several days, and the video recording took several more for each group.  When one group was completely done, I gave them another investigation that could easily be finished with our regular classroom work (back with their homeroom groups).

Here are the videos sharing the investigative work they did.

 

 

As I was filming these, I saw that a few groups of students chose words that they didn’t know.  I was hoping to catch those prior to the presentations, but obviously I didn’t catch them all.  When I asked the students if they knew those words, an interesting thing happened.  They said they did!  And then they proceeded to announce the words.  Do you see here what I see?  The students who struggle with reading and writing the most believe that announcing a word means you know that word.  Can they use it in a sentence? No.  Do they know what it means? No. But they have been taught (without the words necessarily having ever been said out loud) that announcing a word is what’s important in reading.  It is more important than what the word means.  Fluency over comprehension.  That is what the students think.  This is why I will always push the idea that a word’s meaning is the most important thing to know about a word.  Once we know its meaning, we can research to understand its spelling and then its pronunciation.

I have seen the effects of the small group work with the students mentioned in this post.  On a day that we were reviewing suffixes, they spoke up confidently about when to use <-es> versus <s>.  In the group work we are currently doing, they no longer sit quietly.  They contribute.  They question.  In their daily work I am still seeing spelling errors.  Of course I am.  I cannot single handedly help 75 students understand every single spelling error they make.  But what I can do is help them understand some of the consistent patterns we see in English.  Notice I said to “understand some of the consistent patterns.”  Up until now they may have been required to memorize lists that had consistent patterns, but that is not the same as understanding why a spelling is one way and not another.  What I teach helps them understand the spelling of many words – even words they don’t know yet.  I am teaching how the system works, not just how a single word is spelled.

Once the last group was finished with video recording, the WIN groups were reshuffled so that other needs in other areas could be addressed.  I have a new group now.  We are not working on word investigations.  This time we are reading Peter Pan and stopping to talk about the colorful and often times unfamiliar vocabulary used.  We also pause to look at the specific writing techniques of James M. Barrie.

And just in case you are wondering, our current project is focused on the topic of assimilated prefixes!

Sometimes I’m Sorry … Sometimes Not So Much

A couple years ago as my students and I finished reading Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, we reflected on the poems we had been introduced to while we read the book.  As a final project, I challenged them to write poems that were modeled after and inspired by William Carlos Williams’ poem, This is Just to Say.  It is a delightful confession to eating something that the writer fully knows is not for him to eat.  The poem captures those every day moments that happen when people share a space and a relationship.  The student poems were so good!  I remember smiling as each was turned in.  I knew I would repeat that activity with the next year’s students!

But then, just a few years back, I happened upon an entire book of poems that were inspired by this same William Carlos Williams poem.  The book is called This is Just to Say:  Poems of Apology and Forgiveness.  It is written by Joyce Sidman and is perfect for reading aloud to students.  There were poems written to teachers, to school secretaries, to classmates, to parents, and to pets.  The first half of the book are the poems of apology, written to a specific person.  The second half of the book are the poems written in return, all offering forgiveness.  Each revealed in rather beautiful and vulnerable ways a tender relationship between the person who wrote the poem and the person the poem was written to.  We often forgot that the entire collection of poems came from the creative mind of Joyce Sidman!  My students laughed, “awwwwed” and even cried as I read most every poem in the book in a single sitting.  After hearing the poems by Joyce Sidman, they sat down to write their own poem of apology.

I found these poems to be touching – funny, heartwarming, and in some cases, tragic.  In other words, the students were able to bring the everyday moments to the forefront and let our less-than-perfect actions and reactions be revealed.

 

Sorry

Dad, I’m sorry
for stealing your pizza.
You left it on the table
with the top open,
leaving the scent of heaven
roaming through the house.

I snuck to the table,
stole it,
and ate it all.

~~David

 

Dottie

I’m sorry I was not there to help you.
I let you outside and let you wander.
I did not hear or see you for quite a while.
My mom and I got really worried.

Later that day we found you on the road.
We buried you in your favorite spot
outside with all your favorite toys.

I will always remember when
we were little and we would snuggle.
And when you would fit into a chihuahua bed.

