# When People Say, “Just Start,” What Does That Look Like?

New opportunities have opened up for me! I am meeting with almost all of the 5th grade students at my elementary school (half the group on Tuesday, the remaining half on Thursday) for about 25 minutes each week. I am coming into their classroom and one of three grade level teachers is observing the lesson. I am also working with an 8 year old for 6 hours a week in my home!

This week I talked about the spelling of ‘two’ with both groups. Since I was meeting the 8 year old for the first time, I had him use manipulatives. In this way, I could both check his math understanding and also his understanding of the spelling of some numbers. While he was having a bit of play time with the superhero figures we were using, I asked him if he could spell the number ‘two.’ He paused and slowly spelled out, “t.o.w.” I said, “That’s great. You have all the right letters! But the ‘t’ and the ‘w’ need to be together. Let me show you how I know that.”

I wrote the word ‘two’ on my paper and showed it to him. Then I asked him if he noticed whether or not there were any twins in the superhero collection. He did. There were two sets of twins. I wrote the word ‘twin’ on my paper and asked him if ‘twin’ had anything to do with ‘two.’ Then I asked him what the words (spelling) ‘two’ and ‘twin’ had in common. I asked the same questions of ‘twice.’

Next I asked him to count out ten of the superheros. I asked him how many more we would need in order to have twelve. He said, “two.” I replied, “So twelve is two more than ten. It is ten plus two.” He grinned. I added the word ‘twelve’ to our list. Then he laid out two rows of superheros for a total of twenty. He knew that two rows of ten would give us twenty. I added the word ‘twenty’ to our list. Then I wrote the word ‘between’ and asked him to name the superheros that Batman was between. From there we connected the meaning of ‘between’ to the meaning of ‘two.’ Then I went back through the list and underlined the ‘tw’ in each word and asked him why I did that.

From there, I asked him to write down the word ‘ten.’ He didn’t have any trouble. I asked him to write down ‘six.’ Then I said, “If we add ten to six, we’ll have sixteen. What will we add to the spelling of ‘six’ to have the word ‘sixteen’? He wrote ‘ten.’ Perfect opportunity to talk about the <ee> digraph versus the single <e> grapheme in the context of these words! Then we talked about the meaning of ‘ten’ and the meaning of ‘teen’ in the word ‘sixteen.’ He noticed right away that they shared meaning, but not spelling! (He seemed to have an established awareness that that can happen – cool!)

Now that he had an understanding of <teen> in ‘sixteen,’ I asked him to write the number ‘five’ and then ‘fifteen.’ He started writing *’fiveteen,’ but realized that wouldn’t represent how we pronounce ‘fifteen.’ In the context of these two words, we could focus on the voiced <v> in ‘five’ and the unvoiced <f> in ‘fifteen,’ and how the two spellings share meaning but not spelling. As he was thinking about this, he said, “fifteen and fifty both have the /f/!

Before we stopped with the superhero figures, skip-counting and number words, I asked him once more how to spell ‘two.’ Without hesitation he said, “t.w.o.”

The 5th graders were fascinated. They were engaged and quickly recognized the meaning connections between words like ‘two’ and ‘between.’ They helped brainstorm many words with an initial ‘tw’ and we discussed the meaning of each. I made sure the word ‘twilight’ came up because I knew they knew its meaning, but might not have thought of it since the ‘tw’ spelling isn’t initial in the word. At least three students came up afterwards to tell me how cool the discussion was!

Day Two

My copy of Mona Voelkel’s new book, Stanley and the Wild Words arrived in the mail, so I shared it with my 7 year old friend, Michael, and also with the 5th grade students.

I began by reading the book aloud. I paused at times to encourage the students to share their understanding. For instance, I asked what they thought ‘enormous’ meant and then asked for examples of things that could be considered enormous. We talked of whales, dragon teeth, and mountains but also of appetites and loads of wash. Then we talked about the denotation of <norm> being “rule.” I wondered what they thought about when they thought of ‘rule.’ So I asked. The fifth grade students could name several rules they follow at school. One boy defined a rule as a condition that everyone followed. In other words, following the rules is considered normal. When something is outside of what we think of as normal – is bigger than normal – it can be considered enormous.

Below are pictures of what I wrote down as I was reading the book to Michael. As you can see, I began with a word sum for ‘enormous.’ I labeled the morphemes as ‘prefix,’ ‘base,’ and ‘suffix.’ After we had a list of words that shared the base <norm>, I asked Michael to draw a box around the base in each word.

When talking with the 5th grade students I added the term “analytic word sum.” I explained that with an analytic word sum, we begin with the fully spelled word and then loosen it into its morphemes. I pointed out that the bound base <lyt> had a denotation of “loosen.” The prefix <ana> brings a sense of “throughout.” If we begin with the morphemes and join them to form a complete word, that is a synthetic word sum. Having brought up the words ‘synthetic’ and ‘analytic’, I wanted to expand the students’ understanding of them by mentioning other situations in which we use these words. We talked about synthetic materials being put together by man and how analyzing a problem requires us to look closely at each component.

With the large group of fifth graders, I did the boxing of the base and then had them tell me what the word sums would be. As they hypothesized the word sums, I wrote them on the board. When we got to the word ‘ginormous,’ I explained that ‘gi’ isn’t a prefix – it represents the word ‘gigantic’ in this portmanteau word (gigantic+ enormous gives us ginormous). You’ll notice we didn’t include ‘gi’ on our matrix – again, because it isn’t a prefix. This may be the first time I am mentioning portmanteau words to these students, but it won’t be the last. At some point, I’ll ask the students to choose ten of their favorites. Until then, I used the example of ‘brunch’ being a combination of breakfast and lunch. I pointed out that when the two words join to become a portmanteau, letters from each word might be lost. That makes this different from a compound word, where two bases join (intact) to form a new word.

With the fifth graders, I followed this activity by having them write the word ‘help’ at the top of a piece of paper and then writing as many related words as they could think of. Then I walked them through creating a matrix with ‘help’ as the featured base. One of the students thought of ‘prehelpfully.’ I look forward to talking about this invented word and also about matrices next time. Although, before I even began reading the book today, one student said, “I thought of a word for you to explain – one!” Perfect! Doesn’t look like I’ll run out of topics, does it?

Day Three (Days Three through Five focus on my time with Michael)

Today Michael and I read the story of Ibis, a whale who gets caught in netting and almost drowns. It is based on a true account, although the author added details that gave us an opportunity to talk about authors and story writing. Why do authors sometimes embellish the facts? Why did this author give Ibis human characteristics?

While we were discussing the main character’s interest in humans, we noticed that the following illustration gave us the whales’ perspective from deep in the water. Michael had used the word ‘perspective’ earlier, so I pointed it out here. “Isn’t it interesting to see the boat from the whales’ perspective? What do you suppose that word ‘perspective’ means?”

Michael said, “My perspective might be different than yours. Because of where I am standing, it might look different.”
“That’s a great way to define that word!”
I wrote the word down and showed it to Michael. I boxed out the <spect> base and wrote down the denotation “see, look”. Then I pulled up Etymonline and wrote down the Latin root specere above where I had written the word ‘perspective.’ I typed specere in the search bar and looked for other words Michael might be familiar with that had this base (or a variation of this base). When I came across ‘spectator’ I asked him if he’s ever been part of a large crowd – at a sporting event perhaps. He said, “Like at a baseball game?”
“Yes. The people who come to watch, to see the game, those are the spectators.

Next I found the word ‘spectacle.’ Michael said he was not familiar with it, so I told him that I can refer to my glasses as my spectacles. They are what I look through! Then I described another way to use that word. Let’s say I was with a group of people who were all walking slowly, but then one of the people jumped out in front and started dancing and singing. We might say they were creating a spectacle. They were making a spectacle of themselves. In other words, their actions were drawing attention and people couldn’t help but look at them. Then we thought of a few other situations in which people could make spectacles of themselves.

The word spectacular is used to describe things. A sunset might be described as spectacular, but so might a tricky catch in a game of football. I asked Michael to tell me how either of those were related to the denotation of <spect>. He said they were cool to see. He was making the connection between the meaning of the base and the meaning of the words it shows up in! It was around this time that he said, “What about ‘expectation’? Does that word work here?”

I’m sure he noticed my smile at that suggestion. I said, “Let’s see if it comes from the same Latin root. That’s a way to know for sure that the base in ‘expectation’ is related to the base in ‘perspective.’

I read the entry for ‘expect’ to Micheal.

“1550s, “wait, defer action,” from Latin expectare/exspectare “await, look out for; desire, hope, long for, anticipate; look for with anticipation,” from ex- “thoroughly” (see ex-) + spectare “to look,” frequentative of specere “to look at.”

I said, “Look at that. We still use the word in the same way the Romans used it 500 years ago! When we expect something, we are looking forward to it with anticipation. In this word we are combining the base <spect> meaning “look” and the prefix <ex> meaning “thoroughly.” At that point we noticed that even though ‘expect’ has the <spect> base, we no longer include the ‘s’ in that spelling. Etymonline shows us that two spellings were used in Latin. One of those has the spelling we currently use.

It was around this time that he asked about the word ‘despicable.’ I said, “It doesn’t have the <spect> base, but it still might be related. I know there are some alternate spellings for this base. We won’t know for certain until we look!” As luck would have it, it was on the same page as some of the other words related to ‘perspective.’ It also derives from Latin specere. The base in this word is <spice> (which is not at all the word ‘spice’ ). I said, “We might find more words in which the base is spelled this way. Let’s start another list.

When we talked about the word ‘inspect’ meaning to look into something, I also pointed out that if we add an <or> suffix, we would have the word ‘inspector.’ That is the person who is doing the looking. Then I slide my finger back up to the word ‘spectator’ and said, “There’s the <or> suffix! A spectator is the person who is spectating! It was our first look at agent suffixes.

Michael was familiar with the words ‘inspect,’ ‘respect,’ and ‘suspect’ and was able to describe how they connected back to the denotation of <spect>.

Towards the end of our search, we found the word ‘suspicious.’ I listed it beneath ‘dispicable’ and pointed out the spelling of the base. I asked him what being suspicious of someone might have to do with looking or watching. Michael quickly replied that when you are suspicious of someone, you watch everything they do.

At this point, we had spent about 30 minutes talking about these related words and their connection to “see, look, watch.” As a final way to look at what we collected, I made a word web. As I was writing, Michael noticed that some of the suffixes could be used on several of these words (expecting, spectating, suspecting, inspecting, etc.) He also used some of the words in sentences which reinforced his understanding of their meanings.