We buried you with a baseball
with everyone’s memories written
all over the baseball.

I will always love you, dead or alive.
I love you, Dottie.

~~Emillie

 

Sorry for Being Annoying

Sorry for not stopping my mouth from talking.
I just can’t stop.
My mouth is moving,
and my tongue is whipping.
I just can’t stop.

Maybe it’s because when I say something,
you laugh,
and I just keep on going.
I have funny things to say!

It’s just the fact that
they come to my brain
and slip out of my mouth.

Sometimes you say weird things too,
and I laugh.
But then I think
maybe they don’t like my comedy.
I’m sorry.

Just kidding!
I’m way too funny!

~~Ali

 

Dear Sasha,

I’m sorry I let you outside
and forgot you were out there.
You sat out there for an hour,
until I remembered
and went to get you.
But you weren’t out there.

Not on the lawn,
Not on the deck,
Not even under the deck
chasing chipmunks.

I looked all over town for you.
No luck.

I went back home to look again.
Then I looked in the one spot

I hadn’t looked yet,
the garage.

I opened the door and sure enough,
there you were sitting on the couch.

~~Ari

 

The Soccer Mistake

Dear Sammy,

I’m sorry for accusing you
of tripping people in soccer
and for being a bit aggressive.

I’m also sorry
for all of the bad things
that have happened to you.

I think you’re
the best soccer player in the grade.

Sincerely your friend,

~~Cohen

 

My Apology To My Brother

I’m sorry
for not being the best
at the video games we play.

I aspire to be better,
but I’m not the best anyway.
It doesn’t help
when you yell and scream at me.

I know I can’t win on my own,
and that’s why I play with you.
I’m trying to get better.

For now,
it’s just us two.

~~Ben

 

 Apologizing  

Dear Wishley,

I’m sorry that
I threw an orange at you.
I just got carried away
so I threw it at you.

You said I was jealous, and
I had no friends.
I was so mad.

I didn’t realize
it would hurt like that.

~~Sam

 

Apologizing

Dear Muffin,

I miss when you would slobber on me
and how it was like you always knew
what I was thinking.

I’m sorry that I didn’t
get to say goodbye.
You know that.

If I would have
gotten the chance to,
I would have.
I miss you.

You were such an amazing dog.
I miss when you would
shove your slobbery nose in my neck
while I was asleep.

I miss you.

~~Reehya

 

 

Explorations and Discoveries Via Voyages

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”   Marcel Proust

We were watching a TED talk  about the interesting forms of life found at the bottom of the ocean.  The presenter, David Gallo, used the above quote.  He was referring to being open to what he might see as he voyaged to the bottom in his submarine, Alvin.  The TED talk was fascinating.  Gallo’s enthusiasm and excitement kept the attention of my students and myself.  He made us feel as if we were on the voyage with him and seeing what he saw.  And he got me thinking about the word <voyage>.

Several images popped into my head…

~the name of an old television show my brothers used to watch when I was a child – “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”,

~people waving and shouting “Bon Voyage!” to people on large oceangoing boats such as the Titanic.

It got me thinking.  In both of those situations the voyage itself is a trip across or down into a large body of water (and in the case of the Titanic, an unintentional “down into a large body of water”).  These are major undertakings.  What other kinds of journeys are considered to be voyages?

As silly as it sounds, my mind went to another television series, “Star Trek: Voyager”, that my children watched at times during its run from 1995-2001.

And at that point I thought of Voyager I and Voyager II which are the unmanned spacecrafts originally launched in 1977 that are still sending us information from the outer reaches of space!  As I was watching the video I have included here, the following words popped out at me. “It’s discovering new things because it’s going where nothing has been before.”  That sentiment is similar to what I heard David Gallo use in his TED talk.  It was the connection between a voyage, exploration, and discovery.

With a solid idea of how I think of this word, and of how I have heard it used in significant ways, I was ready to explore it further.  You see, what I have learned since happening upon Structured Word Inquiry is that there is discovery beyond a word’s current day usage.  It is something I now look forward to.  It’s like a special gift I used to overlook because I was looking for fancy paper which would make it catch my attention.  Instead, the wrapping was the word itself.  You might think of it as having been camouflaged in its own spelling!

My first stop is the dictionary that is on my Mac desktop.  The definition of <voyage> confirms what I already knew – that a voyage is a trip, generally by sea or space.

Next I check in at Etymonline.

The word <voyage> wasn’t used as a verb until the 15th century, but was used as a noun as early as the 13th century.  That is when it was first attested.  Before that it was used in Old French, spelled voiage, and used to mean “travel, journey, movement, course, errand, mission, crusade.”  As I think of those words, the only two I might link to discovery or exploration are mission and crusade.  Further back in time this word existed in Late Latin as viaticum “a journey.”  The next note in the entry says that in Classical Latin viaticum referred to the “provisions for a journey.”  This is even further away from the sense that is so prevalent in today’s use of the word!  Further back in time we see that this word is from via “road, journey, travel.”  This piece of information is quite interesting, don’t you think?  I have used the word <via> to mean “by way of.”  I might say I travel to Madison via highway 12/18.  Before I take off down that “road”, I want to see what other resources say about <voyage>.

Next I look in my Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

Again we are looking at <voyage> as a noun before it was used as a verb.  The entry says that probably before 1300 it was viage “a traveling, journey.”  Around 1300 the spelling was veyage; borrowed from Old French veiage, vayage, voiage, vaiage and was used to mean “travel, journey, voyage.”  The spelling voyage was first recorded in English in 1527, probably influenced by the spelling of the verb.  The spelling of the verb is attested in 1475 in Caxton’s translation of the History of Jason.  It was borrowed from Middle French voyager, from the Old French noun, voyage.  The dictionary goes on to conclude that <voyager> is probably formed from the English verb voyage + er.

Next stop is the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here I find this word used in 1297 to mean “an act of traveling; a journey by which one goes from one place to another (esp. at a considerable distance).  One thing I love about the OED is the examples of this word in actual use.  I can read sentences that include this word from as early as 1297.  What I find when I do that is that people were taking voyages for many reasons.  Some were just heading home.  Some were on a pilgrimage which has a different sense then a voyage with a destination.  Others were possibly part of those crusades mentioned at Etymonline.  A sentence from c1550 states, “Thei..toke their viage toward Rome, destroying all thinges on everie side.”  And another from 1564, “The consuls toke then their viage to invade Carthage”.  Since these were typically long trips, it would make sense that the people traveled by horse, yet there is another sentence from 1584, “We must take our voyage on foote the space of forty dayes by the waters side”.

And then there are many examples of how this word has been used to refer to trips over water from as early as 1310.  From what we know about early explorers, that is not surprising.  As I kept reading through the entry, I saw that in 1667, the word was used to mean a journey, but in a different sense.  “So stears the prudent Crane Her annual Voiage, born on Windes”.  This sentence is from Paradise Lost and is referring to the bird who, while voyaging, is carried by the winds.  Here is where the sense and meaning of <voyage> leaves the ground and the water and ventures into the skies!  In 1893, the earth itself is referred to as taking a yearly voyage around the sun.

Another interesting use of this word is in a figurative sense to describe certain events of human life and even what happens after life.  Here’s an example of this use in a sentence from 1390.  ” Fourtiene yer sche was of Age, Whan deth hir tok to his viage”.  If my interpretation of this is correct, a 14 year old girl was taken on death’s voyage.  Here’s an interesting sentence from 1529.  “Yt much more special assistence of god with his christen churche in their spiritual viage”.  I wonder if that is in reference to someone’s deepening of faith (spiritual voyage).  One more from 1771, “Among our fellow-lodgers at Berwick, was a couple from London, bound to Edinburgh, on the voyage of matrimony”.  These examples show this word having a sense that indicates a journey with a goal or destination.

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Thomas Cole – The Voyage of Life Youth, 1842 (National Gallery of Art)

This is such an interesting word!  I feel like I could almost create a timeline to show how it has gone from meaning simply traveling on land, to including water, to journeying in space, and even to have other figurative senses which are vital to a writer’s mind.  It’s time to go back to Etymonline and follow that link to Latin via “road, journey, travel.”