My goal with this activity wasn’t so much that Michael would be able to walk away knowing how to spell these words, but rather that he notice the meaning connections within word families. I was helping him broaden his vocabulary by taking a familiar word and connecting it to unfamiliar words that share that base. I was showing him that words come in families and that he can expect this kind of familial relationship not only with spelling, but with meaning. I was showing him how the English language is structured.

Day Four

On this day I took pieces of paper and wrote suffixes on some, bases on others, and prefixes on yet others. I took two long pieces of paper and created a matrix. We started with the base ‘like.’

The object was to see whether these particular suffixes and prefixes could work with this base. As Michael moved each affix towards the base and read the word, he described what the word meant and sometimes even used it in a sentence. A cool thing happened when he was fixing the <un> prefix to the base <like>. Instead of announcing the word ‘unlike,’ he announced the word ‘unliked.’ I immediately said, “Oh, neat! As you said the word, you added not only the <un> prefix, but also the <ed> suffix! You created the word ‘unliked’! He smiled and said, “Yup. The villain was unliked by the superhero!” The benefit of having these suffixes on movable pieces of paper is that Michael is already recognizing that the <ed> suffix will sometimes replace the single final non-syllabic <e> on the base. He moved it into place himself. This suffixing convention will be revisited many times. This is the second time we’ve talked about it.

He decided that all of these prefixes and suffixes could be used with this base.
Next I moved the base <like> out of the way and replaced it with <hope>. Now Michael had to decide if these same prefixes and suffixes work with this new base.

He started with the prefixes and grabbed <dis>.

He scrunched his nose and said, “Nope!” And moved <dis> to the side. Then he tried <un>. He was undecided about this one. When he tried to talk about what it would mean, he used the word ‘hopeless.’ I said, “Ooooh! We can add the suffix <less> to our group of suffixes. I’m so glad you thought of that word!” Michael grinned.

As he pulled the suffixes <ing>, <ed>, <er>, and <s> next to the base to see if they formed a word he recognized, we noticed that the suffix didn’t always replace that final non-syllabic <e>. We talked about vowel suffixes and consonant suffixes. The suffixes that replaced the final non-syllabic <e> were <ing>, <ed>, and <er> – all vowel suffixes.

Next he matched up the base <hope> with the suffix <ly>.

Hmmm. He said the word a few times, looked at me and said emphatically, “Nope! I can’t think of how to use that one!” We laughed. Then he slid the <ly> suffix out of the way and we looked at the matrix full of morphemes that worked together. We slid the base <hope> out of the way and pulled in the base <rope>.

By this time, Michael knew what to do. He moved the affixes next to the base and thought about whether it was a word that made sense to him. He slide <dis> and <ly> to the side. He noticed, too, that when he paired up the base <rope> and the suffix <er>, he was talking about a person who did the roping. I quickly slid <hope> back into place to see if a ‘hoper’ was a person who did the hoping and then if a ‘liker’ was a person who did the liking. On another day we’ll test that suffix some more! Does it always refer to a person?

After this activity, I read the book From Wolf to Woof by Hudson Talbot. Michael is very interested in the evolution of living things, so when I found this book, I knew he would be interested. Besides, I saw in the title the opportunity to talk about /f/ and /v/. We talked about these two when we talked about ‘five’ and ‘fifteen’ and I was looking to reinforce that concept.

I wrote down the word ‘wolf’ and asked what word we use if we are talking about more than one wolf. Michael said, “Wolfs.”
I asked, “Do you notice how it feels in your mouth to go from the /f/ to the /s/?” We tried it a few times. “Now let’s see how it feels when we go from /v/ to /s/ as in ‘wolves.’ We agreed that was a smoother transition. I wrote down the spelling of ‘wolves’ and showed Michael the switch from <f> in ‘wolf’ to <v> in ‘wolves.’

I had a list of other words where this happens and added them to the paper. We worked one at a time and Michael wrote the spelling of the word as a plural. We toggled the <f> to a <v> and added an <es> suffix. We noted that the word ‘leaf” had an <ea> digraph and the word ‘loaf’ had an <oa> digraph. We paused to talk about what a digraph was and thought of at least two other words that had each of those same digraphs. Then we came to the last two words. They were slightly different than the others. They didn’t have a final <f>. They had a final <e>. Michael recognized that the final <e> wasn’t being pronounced. That meant that it was a grapheme whose job was something other than representing pronunciation. But what? Well, it was signaling that the previous vowel (<i>) would have a “long” pronunciation. Does that change what we’ve been noticing about the /f/ to /v/ in these words? No. Not at all. We will still toggle the <f> to a <v> and add an <es> suffix. In this case, the <es> suffix will replace the single final non-syllabic <e> as it does in many other words.

Because we are also focused on meaning, we had a great discussion about the pronunciation of ‘live’ when it functions as a verb and when it functions as an adjective (There were live snakes in the exhibit. I live down the street.) With this word (and many others) we need to see the word used in a sentence to know how to pronounce it. There are other words like this and we will consider them at another time.

Day Five

I began with the matrix again – the one in which morphemes were written on slips of paper and we could move them around. Michael was enthusiastic. The base I chose today was ‘do.’ (There is no significance to the two colors. It was just the paper I had on hand.)

Interesting things we noticed.
– The base is pronounced the same in ‘doing’ and ‘doer,’ yet different than in ‘does’ and ‘done.’
– If we were to strictly rely on pronunciation to spell ‘does’ we might think it is spelled as *duz. But then we wouldn’t see that it is built from the base <do>.
– Even though there is a shift in pronunciation, there is not a change to the spelling of the base.
– The base represents the meaning.
– Instead of adding an <ed> suffix to show past tense, there is a different spelling of the base.
– The original spelling of ‘did’ in Old English was dyde. According to Etymonline, the final <de> functioned as a suffix and has become our current <ed> suffix.
-When the <er> suffix is added to the base, we get the word ‘doer.’ In this word, the <er> is an agent suffix. A ‘doer’ is a person who is doing something. We can compare this suffix to the <er> in hoper, roper, and liker.

After exploring and noticing things in this <do> matrix, I pulled <do> and replaced it with the base <go>. Michael rejected both the <re> and the <un> prefix, but grabbed a piece of paper and wrote ‘by.’ Then he put it in front of the base and pulled the <ne> suffix to the end of the base. “Bygone! That’s a word, right? Let bygones be bygones, meaning something happened already.”

“Wow! You’re right. In this case, the <by> is not a prefix, it’s another base. So bygones is a compound word. Nice going!”
Michael was familiar with what a compound word was and was able to give me a few examples, so we were able to move on.

We noticed that ‘go’ was similar to ‘do’ in that neither could show past tense by adding an <ed> suffix. They had different spellings to represent that.

Just as we were finishing up, Michael grabbed two more pieces of paper and wrote a sentence. Perfect!

# Here’s What’s Wrong With Teaching a List of Prefixes

I ran across a fascinating article recently called “Anumeric People:  What Happens When a Language Has No Words for Numbers?”  While I immediately noticed the word ‘anumeric’ in the title, I set it aside while I read the article and imagined a life without words for numbers.  What are the advantages/disadvantages?  It’s quite likely that there are people in remote areas of the world whose lives don’t revolve around clocks and other numbered things.  But is the ability to distinguish by number the difference between 3 and 6 items crucial to one’s existence?  Obviously not, for the people who only have words to name “some,” have lived for generations.  The interesting focus in this article is “how the invention of numbers reshaped the human experience.”  The article is not particularly long, but certainly gave me something to think about!

Now.  Back to the word ‘anumeric.’

Right away I connected it to the following.
numeric
numeral
numerous
innumerable
numerology

If you compare the spelling of these words, you’ll notice (as my students would) that they each have <numer> in common.  If given the opportunity to write a word sum hypothesis for ‘numeric’, I might see students write both <numer + ic> and <num + er + ic>.  They are both logical.  The first includes the letter string that is consistent among the words and might be the base.  The second includes prior knowledge of <er> being the suffix in baker, teacher, and colder.

Once we have discussed the hypotheses and the fact that both are based on what we already know to be true about word construction, it is time to find evidence that will support one more than the other.  If I look in either Etymonline, Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology, or the Oxford English Dictionary, I find that all the words on our list derive from Latin numerus “a number.”  Once the Latin suffix <us> is removed, we see the Latin stem that came into English as the base <numer>.  This evidence shows that the <er> was part of the word’s spelling in Latin and is part of the base in English.  I like to compare this situation to the <ing> in ‘bring.’  We know there to be an <ing> suffix, but that doesn’t mean that every time we see that letter string we are looking at a suffix.  It’s logical to wonder about it, and scholarly to check with a reference!

Once I had looked closer at the base of ‘anumeric,’ I thought more about the prefix <a>.  Thinking about its use in the article where I found it, it obviously has a negativizing sense.  It has a similar use in the following.

apnea – without breathing
amnesia – not remembering
atheist – without a god
apathy – without feeling or emotion
atypical – not typical
aphotic – without light

The prefix <a> that incorporates a sense of “not, without” is sometimes spelled <an>.  According to Etymonline, it is “a fuller form of the one represented in English by <a>.”  You may recognize the <an> prefix in the following.

anarchy – without a ruler
anonymous – without a name
anomaly – not the same
anesthesia – without feeling
anhydrous – without water

So does this mean that every time we see a word with an <a> or <an> prefix that it contributes a sense of “not, without?”  No.  No it doesn’t.  There are a number of words like asleep, awash, aside, and aflame that originated in Old English and in which the prefix <a-> contributes a sense of “on, in, into.”  That <a> prefix can also be an intensifying prefix as it is in ashamed.  An intensifying prefix is one that doesn’t contribute a separate sense to the base, but instead intensifies the action of the base.  (More about intensifying prefixes to come.)

An unexpected sense

As I began a deeper dive, looking at words with an <a> prefix, I came across afraid, award, and astonish.  The word ‘afraid’ was derived from Anglo-French (afrayer) and further back from Old French which influenced the spelling (affrai, effrei, esfrei) and further back from esfreer “to worry, concern.”  The first part of this word is actually derived from Old French es-; Latin <ex-> prefix “out” and the second part is from Vulgar Latin *exfridare “to take out of peace.”  Please note that the asterisk in this ancestor means that the spelling is unattested.  This spelling is thought to be a likely spelling by those who study languages.  Beyond that, just think about the denotation of this word!  To be afraid is to have been taken out of peace!  Don’t you love it?