The entry is referring to <via> as a preposition “by way of.”  It was first attested in 1779 and is the ablative form of via “way, road, path, highway, channel, course.”  Further back it is from the Proto-Indo-European root *wegh- “to go, move, transport in a vehicle.”  Continuing in the entry we see that this PIE root is also the source for our English word <way>.  There are a number of words that include a form of this stem, via “road.”  I have encountered this base before and have found it helpful in visualizing a word’s meaning.

obvious – from <ob-> “in front of; against” and viam “way.”  When something is obvious, it is right there in your way and you cannot avoid seeing it or dealing with it!

impervious – from <im-> “not”, <per-> “through”, and via “road.”  When a surface is impervious (such as blacktop), the water runs off of it because it cannot filter through the road.  One of the activities I have done in my classroom to show the difference between an impervious surface and one that is pervious, is to grab a paint tray.  I put a piece of felt on the left side (to represent grass and dirt) and leave the other side open (to represent a parking lot surface).  Then the student drizzles water from the top.  How many drops does it take for the water to reach the bottom on the pervious side?  How many drops does it take for the water to reach the bottom on the impervious side?  It is surprising how much water the piece of felt will hold.

deviate – from <de-> “off, away” and via “way.”  When someone deviates from the plan, they are not sticking to the agreed upon path!  They are going off in their own way.

previous – from <pre-> “before” and via “road.”  We think of something that has happened previously as something that has been on this “path” before – something that has gone this way before.

trivial –  from <tri-> “three” and via “road.”  This word is one of my favorites because of the following scene I associate with it.  At a place where three roads meet, people traveling on those roads might stop and chat.  These people are traveling by foot for the most part and no doubt look forward to a bit of friendly conversation.  It is a very public place and the topics of conversation are the little things everyone’s life is full of.  One might discuss the weather, their business (crops perhaps), politics, or family happenings.  And if you are already putting two and two together, you are noticing that these things could be considered trivia!

 

 


From 1890 Baby’s Annual Pictures and Stories for Little People.  It was published by D. Lothrop Company.

Every time I conduct one of these word investigations, I feel like I have embarked on a voyage of sorts.  Not because I began at point A with a question and arrived at an endpoint with an answer, but rather because like the satellites Voyager I and Voyager II, my question has been launched and is still out there.  My curiosity is still aflame.  My interest is lit and I am receptive to understanding more about any of this when it becomes obvious to me – when it is right there in my path.  My smile will only broaden and I will listen attentively.  I seek to voyage back in time to consider how a given word was used by the people who spoke it and/or wrote it.  I seek to explore its current spelling and understand the significance of the graphemes and their corresponding phonemes. I seek to discover the bigger picture that includes a particular word, but also its relatives, be they morphological or etymological.  Think about it.  After 40 years, Voyager I and II are still transmitting information to the earth, even though they continuously travel further and further away.  We could say, they have boldly gone where no man has gone before!  If you are or were ever a Star Trek fan, you will recognize those words.  Hmmm.  Now I’m thinking about the word <trek>.

“We don’t receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves.”  Marcel Proust

Do we make a din at dinner or do we dine during dinner at the diner?

Mel's Diner

Last week my students wrote poems.  As I was editing them, one of the errors I saw over and over was the use of <your> when <you’re> was needed.  With a recently viewed meme in mind, I wrote the following on the board:

your dinner

you’re dinner

As the students filed in and sat down, the giggles began.  Some recognized right away the meaning difference between these two.  I asked for a volunteer to share what “your dinner” means with the whole class.  Even though I could tell that many understood what each meant, it was interesting to me that there was some struggle in putting that understanding into words.  To say that “your dinner” means “your dinner” isn’t very clear, is it?  The understanding is so clear in the student’s mind, that they don’t realize they are not communicating that clarity.  The student who was defining “your dinner” went so far as to reach her hands out in front of her as if she was handing me a plate of something.

Such an important reminder!  I can never forget that even when I am confident that my students understand something, I must give them lots of opportunities to express that understanding either orally or in writing.  Expressing oneself with clarity comes with practice!