Looking at ‘award,’ this is another word that was derived from Old French.  It is from Old French (awarder) and further back from Old North French (eswarder).  Do you notice the initial <es> spelling?  To award something to someone is to give one’s opinion after careful consideration.  As with ‘afraid,’ the first part is actually from the Latin <ex-> prefix “out” and the second part is from Germanic warder “to watch.”  So the person choosing who will receive an award is the one who watches out for which person will be deemed most worthy!

That brings us to the word ‘astonish.’  This word, too, was influenced by its use in Old French.  It is from Old French estoner “to stun, daze, deafen, astound.”  If you noticed the ‘es’ in the Old French word estoner, you may be expecting that the first part of this word is from Latin <ex-> “out,”  and you’d be right!  The base is from Latin tonare “to thunder.”  If something astonishes you, it leaves you a bit stunned or dazed, as if you were shook by thunder!

So the question with afraid, award, and astonish is whether or not they have an <a> prefix.  The etymology clearly reveals that the prefix sense here is from <ex> even though we see an <a> prefix.  The story of how the <ex> prefix came to be spelled as <a> can be found in the influence of Anglo-French and Old French spellings!   So here we have evidence of words with an <a> prefix that represents Latin <ex>.

Assimilated forms of other prefixes

The prefix <an> can also be an assimilated form of the prefix <ad> “to” as it is in announce, annul, and annexation.  You’ll notice that the <ad> assimilates to <an> when the next element in the word begins with an ‘n.’   The <ad> prefix can reduce to <a> in words like ascend, ascribe, avenue, and avenge.

In the word ‘avert,’ the <a> is a reduced form of the <ab> prefix “off, away from.”

If you’re wondering, “How will I know which prefix it is or which sense it brings to the word I’m investigating?”  Fear not!  A quick check with a reliable source like Etymonline will clear up which <an> you are looking at as well as which sense it brings to the base or stem!

What about other prefixes?  Are they all like this?

Once I got thinking about <a> and <an> as a prefix, about all the different ways it can contribute sense to a word, I thought about all the other prefixes that I have been similarly surprised at.  You see, prior to SWI, my understanding was that prefixes contribute a consistent meaning to each word they are attached to.  For instance, in books that I was using to understand prefixes, suffixes, and “root words,” the prefix <re> was listed as meaning “again.”  The examples given were similar to remarry, reuse, and resupply.  Every prefix that was mentioned had a specific definition.   Examples of some of those are below.

de – down
dis – away
ex – out
in – not, without
pre – before
un –  not
con – with

I bet you’ve seen lists like this.  Taking a close look at the English spelling system by incorporating Structured Word Inquiry into my teaching and learning has made me realize so much!  For instance, the way in which a prefix steers the meaning of the base isn’t as “set in stone’ as we have been led to think.  We’ve already had a glimpse of that with our look at the <a> prefix!

Recently the International Dyslexia Association presented a live Facebook chat featuring Sue Scibetta Hegland, who spoke on the topic of incorporating morphology in spelling instruction.  The presentation was recorded and you can watch it below.  In this talk, Sue uses the prefix <dis> to address the very point I am making in this post. I encourage you to watch it.  Besides her point about prefixes, she makes many many others that are so eye-opening!  In the paragraphs following the video, I have elaborated on the point she made with <dis>.

If you think about words in which you’ve seen a <dis-> prefix, you might think of words like disapprove, disappear, and disable.  In all three of these words, the prefix brings a sense of “opposite of.”  If you disapprove of something, that is the opposite of approving.   When something disappears, it does the opposite of appearing.  When a machine is disabled, it is the opposite of when it is able to do its intended job.

In the words distract, disrupt, and dismiss, the <dis-> prefix contributes a sense of “away” to the denotation of the base.  In all three of these examples, the prefix is paired with a bound base.  Looking closer at ‘distract,’ the base <tract> is from Latin trahere “to draw.”  When someone is distracted, their attention has been drawn away from where it was.  Looking closer at ‘disrupt,’ the base <rupt> is from Latin rumpere “to break.”  When a meeting is disrupted, everyone’s attention is broken away from what it had been focused on.  Looking closer at ‘dismiss,’ the base <miss> is from Latin mittere “to send, let go.”  When you dismiss your students, you send them away!

A third sense that the <dis-> prefix might bring to a base or stem is “not.”  This is the case in the words displease, dislike, and dishonest.  When you are displeased, you are not pleased,  When you dislike something, you do not like it.  When you are dishonest, you are not being honest.

There are other senses as well.  In the word ‘distribute,’ the base is from Latin tribuere “to pay, assign, grant.”  The prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “individually.”  When you distribute materials, you are assigning those materials to each individual in the group.  In the word ‘distort,’ the base is from Latin torquere “to twist.”  The prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “completely.”  When something is distorted, it is completely twisted (whether physically or metaphorically).  In the word ‘dissension,’ the base is from Latin sentire “to feel, think.”  the prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “differently.”  When there is dissension within a group of people, they no longer are in agreement.  Some or all think differently than the leader of that group.

Intensifying prefixes

I spoke earlier about prefixes that act as intensifiers.  The example I gave was ashamed.  In ‘ashamed,’ the state of feeling shame is intensified.  There are others, of course.  Once you begin finding them for yourself, you’ll experience a new kind of fun!  Until then, here are a few I’ve discovered.

Let’s compare the words ‘reunion’ and ‘refine.’   A reunion happens when people are coming back together again to become one group with something in common.  The main sense and meaning of that word, “the act of joining one thing to another,” has been consistent since it was first attested in the early 15c.  The prefix ‘re’ adds that the act of joining one thing to another is happening again. These people have come together before and now they are coming together again.  According to Etymonline, the word ‘refine’ was first used with a reference to metals (1580) and later to manners (1590).  It has to do with reducing something to its purest form (or as close to it as one can get).  The main sense and meaning of that word is “make fine.”  In this word, the prefix <re-> does not indicate that a thing is becoming fine again.  Instead, the <re-> prefix is an intensifier.  It is intensifying the action.  Whatever it is that is being refined is being made super fine.

Another example of a prefix that can intensify the action of the base is found in the word ‘corrode.’  The sense and meaning of the word since it was first attested in the late 14c is “wear away by gradually separating small bits of it” according to Etymonline.   You might recognize the base as <rode>.  It is from Latin and has a denotation of “to gnaw.”  We see it in rodent and erode as well.  The meaning connection is pretty obvious, isn’t it?  That leaves <cor-> as the prefix.  It is an assimilated form of <com->.  We often think of <com-> or one of its assimilated forms (<col->, <con->, <cor->, or <co->) as bringing a sense of together to the base’s denotation.  But that’s not what is happening here.  Instead, the <cor-> of ‘corrode’ is intensifying the “wearing away.”

One more example of a prefix being an intensifier is found in the word ‘complete.’   The Latin bound base <pl> has a denotation of “to fill.”  If you think about how you use the word ‘complete,’ you’ll realize that the <com-> doesn’t bring a sense of “together” to this word.  The act of finishing or concluding something can be done together with others, but it can also be done alone.  The prefix <com-> in this word is intensifying the “filling of something.”  Check out the entry at Etymonline to see for yourself.

Concluding thoughts

I hope I’ve made it obvious that when we teach children that <con> means together and <re> means again, we are teaching them only one possible sense when the truth is there are many.  There’s nothing wrong with saying that <re> typically incorporates a sense of “again” to a word it is part of as long as we also say, “but let’s check to be sure.  It could be doing something else as well!”

People who are hesitant to use SWI with their struggling students often say it is because their students don’t find dictionaries friendly.  Mine didn’t either.  That is, until they had a reason to use them.  I remember the days when my dictionaries sat unused on the shelf.  If I sent a student to grab one so we could look up a word, the student often said, “Nevermind.  I’ll use a different word.”  Since the students and I started asking questions that we were genuinely interested in exploring, those same dictionaries have become dog-eared and in come cases the pages have popped out.  I couldn’t be happier!  Once there was an authentic need to use the dictionaries, the students picked up the skills necessary more quickly than when we used to make up a fake scenario so they could practice.  “Let’s check to make sure,” became the quick look it’s supposed to be.  Students like knowing whether they’re on the right track or not, and using a dictionary lets them do that for themselves.  They learn confidence by not needing to run every hunch they have by the teacher.   When you avoid using dictionaries with your students because they are uncomfortable with them, you lose a huge opportunity to show them how to use reference materials and how to find out things on their own.  In effect, you are helping them stay uncomfortable with them.

So do your students a favor.  Make, “Let’s check to be sure,” a common practice in your classroom.  Let them discover the value and worthiness of a great reference material!  Thank goodness we have dictionaries and solid etymological resources like Etymonline, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, and the Oxford English Dictionary!  That is where you and your students will be able to distinguish which sense a prefix is contributing to a word!  You don’t want your students to sort-of, kind-of understand the words they read and use in their writing.   A quick “check to be sure” will create a solid definition of a word as well as a scholarly habit.

# Mmmmm …Morphology … Time to Get Everyone on the Same Page

The more I bring up morphology with people (as it relates to teaching reading and spelling), the more I realize that it is not very well understood.  Just a day or two ago a teacher asked how to help her 5th grade students who read quite well, but had significant problems with spelling.  Man.  Her students sounded like so many of the students I have known!  So I responded with this.  (It may seem like a long response, but I wanted to be clear about what I was saying.)

“I would be interested in knowing the types of spelling errors they are making. Does it have to do with an unawareness of morphology? It is common for me to see ‘barely’ spelled as ‘barley’ until I ask what the structure of this word is.  In my first question to the student I ask if they think the word has a prefix or suffix.  The student will say <ly>.  Then I ask what the base is, and they tell me it is <bare>.  I ask them to announce the word sum for the word.  They will say <bare + ly>.  Then I ask them if the <ly> will replace a single, final, non-syllabic <e>, and they respond with, “no.”  Finally I’ll ask them to spell the word.  They say, “bare ly.” (I teach them to leave an ever so slight pause between the morphemes to show they recognize those morpheme boundaries.)

My guess is that your students are spelling phonetically which is rarely the same as correctly by the time they are in fifth grade. You mentioned having checked the usual things, but you didn’t mention word structure. It can account for misspellings that indicate a lack of understanding about suffixing conventions, unfamiliarity with free and bound bases, and unfamiliarity with prefixes, suffixes and connecting vowels.

No matter what grade you are teaching, if you are teaching children to spell words based on sounds they hear as they pronounce the word, sooner or later that strategy will fail for them. Incorporating the influence of morphology and etymology on English spelling is a huge missing piece. It helps with reading AND writing.

If you’d be willing to share some of the students’ misspellings, I’d be interested in seeing them. I have taught spelling through morphology, etymology, and phonology in fifth grade for 8 years now. Students come in spelling phonetically, and I teach them to spell with word sums. The discussions we have, and how quickly they establish a broader understanding of English spelling is something to behold.”

The woman thanked me for my response but then said something very telling as far as her understanding about morphology.  She said that she lives in a foreign country and the words in their language don’t have many Greek or Latin roots, so she doesn’t teach much morphology.  Hmmm.  It isn’t hard to imagine how this woman got the impression that teaching students about morphology means teaching Greek and Latin bases.  Many teachers who don’t have the background knowledge to truly understand English spelling rely on materials put out by people who may be focused on vocabulary building rather than focusing on a word’s structure.  So often the teaching of morphology gets reduced to teaching words that have common Greek or Latin bases as if that’s all there is to it.

Teaching students to understand and use morphology in order to understand English spelling will often involve looking at Greek or Latin bases.  That’s a fact.  But it may not!  Looking to understand a word’s structure may lead students to Old English or Old French or any of a number of languages that are left out of the books that focus solely on Greek or Latin roots.  And my biggest complaint about the materials I’ve seen that are currently available to teachers is that they don’t really address the morphemic structure of words at all!

For instance, let’s say they pick the Latin verb ducere “to lead,” and state that it might be spelled ‘duce’, ‘duc’, or ‘duct’.  That is followed by a list of words that might include introduce, deduces, seduction, education, and reducing.  The rest of the page is a fill-in-the-blank for the students, usually related to the meaning of the words.  Is this terribly false information?  Not really.  But does it teach morphology?  Not really.

Are the students asked to hypothesize a word sum for the words?  Do they recognize for themselves the prefixes and suffixes in each of these words?  Do they know the sense that each prefix used brings to the denotation of the base?  Do they know whether the suffix is inflectional or derivational?  Do they find out why the author says the spelling is sometimes ‘duce’ and sometimes ‘duc’?  And what about ‘duct’?  There’s no <t> in the Latin verb ducere, so where is that <t> coming from?  Do they find out why the ‘duc’ in ‘education’ is pronounced differently than the ‘duc’ in ‘reducing’?

Some of you reading this may know enough to recognize that some of my proposed questions could be investigated by looking at the word’s etymology and at least one question needs to involve an understanding of grapheme/phoneme correspondences.  It just goes to show you that if you want a full explanation of a word’s spelling, you need to look at the interrelationship between the morphology, the etymology, and the phonology.  The etymology and the morphology inform the phonology.  They provide the reasons for the grapheme/phoneme choices.

I found the following video on Youtube.  I was searching for information on morphology that might broaden some of the narrow views some people have of it.  Overall I like this video.  It addresses content and function words which is a very helpful classification to know.  Understanding the difference between these two groups of words has been helpful when teaching spelling and grammar!  I also like the tree diagram that explains what is included under the heading of “Morphology.”

If I could change anything though, it would be to use the word ‘bases’ instead of ‘roots’.  It makes sense to me to reserve the use of the word ‘roots’ to refer to the furthest back relative of a word.  So, if the furthest back we can trace the <duce> in ‘reduce’ is Latin ducere, that Latin ducere is what I would call the ‘root’.   For discussions of the main morpheme in a Modern English word (<duce> in ‘reduce’), I would call that main morpheme a ‘base’.  I don’t see these two as interchangeable since they describe distinct situations.

The other thing I would change about this video is to have the host spell out all morphemes instead of pronouncing them as if they are words.  I know that pronouncing morphemes is a very common practice, but just think of how the repetition of spelling out those morphemes would  help them hold a place in a student’s memory.  If the student is trained to remember a pronunciation, there is no guarantee two children with slightly different personal pronunciations of a morpheme will spell it the same!

But an even bigger reason for not pronouncing morphemes when announcing a word sum is because until the word is complete, we don’t know the pronunciation.  One of my favorite examples of this is the bound base <dict>.  If you try to pronounce it as you would a finished word, how would you do it?  Would you pronounce it as you do in ‘diction’, ‘indictment’, or ‘predictable’?  Have you noticed that the base is pronounced differently in each word I mentioned?  If we model pronouncing it as we hear it in ‘predictable’, then a student is sure to mispronounce the word ‘indictment’.  Or when hearing the pronunciation of ‘indictment’, the student probably won’t recognize that ‘indictment’ has the same base as ‘diction’, and therefore a meaning connection between them.  After all, the vast majority of students are not taught that a specific spelling represents a specific meaning.  They are taught instead that a specific spelling represents a pronunciation and that a word’s meaning is what you will find in a dictionary.  What a loss for the student!

This video points out that morphemes can be free or bound.  By definition all affixes are bound.  The name ‘prefix’ and the name ‘suffix’ give that away, don’t they?  Looking at each word’s morphemes we can understand how they both function in a word.  ‘Prefix’ is composed of the morphemes <pre-> “before” and <fix> which derives from Latin figere “fasten.”  Its literal meaning is “fasten before.”  ‘Suffix’ is composed of the morphemes <suf>, an assimilated form of <sub> “up from under” and <fix> “fasten.”  Its literal meaning is “fasten or place under.”  So a prefix is fastened before the base and the suffix is fastened after the base.  No matter how many suffixes a word has, they all follow the base.  Similarly, all prefixes are found in front of a base.

Bases are the only morpheme that can be free.  Most of us are familiar with free bases and recognize them easily.  When asked to name compound words, a student might say, “chalkboard, playground, rainbow, hallway, and starfish.”  They have been taught that compound words are the result of two words being combined and becoming a new word with a new meaning. So, for example,  a star and a fish are different than a starfish.  That is true information about a compound word, but it isn’t the whole picture.

If I was asked to name some compound words, I might name a familiar one like doghouse, but then I might also name  emancipation, automatic, ice cream, and biography.  Don’t recognize them as compounds?  It’s probably because instead of including only free bases, they include one or more bound bases.  And in just the same way that an affix must be fixed to another morpheme, so must a bound base.   The reason that you might not recognize these as compound words is because you have most likely only been taught to recognize free bases.  So when you look at one of the words I’ve mentioned, you’re not sure how to identify its structure because you haven’t been taught morphology.

Let’s take a closer look at the compound words I named.  (The etymological information that is included in this post was found at Etymonline.)

‘Emancipation’ is composed of two bases along with one prefix and two suffixes.  The prefix is <e->.  It is a clip of the prefix <ex-> “out.”  This prefix is fastened to the first bound base <man> from Latin manus “hand.”  The next morpheme is another bound base <-cip>.  It is a vowel shifted form of the Latin verb capere “take.”  That bound base is followed by the suffix <ate> which would make this a verb if there wasn’t the final suffix <ion> (noun forming).  The word sum is <e + man + cip + ate/ + ion>.  The bases and affixes provide the sense and meaning of “the act of taking out of one’s hands.”

‘Automatic’ is composed of two bound bases that are joined by a connecting vowel.  It is a connected compound.  The first base, <aut> from Greek autos “self,” is joined to the second base, <mate> from Greek matos “thinking, animated,” by the Helenic connecting vowel <o>.  The <-ic> suffix signals that this word is an adjective.  The word sum is <aut + o + mate/ + ic>.  The bases and affixes provide the sense and meaning of “self thinking or self animated.”

‘Ice Cream’ is composed of two bases that are not connected.  It is an open compound.  The first free base <ice> is from Old English is “ice, piece of ice.”  The second free base <cream> is from Middle English creyme, creme, creem “the rich and buttery part of milk.”  When we see this word, we recognize that it is a compound word.  Some interesting etymological information is that in the 1680’s the word was ‘iced cream’.  The word sum is <ice + cream>.  The bases provide the sense of a dessert in which flavored cream is partially frozen through a process.

‘Biography’ is composed of two bound bases joined by a connecting vowel.  It also contains a suffix.  It is a connected compound.  The first base is <bi> from Greek bios “life”.  It is joined to the second base <graph> from Greek graphia “record, account” by the Hellenic connecting vowel <o>.  The <-y> suffix in this word signals that it is a noun.  The word sum is <bi + o + graph + y>.  The bases and affixes provide the sense and meaning of “a record of someone’s life.”

Now that we’ve looked at a few different kinds of compound words, let’s go back and update the definition of a compound word.  Instead of stating that a compound word is the result of two words being combined, let’s say that it is the result of two or more bases being combined.  In this way, the bases don’t have to be free bases (able to stand alone as a word).  They can be free bases, bound bases, or a combination of the two!

At this point, you may be saying, “Is it really worth going into such detail about the structure of a word?”  And I would argue that it definitely is.  The true benefit of teaching students that words have structure and guiding them as they hypothesize what that structure might be is that the students will quickly realize that bases and affixes that they see in one word will appear in others as well!  Let’s take another look at one of the compound words I mentioned.

‘Emancipation’.  The word sum is <e + man + cip + ate/ + ion –> emancipation>.
Where else might we see the <e-> prefix?
erupt “break out”
erode “gnaw away”
evade “go or walk away”
——–
Where else might we see the <man> bound base?
manual “handbook”
manufacture “something made by hand”
manicure “care for hands”
manage “handle”
———
Where else might we see the <-cip> bound base?
participate “take part”
anticipate “take care of before”
principal “take first position; chief leader”
principle “take first; origin, source”
———
Where else might we see the <-ate> verbal suffix?
excavate “hollow out”
irrigate “bring water in”
decorate “embellish or beautify”
estimate “approximate judgement”
———
As we now look at the <-ion> noun-forming suffix, it is interesting to note that it is often paired with the <-ate> suffix!
excavation “action of hollowing out”
irrigation “action of bringing water in”
decoration “action of embellishing or beautifying”
estimation “action of approximately judging something”
———

Besides noting the suffix convention of replacing the single, final, non-syllabic <e> on the <-ate> suffix when adding the vowel suffix <-ion>, there is also the phonology of the <t> in the <-ate> suffix to notice.  The list of words that have <ate> final are pronounced with a final /t/.  But once the <-ion> suffix is added and the single, final, non-syllabic <e> has been replaced, the <t> now has a /ʃ/pronunciation.  I have found that students make less spelling errors when they understand the structure.  Let me explain what I mean.  So with ‘excavation’, the word sum is <ex + cave/ + ate/ + ion>.  From the first day of the school year, I tell my students that my goal for them is to spell words by spelling out the morphemes rather than spelling the words letter by letter.  They can’t imagine spelling a word any other way than letter by letter, but by the end of the year many have indeed made that change.  And they feel like their spelling is stronger for it.  This word is a good example of how that can be possible.  The student announces the word they are spelling.  Then they parse it into morphemes.  When they get as far as <ex + cave + ate>, they know that in adding the vowel suffix <-ion>, they will be replacing the single, final, non-syllabic <e>.  Then they proceed to spell out the <-ion> suffix.  At no point does the consideration of a ‘shun’ spelling cross their mind.  Through our repeated writing of word sums, the students have come to know that even when pronunciation shifts in a word family, the spelling doesn’t.  ‘Excavate’ wouldn’t become *’excavashun’ because they know the structure.  They are no longer spelling by what they hear, but by what they know of the morphemic structure.  And that structure is, of course, aided by etymological information.