I asked if anyone could add words to that explanation that would help.  A student said, “It’s not my dinner, it’s yours.”  That helped because without using the word, it illustrated that the dinner is in “your” possession.  Since we have been identifying parts of speech in sentences lately, I asked what kinds of words both “your” and “dinner” were.  This is an understanding that is growing, but not fully there yet for all students, so I called on a student that I knew would be able to answer the question.  The student identified “your” as a possessive determiner that is announcing the noun “dinner.”  Great!  A possessive determiner makes sense because we understand that the dinner belongs to someone and that “dinner” is a noun.

Even more students were excited to explain the meaning of “you’re dinner.”  The student I called on said easily that “you’re” is short for “you are” so that this phrase is saying that “you will be eaten for dinner!”  Anyone who hadn’t been sure of the difference between these two phrases laughed at this point.  Students turned to one another and excitedly imagined telling each other that they were the dinner.  When it was time to regain their attention, I asked if anyone knew the word we use to name a word like “you’re.”  Several could kind of remember how it started but not the word.  So I said, “It’s called a contraction.”  Among the “Oh, yeah,” comments that I heard, one student in the front blurted out, “You mean like when someone’s having a baby?”  I gave the room full of ten-year-olds a moment to laugh uncomfortably before I replied.

“Well, actually, the sense in both situations isn’t that different.”
“Whaaaa?”  More giggles and sounds that expressed disbelief.
“When a momma human or animal is giving birth, the muscles contract to push the baby out.  When two words like ‘you’ and ‘are’ contract, the letters push together so intensely that one letter pops out.  We mark the missing letter with an apostrophe.”

Next I wrote the word ‘contraction’ on the board and asked for a word sum hypothesis.

Looking over what the student had written, I asked if anyone could offer evidence to support the idea of a <con> prefix.  Could anyone think of a word with one?

“Conduct.”
“Contradict.”
“Confess.”
“Convict.”
“Confident.”

And then someone said, “Contract,” and when he did, one student made a funny face.  So I asked if contract was a familiar word.  Yes, it was.  What does it mean if you sign a contract with someone else?  A student replied that it meant there was an agreement between the two people. Great.  Now I looked back for the quizzical look I saw a few minutes ago.  I asked what the student was thinking.  She said, “I was thinking of ‘contract’.”  And as she said it I realized that she was putting the stress on the base <tract> instead of the prefix <con>.  What a delightful detour this would be!

So we talked about contracting a cold or a disease and how that was an action verb.  But when the stress was on the prefix <con>, the word was a noun.  We could say that for sure because we could use the indefinite article ‘a’ in front of it.  We could talk about a contract.

Because I didn’t want to leave the topic without a few more examples, I wrote two more words on the board that could likewise be read as a noun and a verb, depending on the stress placement.

With ‘record’, the students thought of the verb first with the stress on <cord>.  So I let them practice shifting that stress to then recognize the noun ‘record’ which might refer to the time to beat in a race (I want to beat my record of 22 minutes!).  I chose ‘combine’ on purpose.  I have several students who live on farms.  Those were the hands that popped up first on this one.  “A combine (stress on the prefix) is a machine used on a farm.  It is a noun.”

And, this being such a commonly used verb, most everyone was able to shift the stress to the base <bine> to read the verb “combine.”  Several gave examples of how it might be used in a sentence.

Then the very best question came from a student.  “If these words look the same, how do you know whether it’s being a noun or a verb?”  I thanked this student for giving us one more glorious opportunity to reinforce an important concept.  It is how the word is functioning within the sentence.  We have to look at where it is in the sentence and how it is functioning to know.  Seeing as the next item on our agenda for the day was grammar, I was particularly happy about setting the grammar lesson up in this way!

I was ready to get back to looking at the word sum for <contraction>, when I saw a hand waving in the air.  It belonged to someone who is less apt to contribute in class, so I called on him.  “What about ‘conscience?’  Does that have a <con> prefix?”  I love talking about this word and in particular the base of this word <sci>. The pronunciation is so different in members of its word family, that if you only hear the words conscience, conscious, and science, you might not realize that they even are the same base.

We have talked before about the structure of <science> being <sci + ence> and the base <sci> having a denotation of “know.”  So I applied that to <conscience>.  Your conscience is that part of you that knows right from wrong.  When we say, “Let your conscience be your guide,” it means to rely on those inner feelings that tell you which is a right choice and which is a wrong choice.  Then you will know what to do.  And then, of course, there is the word <conscious>.  When you are conscious, you know what is happening around you.  When you are unconscious, you do not!  Now back to the word sum for <contraction>.

I stated that we had just come up with a lot of evidence to show that <con> is a prefix in a lot of words, so it is quite plausible to think it might be a prefix in <contraction> as well.  Next it was time to think about the next element in the hypothesis, <tract>.  I asked if anyone could think of a word with <tract> in it.

“Tractor.”
“Traction.”
“Subtract.”
“Abstract.”

Since I hadn’t even gotten to the word I wanted to investigate with them yet, I told them what I knew about this base.  (As opposed to looking it up at Etymonline with them.)  There are so many side trails we could take with initial questions like this one, that I need to balance when I share my understanding and when I have them dig for the understanding.  It has to do with how engaged they are and how long I predict that engagement will last.

I told them that the base <tract> has a denotation of “draw or pull.”  Then I asked, “Does a tractor have anything to do with drawing or pulling?”  They all nodded yes.  “What if your boots have traction on the ice?”  Again, they agreed that it would pull on the ice instead of sliding.  “When you subtract numbers, is there a sense of pulling down or drawing from the first number and taking some away?”  Yes, they could imagine that.  “And when we think of abstract nouns, aren’t we thinking of the nouns that aren’t concrete?  The ones that have been withdrawn from the concrete nouns?  The ones that are separate from material objects such as your chair, desk, and pencil?”

They could see it, but we talked about that denotation being strongest in the words ‘tractor’ and ‘traction’.  They had more of a physical sense of pulling and drawing whereas subtract and abstract were more of a mental image of pulling rather than that physical action.

So in the end, it was decided that our word sum hypothesis could make sense based on the fact that we recognized both <con> as a prefix and <tract> as a base.  We had already talked about the word <contract>, so we knew that <ion> was a suffix in this word.  Now on to the really interesting question for the day!

I asked if anyone had a word sum hypothesis for the word ‘dinner’.  As soon as I asked it, I turned to the class and rather excitedly said, “I’ve never thought about where this word comes from or what its word sum will be.  We will be learning about it together!”  Below is a picture of some of their hypotheses.

There was one more word sum that is not on the list above.  It was <di + nn + er>.

When we began the conversation about these four possibilities, we noticed that three of them had an <er> suffix.  We brainstormed a few words with a clear suffix and decided that an <er> suffix was plausible.  then we looked at the other identified elements.  Looking at the first hypothesis, I asked if anyone knew the word <din>.  They did not.  I explained that a din is an ongoing noise.  I could say that there was quite a din coming from the indoor recess area.  So then I wondered aloud if at dinner the participants were creating a din.  Hmmm.  The students thought that perhaps sometimes that is the case, but not always.  We thought that if the base was <din>, then we could imagine the <n> doubling when the <er> suffix was added.

The second hypothesis (<dinn + er>) was similar to the first.  The base is still listed as <dinn>, although unless this is an alternant spelling to <din>, this might be a different base or it might not be a base at all.

The third hypothesis (<dine/ + n + er>) was interesting too.  It put the related word <dine> in our minds.  It makes sense to think of dinner as being that time when we dine.  But it didn’t take long for someone to point out that we wouldn’t replace the single final non-syllabic <e> with a consonant.  Good point.  If the second <n> wasn’t part of this, it would be a solid hypothesis for <diner>!

When we got to the fourth hypothesis (<di + nn + er>), I modeled giving it every consideration even though in my own head I had doubts.  The students did not recognize <di> as a prefix, nor <nn> as a base.  So offhand, we could not think of much evidence to support this one.

We were now at that point where we needed a reliable etymological resource.  I pulled up Etymonline on the Smartboard.