You can see that in noting the morphological structure of one word (emancipation), my students have thought about the structures and meaning connections to at least 16 others!  THIS is how we build vocabulary (which aides in comprehension) and strengthen spelling (which makes writing less laborious).  When we seek connections in this way, students become aware of many more affixes which in turn helps them hypothesize logical and reasoned word sums.  This isn’t to say we never get stumped in trying to fully analyze a word’s structure.  We get stumped often.  But we don’t give up or call English crazy.  We look at our resources and based on the evidence we find, we write a word sum.  That means that at times we are limited by our resources and sometimes our ability to understand the resources.  That’s okay.   The really important thing is not to analyze further than you have evidence for.  Offer a word sum you can support with evidence.  Once you parse a word by how it looks or how it sounds, you have abandoned the methodical scientific aspect of Structured Word Inquiry.

Now spotting a particular base or affix doesn’t guarantee the student will automatically know the word it is in.  But it does mean that the student will pause and think about the word.  They will wonder if the morpheme they recognize is indeed the same morpheme that we have looked at in class.  If they have recognized a base element, they will pause and try to see if the denotation of the base element can give them a clue to the meaning of the word they have just found it in.  It might also be that the word is very familiar, but the student never before recognized that it could be further analyzed.  In this case they are often delighted to now see the structure they were previously unaware of.  For me, I remember how I felt when I realized that ‘been’ was really <be + en> and that ‘happen’ was <hap + en>.  Having a real understanding of how words are structured, where those morphemes come from, and what sense and/or meaning they bring to a word has brought me such joy!  I wonder about words all the time.  And researching their heritage to better determine the morphemes is a pursuit powered by fascination.  I never know what I will find and that is so motivating!

The benefits of teaching morphology are many.  Here are a few specific benefits that I have seen in my classroom.

~ Students are able to identify the structure of the words they use.  They don’t have to wait to know about an <-ous> suffix because of some arbitrary suffix scope and sequence.  If it is used in the words they use, and they routinely identify other suffixes, then they will already understand some things about suffixes in general and grow their understanding of word structure in general.

~ Students will recognize that frequently the words they read have more than one suffix or more than one prefix.  There is so much information revealed when the structure is understood.  Often the stress in the word shifts with the addition of a suffix (when adding that suffix adds another syllabic beat).  Specifically pointing that out to children helps them see that ‘photograph’ and ‘photography’ or ‘interrogate’ and ‘interrogative’ are related words even though they are pronounced in a way that makes them feel like two totally different words.

~ Students will learn the difference between free and bound bases.  They will recognize familiar bases when they encounter them in unfamiliar words and quite possible by able to figure out what the unfamiliar word means.  My students have given me numerous examples of this happening to them.

~ Students will come to know the suffixing conventions well because they will encounter it often as they write and announce word sums.  Not only will they understand what the suffixing convention is, but they will understand why it is needed or why it is not in a specific word.  That means that they will be able to apply that understanding on their own to the vast number of words they will encounter for the rest of their lives!

~ Students will spell a word by thinking through its structure and by spelling it out morpheme by morpheme.  They will write words sums and announce them, acknowledging any suffixing conventions that were applied.

~ Students will learn the functions of the single, final, non-syllabic <e>.   My students have typically come into fifth grade with only a “sound it out” spelling strategy which doesn’t work at all for a non-syllabic <e>.  Understanding why that <e> is there has helped many of my students who used to leave it off in words like continue, house, and breathe.

~ Students will understand that a prefix brings a sense to a word, but that the same prefix doesn’t always bring the same sense to every word it is a part of.  This is when an etymological resource is important.  An example of this is in the word ‘corrode’.  The prefix <cor-> is an assimilated form of <con-> (which is generally thought to bring a sense of “together” to words it is part of).  The base is <rode> and has a sense and meaning of “gnaw”.  (If you are recognizing that it might also be a base in the word ‘rodent’, you are right!)  In the word ‘corrode’, though, the prefix is an intensifier.  It intensifies the action of the base.  So if a battery corrodes, you can imagine it intensely gnawing at the components around it!

~ When a student is reading and comes to a word they don’t think they know, they can spell it out, looking for recognizable morphemes.  It might just be that they haven’t yet encountered that base with an attached prefix before.  This strategy works more often that you might think.

~ Students will become familiar with the idea that one grapheme can represent more than one phoneme.  The example I will use is the grapheme <t> in <act> representing the phoneme /t/.  When we add the <-ion> suffix, the grapheme <t> now represents the phoneme /ʃ/.  In word families where the pronunciation shifts, it is crucial that the student understand that it is the spelling that is consistent.  When they know the morphemes in ‘act’ and ‘action’, they won’t be tempted to use an <sh> in the spelling of ‘action’.  They will understand the difference between a word divided into syllabic parts and a word analyzed into its morphemes.  Students acquire word meaning and spelling by learning morphemes.  Syllabic division is used as an aide to pronunciation.

~ Students will learn that words have a history and that even alphabet letters have a history.  Often this history part, this etymology, helps us understand a modern spelling.  As an example, my students understood the <ph> spelling in ‘sphere’ when we learned that the word is from Greek sphaira and I was able to show them the actual Greek spelling,  σφαιρα.  The second letter in the Greek spelling is phi.  It was the Roman scribes who transcribed it as <ph> since they didn’t have the letter phi in their alphabet.

~ Students will encounter and build an understanding of connecting vowels.  These vowels can connect two bases, a base to a suffix, or a suffix to another suffix.  They are used when one or more of the bases in the word is from either Greek or Latin.  The use of <o> as a connecting vowel is specific to Greek and the use of <i>, <u>, or <e> is specific to Latin.

~ Students will learn about bases that derived from Greek and Latin, many of which we notice when studying the sciences.  They will also learn that the majority of the words we use every day are in fact from Old English.  When identifying a morpheme such as the base element, finding out its language of origin helps us see the bigger picture of how our language has evolved.  They will become aware of the influence of Old French and more.

~ Because we don’t deal in “right” or “wrong” answers and instead deal with “likely” or “less likely” based on the evidence, students are much more willing to hypothesize a word sum.  They also discover that once you investigate a word, even though you learned a lot, there is always more to learn.  Once the awareness is established, specific bases and affixes seem to appear left and right!  My students have described it this way, “With spelling, once you know the word the door is shut.  You don’t need to go back.  With orthography, you can come back to the word as many times as you want.  There will always be something else to notice.”

Morphology can’t be taught as a stand alone any more than phonology or etymology.  You have probably noticed in the list above that in identifying a word’s structure, etymological information is often necessary.  Once the etymology has been considered and the morphemes in the word sum identified (matching the understanding of the person writing the word sum),  the grapheme/phoneme correspondences are noted and oftentimes better understood because of the etymological research involved.  Deciding for a child that learning morphology, etymology AND phonology is just too much, and that they only need to focus on sounds in order to read, is denying them the opportunity to see the bigger picture of our language.  It is setting them up to view English spelling as full of exceptions that have no explanations.  And it’s not that there aren’t explanations, it’s that someone is keeping a full two-thirds of the story from the child, thinking that later on some other teacher will supply that.  The problem is that when reading and spelling difficulties arise, no matter the grade level, the advice is to start back at step one.  Many children are never offered the full picture, the complete story, the understanding they deserve.  Teaching morphology can’t be taught in isolation.  So making the commitment to teach morphology is making the commitment to teach the combination of morphology, etymology, and phonology.  It is making the commitment to show students how all the parts work together to build an understanding of a word within a language.  It is empowering the student with the ability to read a word, write that word, and to see meaning connections across words because of what they understand about morphemes.

# “Our thoughts are unseen hands shaping the people we meet. Whatever we truly think them to be, that’s what they’ll become for us.” — Richard Cowper

“Prejudice feels like a white-hot wire being pressed to your heart.
Even when the sting goes away, a mark is left there.”        (M.F.)

“Prejudice feels like you are the broom
being pushed against the floor.”        (K.M.)

“You are separated by an imaginary wall from everyone else.
You just keep losing over and over again.”          (C.L.)

Such powerful images.  Illustrating feelings of being uncomfortable and not at all in control.  It might surprise you to learn that these feelings are being described by ten-year-old White children in a predominately White school in a small, predominately White village.   How could they possibly understand what being on the receiving end of prejudice might feel like?  How does anyone begin to understand an experience that has never been their own?

I credit Jane Elliot.  She is one of many people have inspired me to try new things throughout my teaching career.  Even though I never personally met Jane Elliot, I couldn’t shake the impact she had (continues to have) on both adults and children. I first heard of her in 1998 when we were showing a video to our fifth grade students entitled ABC News: Prejudice – Answering Children’s Questions.  The video was hosted by Peter Jennings, and Jane Elliot was a guest on the show.  As part of the show, Jane Elliot conducted an experiment.  She gave green collars to all of the children who had blue eyes.  Then she proceeded to treat them as if the color of their eyes indicated that they were not as smart, not as able, not as trustworthy, and not as patient as the children with brown eyes.  It was something to watch.

After seeing how she conducted this experiment and how the students reacted, I was fascinated and wanted to learn more about her.  I found this video and watched it.  It is a documentary of the full experiment she implemented in her all White classroom in the late 1960’s.  The  very first time she conducted this experiment was the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  She knew that something had to be done so that her White students could understand what Black people were experiencing in our society.  Over the years she has continued to use this same approach to illustrate what discrimination feels like to people of all ages and in a multitude of situations.

Watching the shorter segment on the Prejudice:  Answering Children’s Questions video, we saw how angry the students became who were told to wear green collars.  Some wore expressions of confusion and hurt.  Others became belligerent, which only made things worse for them.  It was powerful because it was quite obvious those children hadn’t ever experienced such unfairness based on something they couldn’t control (eye color).  My students said they could understand what those with green collars must have been feeling based on the demeaning language and harsh condescending tones coming from Jane Elliot.  But was simply watching it enough to leave a lasting impression?  I didn’t think so.  So I asked my students if they wanted to do this same experiment in our classroom.  They didn’t hesitate.  This was something they wanted to try.

Before we actually carried out this experiment, the students had an idea of the role I would play and what might occur with them.  But still, we needed to have a heart to heart.  I warned them that we would all need to take this very seriously.  I would still be their teacher, Mrs. Steven, but there would be things I said and did that would surprise them.  And not in a good way.  I would need to play the part of a teacher who truly thought some of the students were “less special” than the others.  The fact that they were still excited to do this and thought it would be fun, told me just how necessary it was.  I hoped I could pull it off.  I told the students to go home and discuss with their families what we would be doing based on what they saw in the video.  There were about three parents who contacted me to let me know they were strongly in favor of this.

In preparation, I brainstormed several things I could do that children would think of as unfair.  That wasn’t a difficult task.  I decided that dividing them by eye color was probably the best.  I happened to have some pink felt, so as the students came in the next day, I looked into their eyes and handed the blue-eyed children a piece of felt and a safety pin.  That way it was more obvious to all which students had blue eyes, and which didn’t.

I knew my students had gym first thing, so I contacted the gym teacher the day before to ask if she would be willing to participate.  She thought it was a great idea, and thought of her own ways to discriminate.  As the students came in, she told the students wearing pink felt that they had to jump rope for a warm up and that they had better get going.  The rest of the students were given a choice of running laps or jumping rope.  It was the first of many times that morning that feelings would be hurt and things would not feel fair.

After gym, it was normal to let the students get a drink at the bubbler, and then walk back to class.  However on that day only some were allowed to get a drink at the bubbler outside the gym.  The students wearing pink felt had to use the bubbler in the first grade hallway.  When they arrived back in the classroom, they were scolded for having taken too long.

I had some desks arranged in a circle and the rest in rows toward the back of the room.  My tone was sharp and impatient with students wearing the pink felt, whereas it was smooth and friendly with the rest.  When there were questions about the work, I answered the questions asked by the brown-eyed students first and was very thorough in my response.  If that group had no questions, I answered the questions asked by the blue-eyed students, but hinted that they should have learned the information last year.  I suggested they work harder and pay better attention in class.

The students noted later that our room had never worked so quietly.  But it wasn’t a comfortable quiet.  The morning subjects were interrupted by one 15 minute recess, and the students came back grumbling about having had a rotten time.  When it was time for lunch, I joked with some and sent them off with a smile.  With others, I implied they were holding up the line and to hurry!  When they returned from lunch and recess, they were visibly upset.  Their emotions were so stoked that the littlest look or the smallest criticism was crushing.  They hated this day and this experiment.  It hadn’t been fun for anyone, including me.  But did it hit its intended target?  We would see.

I told them that the experiment was officially over and that those with the piece of pink felt could now remove it.  There were cheers signaling relief.  As I was collecting the felt pieces, I had everyone put their desks back into the normal arrangement and then get out a piece of paper.  I told them how important it was for them to write down what they were thinking and feeling while it was still fresh in their minds.  What follows is a sampling of those responses.

Today freaked me out.  It was scary.  So what if I have blue eyes.  I heard tons of comments Mrs. Steven made about us and saw the things she did.  I would almost be the saddest person on earth if this happened to me every day.  This whole day I have been writing things down on my desk about what happened.  For one, there were two milk counts.   Eli, a “bluey,” had to go get the milk for his group in a cardboard box, and Sam got to use the regular milk crate for the rest of the students.  The “blueys” even had to use the third grade bathroom which is all the way down the hall, when the fifth grade bathroom is right outside our door!

During science, she only let the “brownies” read aloud from the book.  When she handed back papers, the people with blue eyes had to get up and get their papers while people with brown eyes got to stay seated and Mrs. Steven handed their papers to them.  When we called the other students “brownies,” Mrs. Steven said, “Don’t call names!”  When we said, “But they were calling us blueys.”  She said, “Well, you are.”

I hated it soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much.  I was treated so badly.  I wanted to go home all day.  I was wishing I had brown eyes.  I felt like getting my stuff and walking home.  I felt like almost hurting someone.  I felt mad at some of my friends.  I felt alone and stupid.  I felt like if someone shot and killed me, nobody would care.  It was a horrible/awful/hateful experience.

I felt like I was very special compared to the blue eyed people.

I wanted to tell her not to treat us like that just because we’re different.  She wouldn’t let us go to the bathroom or get a drink of water.  When Mrs. Steven did that to us, I felt like nothing … like a piece of dust in the wind … or an atom, because I was so tiny.

I liked it because Mrs. Steven trusted the “brownies.”  I hated it because at lunch recess I was playing four square, and some people that were “blueys” said I couldn’t play because I had brown eyes.  That right there cut me real deep.  I don’t know if they were joking or serious.  Either way it cut.  I didn’t like how my friends separated from me.

The blue-eyed people asked for help on math, but all she said was, “You’re smart kids, aren’t you?”  It would hurt my feelings if she said that to me.  It hurt my feelings, and she didn’t say it to me.

Today Mrs. Steven was being prejudiced.  Even though I wasn’t hurt by her words, I could tell other people were.  I care about my friends, so that’s why I got mad when she was being mean to them.”

This was the worst day ever.  It was awful.  I didn’t know Mrs. Steven could be such a pain.  She acted so serious.  The only reason muddy eyed people got to go first at everything and get treated better is because Mrs. Steven doesn’t want to be second class.  She wants to be “Little Miss Perfect.”  Man,  Mrs. Steven must really love being born with muddy eyes.  I hope she is not offended, but I feel like I could punch her.

Prejudice is awful.  It’s a problem.  I liked it at first, but then it got serious.  All this fighting about something stupid.  My friends hating me.  Me hating them.  At one recess no one would play with me except the other “brownies.”  I didn’t have any fun.  When we came in, some of us were calling the other kids names.  It got so out of hand.

This experiment began at roughly 8:15 am and ended at 12:45 pm.  I stopped it when I did so that we would have the afternoon to reflect and process.  What you’ve just read is really something, isn’t it?  This half day experiment had a big impact.  Some were hurt and took the pain inward. They felt defeated and wished they weren’t born with blue eyes.  Others were angry at the unfairness.  Some of that anger was directed at other children, and some of it was directed at me.  You could sense that the anger was bubbling, and if this had continued much longer it might have turned into something physical.   Those were some of the reactions to those with blue eyes, anyway.  The reactions of the brown-eyed children were different.  Some were angry, yes.  They saw the unfairness and felt bad for the blue-eyed children, but they didn’t cross the line I had drawn.  They didn’t get as angry and didn’t reach out to those for whom they felt sorry.  In a very real sense, both groups displayed a kind of powerlessness regarding the situation.  At any rate, I’m glad the feelings were real and that they were strong enough to become embedded in their memory.

Let me clearly state that even with their “powerful” feelings, I think these children had only an inkling of an understanding about prejudice and discrimination.  How could it be more than that when they have not experienced it in the real world day after day after day?  But an inkling may be enough for them to develop an empathy for people who do experience these things.  It may be enough for these children to remember that everyone isn’t always treated equally in our society.

After the initial writing was finished and people said what they wanted to say about the experiment, I handed out big 12 x 18 inch pieces of construction paper and colored chalk.  We spaced out our desks so that each person had a bit of privacy.  It was to be a quiet time to explore feelings about prejudice and discrimination.  I told them I wasn’t looking for recognizable images, but rather for them to choose a color to begin with and to let how they were feeling be the thing that moved that piece of chalk on the paper.  They could change chalk colors as they wanted.  After I felt students had had enough time to express what they maybe hadn’t yet put into words, I had them wash their desk, their hands, and then stand in a large circle with the desks displaying their drawings in the middle.  I made it very clear that no one would be asked to defend or explain their drawing.  We were going to look at the drawings and see what we noticed.

One of the things that stood out was that several drawings were full of dark colors that were kind of scribbled reminding us of a tornado or a knotted ball of string.  Others had sharp angled lines or zigzags with marks that looked like tears falling.  There were squares within squares drawn that were dark and smudged on the inside.  These did not evoke feelings of happiness or cheeriness.  More often the words offered by the students were trapped, confused, angry, sad, hurt, helpless, and furious.  Now contrast those drawings with the few that had suns drawn on them and included lots of flowy bright colors.  Happy, fearless, content.

The drawings were a meaningful way to share what other people were feeling without those people having to say a thing.  And yet the drawings themselves speak loudly about what prejudice and discrimination do to the members of a society.  The children with brown eyes felt bad momentarily for the other children, but in the end their own life was still represented by sunshine and cheery colors.  They saw, they recognized the difference, but felt it wasn’t something they could change.  There was at least one or two who drew images that evoked conflicted feelings.  One side of the paper would have a light fluffy kind of feel, but the other would have an image that became swirled into a colorful mess.  It wasn’t dark or smudgy or angry feeling like some of the images drawn by the blue-eyed children, but there was a feeling of unrest.

Can you see how these feelings reflect some of the real life tensions we see in our world today?   Those who are on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination don’t all react to it in the same way.  Some push and question the authority of those whose actions are discriminatory.  Some are overwhelmed with feelings of anger and frustration at how unjust the system is, and they physically, sometimes violently, react to it.  Some become withdrawn, powerless, and lose self-worth.    And what about those watching the discrimination and prejudice?   Some speak up about the unfairness, but many like being first and the privilege that comes with “having brown eyes.” They tend to look at things as fine the way they are, even though they wouldn’t want to trade places with the group being discriminated against.

The last part of the day was spent writing poetry.  I asked them to try to put into words what they saw in their drawings. What follows is a sampling of those poems which were formatted and finished the next day.

Prejudice really stinks.
All the anger builds up and up.
I hate it.
It’s like a rainstorm on a party,
a bomb exploding in my head.
It’s odious.
I want to run away from it.        (J.B.)

Laughing was not allowed
Eyes made us different
From everybody else
Today.

O
ut of the way, the brownies say
U are not the best
Today.                                      (E.G.)