There were a lot of interesting things in this entry.  First off we talked about how old this word was and that in the 1300’s it was used to mean “the first big meal of the day.”  Right away the students blurted that it is no longer the first big meal of the day.  As we read through the entry, we noticed that earlier than the 1300’s, this word was from the Old French disner “breakfast.”  When we go to the recontructed stem of Gallo-Roman (*desjunare) with a meaning of  “to break one’s fast,” we paused to think about what that meant.  There were a few students aware that the word breakfast meant to break one’s fast.  There were also a few who did not know what a fast was.  I explained that if their last meal was the night before, they fasted while they were asleep which means they did not eat while they were asleep.  Once they started eating their next meal (breakfast) they were breaking the fasting they were doing while sleeping!

The very next thing in the entry indicated that the reconstructed *desjunare was from the reconstructed Vulgar Latin *disjejunare.  Here’s where it gets especially interesting.  The reconstructed Vulgar Latin *disjejunare is from <dis> “do the opposite of” and Late Latin jejunare “to fast.  Wow.  So the word <dinner> is from a Vulgar Latin word that means “the opposite of fasting.”  We had to say this a few times out loud.  “To fast is not to eat.  And the word dinner derives from a word that means the opposite of not eating which means, of course, eating!

Since both *desjunare and *disjejunare are reconstructed, I didn’t feel as if we had evidence to say that in Modern English we could support a word sum like <di + nn + er>, but we could sure see the story of this word’s spelling in the history!  The prefix in <di> could definitely be an assimilated form of <dis>, and the <nn> could be representing <jejune> although I need to know more before I say that with any authority.  I left it like this with the students.  We are calling <dinner> a free base with the understanding that its literal meaning is to do the opposite of fasting.  We feel that it is strongly related to <diner>, but the two would not be on the same matrix.

We also talked about how dinner used to name the noonday meal and that it gradually shifted to later and later in the day.  I told them that when I was a little girl, my lunch time meal was called dinner and the evening meal was known as supper.  These days we think of dinner as our evening meal and lunch as, well, lunch!  As for supper, Etymonline says it is from Old French soper “evening meal.”  We may use dinner and supper interchangeably these days to refer to the last meal before bedtime, but as we have shown, they are not synonyms!  They have different meanings and stories!

Further down in the entry was this information:

Dinner-time is attested from late 14c.; dinner-hour is from 1750. Dinner-table is from 1784; dinner-jacket from 1852; dinner-party by 1780. Childish reduplication din-din is attested from 1905.

It was interesting to follow this list of extended uses for dinner and the years in which those uses were recorded.  What’s funny to me is that when I think of a dinner-jacket, I think of James Bond.  What was funny to the children was the use of  “din-din.”

At the end of the day after the students were gone, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the word sum hypothesis with the <di> prefix.  Was there evidence at the Oxford English Dictionary that would help me further?  Interestingly enough, the etymology information for <dinner> linked me to the etymology information for <diner>!

Diner:

We see some of the same information here that we saw at Etymonline in the entry for <dinner>.  The smaller print says that disner contains the same elements ultimately as French déjeuner, Old French desjuner and owes its greater phonetic reduction to its belonging to an earlier period.  So the spelling reflects a phonetic reduction from one of the French spellings or perhaps from one of the late Latin reconstructed spellings.  My uncertainty about the direct path the spelling took is what I have based my decision on when I leave <dinner> as a free base.  Perhaps someone reading this will be able to direct me to another resource or have a deeper understanding of what I can learn from the OED entry.  Until then, I will only go as far in my analysis as I have evidence for.

This is the kind of teaching and learning I love.  The students find it interesting and are drawn in as participants in the critical thinking that is going on.  They are thinking carefully and learning what it means to “provide evidence in support of a hypothesis.”  Every time we read an etymological resource together, they understand how to better use the information offered there.  When I can, I point out a connection to some aspect of grammar that we are learning.  At the end of the day I was able to send them home and tell them to have a good din-din … especially if they were lucky enough to be having their dinner in a diner!

Delicious Food Served Sign