Prejudice is
like I’m a squirrel trapped in a cage with bears,
like I have no power,
like everyone is an eye, and I am blind,
like I’m a rabbit in a wolf family,
like I’m being blamed for something I didn’t do.           (D.P.)

Prejudice feels like getting trapped under
a dock in the middle of the sea.
It’s like the devil pulling you to the core of the earth.         (K.S.)

Prejudice is like you’re in a glass cage trying to get out.
It’s like walking up an escalator that goes down.                 (N J.)

Prejudice makes you feel like a rain drop in a pit of flames,
like there’s a dark wall, or maybe a giant not wanting to move out of your way.
Don’t people know?  It’s what’s inside that counts.                 (A.H.)

Prejudice is a storm, screaming and yelling,
laughing, not with me, but at me.                            (L.S.)

Prejudice feels like someone keeps hitting you
until you just fall down in pain.
It feels like the rage of a storm over only your head.
Prejudice feels like walking through a jungle of people
determined to make you feel hurt.                             (G.L.)

To me prejudice felt like no one cared about me.
It made me feel all alone.  It’s hard to describe with words.
I felt hatred, anger, sadness, and confusion.
I wanted to scream.                                                     (M.M.)

I have many many more poems in my collection.  Because from 1999 until 2014, I repeated this experiment with every new group of fifth grade students.  We usually did it in January while we were reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s biography.  That was when we were encountering those words, so it made sense to do it then.  Later on, in March and April, we applied this deeper understanding of what Black people have been up against in our country when we were studying the American Civil War. We stepped away from the textbook and each were responsible for several researched reports that when pieced together gave us a broad picture of how the War affected people from all walks of life at that time.  One of my preferred read-alouds during this study was Day of Tears by Julius Lester. It is a story of the largest auction of slaves in American history.  Over 400 slaves were sold in two days.  I felt as if my students were better equipped now to imagine what it would be like in someone else’s shoes.

Many times we also wrote poems to reflect on our study of the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.  Some wrote letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. instead.  In 2012, we published a book of our poems called An Unequal Freedom.  Each student (and the teacher) contributed a poem and a drawing.  The students named the book and they each submitted art for the cover that we later selected by a vote.

Here are some samples from our book.

Even though this was an uncomfortable kind of experiment, I am glad I saw Jane Elliot when I did.  I’ve been reminded of her recently.  Because of the racial unrest in our country, she has been interviewed and many of her videos have resurfaced.  If you haven’t heard of her, I suggest you read this NPR article about Jane Elliot, or search for her on Youtube and watch some of the other videos of her in action.  Over the years she has continued to use this same approach to illustrate what discrimination feels like to people of all ages and  in many situations.  Every time I watch her in action I am reminded that it is the experience that helps you “get it.”

Every once in a while I will run into a former student who will mention that this experiment is something that has left a lasting impression.  Below is a recent comment I received from just such a student.

“One lesson I will never forget was when our all White class was learning about the Civil Rights Movement, our all White class that lived in an all White community, and you divided us up by eye color to teach us about racial prejudice.  It was a lesson for a lifetime.   I remember that day so clearly, and I was in the 5th grade!”

As much as I love that comment, what I love even more is that this student was in my fifth grade classroom in 1999!  That is 21 years ago!  Talk about a classroom activity having a lasting impression!  But did it change the way those children thought about Black people?  I know it did at the time, but how many of my former students took this understanding into their adult lives?  I think it is pretty obvious that the effectiveness of this experiment isn’t the kind of thing I can measure properly.    So many experiences contribute to the shaping of who we are at any given moment.  And I have no way of knowing what other experiences those students have had that may have either strengthened or weakened what they learned that day.  But I believe it was important to do.  Many students have mentioned it over the years as we have talked and reminisced.   Much like the student I’ve quoted above, they didn’t really feel the full impact of it until they were adults navigating jobs and social situations in the real world.   And I believe that it provided a glimpse of something they wouldn’t experience and understand in any other way.

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”    Wayne Dyer

# “If we knew what it is we were doing, it would not be called research.  Would it?”

The above quote shares the sentiment given in a 1959 lecture by Dr Albert Szent-Györgyi.  I have hung it in the hallway in anticipation of our Science Fair every year.  But after a few years of replacing spelling instruction with Structured Word Inquiry, I began to realize how well it applied to what we were doing with words.  I love that scientists aren’t expected to have answers ready at every turn.  Science is methodical and takes the time it takes.  Even when research is finished and conclusions are drawn, it is understood that those findings are temporary.  They are the current understanding and are open to further questioning and research at any time.  And when someone takes the time to research, test, and publish new findings, those findings are thoughtfully considered by fellow scientists who either accept or challenge them.  In that respect, science is not static.  It is always moving towards a deeper understanding.  If you are using Structured Word Inquiry, you will recognize the parallels here.

When I think about the first part of the quote, “If we knew what we were doing,”  I recognize that SWI can feel like that sometimes, especially at first.  You want to just jump in and use it with students, but so many things nag at you.  “What if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?  What should I do first?  What needs to be taught before I begin with SWI?”  Personally, I ignored those kinds of questions when I started and asked instead, “How long before my students are asking the kinds of questions that Dan Allen’s students ask?”

(It was on the weekend before we returned from winter break in 2012 that I happened upon Dan Allen’s blog and found out about Structured Word Inquiry. What drew my attention were the questions the students were asking about words and spelling, AND the fascinating discussions that followed.  I couldn’t wait to bring it to my students and see what we could learn!  How could SWI deepen our understanding of words and help with the spelling struggles that are typically seen in a classroom? It was two days after reading and talking with Dan and Real Spelling that I began talking about words with my 5th graders.  Our human resources were Dan Allen, Real Spelling, and Pete Bowers from WordWorks.  What a team!)

One of the first words we investigated as a class was ‘prejudice.’  We first encountered it while reading a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr..  It stood out as an interesting word,  along with discrimination, segregation, emancipation, equality, separate, justice, integration, civil, and protest.  Prior to January of 2013, we would have briefly talked about these words as they were used in the reading, and perhaps the students would have matched up the word to its definition on a worksheet.  No doubt a few of my students would have probably requested that these words be added to their weekly spelling test as “challenge words.”  But now I was looking forward to something different, something worthy, something that would change our understanding of English spelling.  After we investigated this word together, I split the students into small groups so they could each investigate one of the other words and share their findings.  So what did we learn with that very first investigation?  And how did that investigation shape all the ones I’ve guided students through since then?

Investigating ‘prejudice’

Let’s start with a screen shot from one of my earliest blog posts.  It was published on January 23, 2013.

You will notice that all five hypotheses identify <pre> as a morpheme.  More specifically, the students identified it as a prefix that they were familiar with.  The first hypothesis feels like syllabic division, doesn’t it?  The last hypothesis illustrates a knowledge of letters being “dropped” in spellings, but not a knowledge of when or why.  This was a great first step.

It is necessary at this point, to remind you that when I began bringing SWI into my classroom, my own understanding of English spelling was on a par with that of my students.  These were great hypotheses, but my own preferences over which one might be most likely were based on what “felt right” rather than what I could support with evidence.  I was talking the talk, but was in the weeds as far as having a personal knowledge of the regularities of English spelling.  But then again everything we do and want to understand begins with that first step, doesn’t it?  I was more excited to see what we could all learn through SWI than I was scared to reveal my own lack of knowledge.  My excitement overpowered my fear, and that turned out to be a good thing for all of us!

In the second step of our investigation, we read the entry for ‘prejudice’ at Etymonline.  We learned that this word was first attested in the 13th century.  At that time it meant “despite, contempt.”  Earlier in the same century, this word was used in Old French with the same spelling we see today.  Prior to it being in Old French, it was in Medieval Latin and spelled prejudicium.  Earlier yet it was spelled praejudicium in Latin where it meant “prior judgment.”  This earliest spelling could be analyzed as prae “before” and judicium “judge.”  We talked about the fact that the sense and meaning of this word hadn’t changed much in all the years that it has existed.  We use it today to denote a sense of prejudging a person and usually in a negative way.  At that point we felt ready to collect some words that might be related.  We were off to use Word Searcher by Neil Ramsden.

It was at this point that we missed an opportunity to have a better understanding of what we would be looking for at Word Searcher!  We had boatloads of enthusiasm, but lacked experience in conducting word investigations.  You see there was a hyperlink to the related word ‘judge’ in the entry at Etymonline that we ignored.  There was pertinent information related to the spelling of ‘judge’ that would have made us look differently at the words we found.  But we were eager and jumped a little too quickly to the next step.

We found a list of words that we knew to be related in meaning to both ‘prejudice’ and ‘judge.’  We thought about the spelling of each word and noticed which letters were exactly the same in each word. We wrote the word sums listed below and created the accompanying matrix.  The following is another screen shot from that January, 2013 blog post.

What is it that I missed?

Had I followed that hyperlink at Etymonline to the entry for ‘judge’, I would have learned that as a noun, it was first attested in the mid 14th century.  At that time it was used to mean “public officer appointed to administer the law.”  Earlier it was from Old French juger, and further back in Latin it was spelled as iudex and meant “one who declares the law.”  I might have been confused by the spelling in Latin.  Why was an <i> the first letter in the Latin spelling?  In Spellinars I have taken since (particularly Latin for Orthographers), I learned that in Latin, <i> and <j> were considered to be the same letter.  It may sound confusing, but the people who spoke Latin understood its use well.   Here is an excerpt from the book Letter Perfect by David Sacks which gives more information on this.

“… the shapes j and i were being used interchangeably to mean either a vowel sound or a consonant sound (which in English was “j”), and similarly, shapes U and V were used interchangeably for a vowel or a consonant, “u” or “v.”  In the hands of printers of the 1500s and 1600s, shapes J and V gradually became assigned to the consonant sounds.  Later J and V would officially joint the alphabet as our final two additions, letters 25 and 26.”

There are, of course, a number of books available that will provide a more complete understanding of these two letters, along with all the rest.  As I reflect on finding out that letters, too, have stories, I am reminded of a particularly lovely moment from a year ago.  We were looking at a sentence on the board and focusing on each of the words.  We were noticing what language each word was from.  A student raised her hand and asked a question that no student has ever thought to ask before. “If words have histories, and letters have histories, where do punctuation marks come from?  Do they have histories too?”   I still smile and can picture the student asking it.  I think it stays with me because it reveals  how curious this student had become about our language.  I like to picture this student slowly opening a door and seeing more of what’s on the other side, bit by bit.  The eyes widen in wonder.  Back to Etymonline’s entry for ‘judge.’

A less hurried scholar wouldn’t have stopped with the entry for ‘judge’ either.  I should have kept reading.  The next entry as you scroll down is for <judge> as a verb.  Its attestation date as a verb is 200 years earlier than as a noun!  At that time it was spelled iugen and was used to mean “examine, appraise, make a diagnosis.”  Moving forward to c 1300, it was used to mean “to form an opinion about; to inflict penalty upon, punish; try (someone) and pronounce sentence.”  Now moving back in time prior to its attestation date, this word is from Anglo-French juger, Old French jugier.  Further back it was from Latin iudicare meaning “to judge, to examine officially; form an opinion upon; pronounce judgment.”  From there we learn it is from iudicem (nominative iudex) “a judge.”  What comes next in the entry is very interesting.   The Latin iudicem was a compound of ius “right, law” (see just (adj.)) + root of dicere “to say.”  You can see that in the spelling of iudicem, right?

And then in the next paragraph there is this, “Spelling with -dg- emerged mid-15c.”  If I look back at the spellings of this word as it moved from one language to the next, I see that in Latin the first three letters were <iud>.  In Anglo-French and Old French, the first three letters were <jug>.  Then in mid-15c. the spelling with <dg> emerged.  Hmmm.  A good place to get evidence to illustrate this is the Oxford English Dictionary.  There are citings of the word being used over time.  Below I have listed the year and how one of the ways it was spelled at that time.  What is interesting is the inconsistency in spelling prior to 1500.  Then from 1500 to 1600 we see a consistent spelling, but with <i> instead of <j>.  As we learned earlier, it was with the use of the printing press that the <i> (when representing a consonant) came to be represented with a <j>.  It is also when <j> became an official letter of our alphabet.

?c1225  iuge
c1400   jugged
c1475    iugid
1486     Iuge
1534     iudge
1547     iudge
1597     iudge

1645
judged
1680     judged
1711      judge

What this information tells me is that the <ge> can’t possibly be a suffix in the words judge, judgment, judgmental, misjudge, or in many of the other words that were included in my first matrix.  What this information makes clear to me is that ‘prejudice’ and ‘judge’ do not share a base in modern English!  The <ge> cannot be a separate morpheme from the <jud> in the word ‘judge.’  How do I know that?  Because if I think about the graphemes in this word, I will note that there are three (j.u.dg) with the single final non-syllabic <e> functioning as a marker (marking the pronunciation of the <g>).  If the <d> is part of the digraph <dg>, it cannot cross the boundaries of the morphemes to do that.  Remember that a morpheme is made up of graphemes that represent phonemes.  And letters in two different morphemes can never combine to become one grapheme.

That understanding is something I didn’t have when I made that first matrix.  And that’s okay.  I believe that a matrix is more like a snapshot of one person’s understanding at a given moment in time than it is like an answer key for anyone else.  It is so tempting to see a matrix that someone else made and grab it to use in your own classroom.  In fact earlier this summer I saw a teacher happily sharing a whole set of word matrices that she made in preparation for this fall.  Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  But is there a good chance that many teachers will happily use those without looking carefully at them ahead of time? I think there is.  If there is something on the matrix that they question, my hunch is that they will distrust their own thoughts and assume that someone else’s work must be right.  It is so important to carefully look at a matrix and to question things that maybe you wouldn’t have put on there yourself.  My first matrix is a good example of that.  If other teachers use it without questioning that <ge> suffix I listed, they will spread their own misunderstanding.  They won’t be spreading mine because I have moved on from what I understood then.  From that one matrix, I made two that reflected our new understanding.  This is a common and acceptable part of learning, isn’t it?

I’m so glad that this experience was one of my first.  I’m glad I blogged about it then, and now I’m glad to be able to reassure others new to SWI that they can expect to learn along the way.   Here are two valuable things I have kept in mind as I have continued to jump into word investigations with students in the years since.

1
Let go of the need to be right all the time in front of students.  I used this opportunity to celebrate having learned something that probably felt quite obvious to others.  It’s not my fault that I didn’t learn about graphemes, phonemes, and morphemes until that point in time.  The students can relate to that feeling.  How often have you seen that look on a student’s face – the one where you know they are feeling bad because they didn’t know something everyone else seemed to know.  I make it a habit to share how delighted, even giddy I feel when I’ve learned something that I didn’t even know I didn’t know!  Enthusiasm is catchy!  And modeling this kind of response to having a misunderstanding gives students a healthy alternative to feeling bad.  There should be joy at having learned something.  And when a misunderstanding becomes an understanding, learning has occurred!

2
Don’t rush through the etymological story in order to get to the matrix.  The teacher I mentioned previously that shared a whole set of matrices with other teachers did so thinking she was doing them a favor.  They even thought that she was doing them a favor.  But what none of them realize is that researching and gathering a list of related words in preparation for a matrix is a marvelous opportunity to walk through a word sum hypothesis yourself.  Certainly there are words that may stump you (is that a prefix or a base?), but by figuring out where to look or perhaps who to ask, you get better at the process.  And when you feel better at the process, you can exude a calm when faced with uncertainties in your classroom.  Because of your experience, you will offer suggestions of where to look for the evidence to support the current thinking in regards to a specific word.  Exactly what do those teachers using someone else’s matrix know about the story of the base on each of those matrices?  What interesting tidbit can they share with their students (or find with their students) about that base’s history?  Can any of the graphemes in the base’s spelling be explained by information found in the word’s ancestry?  How old is the base and what language did it originate in?  Of all the words that can be completed using the elements on the matrix, which is the oldest?  The newest?

There are many reasons for using a matrix with students.  A person definitely doesn’t need to know everything I’ve mentioned above in every instance.  But there ARE interesting things to know, and quite often it is those interesting parts of the word’s story that are memorable to the students.  And we want the students to remember the words, right?  A matrix can be part of an activity, but if you present filled out matrices to your students week after week, what are your students learning about determining a word’s structure for themselves?  Think of it this way.  Is using someone else’s summary of a book a great way for you to completely understand the book yourself?  Of course not.  You would be missing many of the finer points.  Make sure your use of matrices is part of a larger picture of a word.  It should include the sense and meaning of the word, its etymology (which can reveal so many things), and a look at its grapheme/phoneme correspondences.  The matrix celebrates a family of words.  The other questions of SWI reveal the details of that family.

I guess my big message here is to mix up the way you use matrices.  Sometimes you create them, and sometimes your students create them.  Sometimes they are part of a full investigation, and sometimes they are used alone because there is something specific you want to highlight.  ALWAYS carefully consider a matrix that someone else has made.  If it jives with your understanding, great.  If it doesn’t, don’t assume that questioning it is off limits.  It doesn’t matter who created it!  Be discriminating and teach your students to do the same.  This is part of achieving a more solid understanding no matter what you are examining.

I have met many wonderful people while teaching my “Bringing Structured Word Inquiry into the Classroom” online class.  At the first thought of using SWI, there is hesitancy.  There is a feeling that there is so much to learn before they could ever start using SWI with children.  It is true that there is much to learn.  But there are resources, classes, workshops, and people to help.  And there are the wise words of Aristotle.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Definitely take some classes and ask some questions.  By all means purchase a subscription to Real Spelling’s Tool Box 2!  And then begin doing, so you can learn.

# Assimilated Prefixes – learning to see what it is you are looking at

When school was abruptly closed this year, we were in the middle of many great projects.  The biggest of those focused on assimilated prefixes.  The students had spent time either individually or in small groups looking at a particular prefix and its assimilated forms.  What ended up being a good thing is that not everybody started this project at the same time.  It was one of those classroom situations that happens when certain students finish what they are working on sooner than other students and ask about something new to do.  The first few students ended up working alone.  I had them take a look at a specific assimilated prefix.

This step is important to me.  If you look at the student posters below, you will notice that the students tend to add words to their list that are not words that a fifth grade student might typically use. It is as if they open the dictionary and copy the first bunch of words they see, not even entertaining the thought that there might be words that fit the search that they already know.  Of course I encourage them to first look for words they know, but looking at words without considering what the word means is something that they’ve been doing a lot of prior to fifth grade.  It’s a habit, unfortunately.  So I counter that habit with continually asking what the words they choose mean.  Then when these posters are presented to the class, we go over the unfamiliar words again.  Having said that, I have no intention of testing them on any of these words.  I am well aware that in a week they may not remember what some of these words mean, and that’s okay.  They will remember some of them and really, the point here is to notice and become familiar with the prefix.  When they see a word in the future that begins with an “ad…” I want them to be able to consider whether that is functioning as a prefix in that word or not.  If they think it is, based on what else they recognize in the spelling, then they will know that it brings a sense of “to” to the base.  It is a valuable consideration when thinking about a  word sum hypothesis.

Besides possibly noticing this prefix on some word in their future, there is another underlying foundational concept that we are reinforcing when we talk about what the words we are collecting mean in relation to the base and in relation to the prefix.  That underlying concept is the fact that words that share bases or share affixes, also share something in their sense and meaning.  When the students really understand that, they will begin to look for that shared sense or that shared meaning.  The fact that students have not been taught that words like design and signature share a base and therefore a meaning is such a lost opportunity!  They don’t expect two words to be related or connected in meaning unless they are exactly the same, except for maybe a switch-out of suffixes.  So, for instance, a student would expect signature and signatures to be connected in meaning, but not signature and signal.

I had him look for the word “assign” since we had just talked about it.  The very last line of this entry had the information were looking for, Latin <ad-> “to, for.”  That is the evidence I want all the students to look for when they find a word and are looking to see if it has an assimilated prefix.  In this case, <ad-> is what I like to frame as “the head of this prefix family” or the default form of this prefix.

So now this same student was off to collect words with an <as-> prefix.  Each time he came back, we looked over his list and I gave him another assimilated form for <ad->.  He was quite surprised at how many there were!

The same conversation took place with other students in the other classes.  Eventually I had all students looking at  either <sub->, <con->, <ex->, <ad->, <in-> “not, without”, <in-> “in”, or <ob-> and the assimilated forms for each.  Once their initial task of collecting some words with each of the assimilated forms of a specific prefix was completed, then I talked once more with them about this idea of assimilation.  I wanted to make sure they understood how recognizing an assimilated prefix would be helpful to them.  I also wanted them to have a sense that when an assimilated prefix is used, there is often the appearance of a doubled consonant near the beginning of the word.  When they notice that, they will want to see if what they are really looking as is an assimilated prefix (one that has adjusted to match the beginning of the base).  Next they made a poster of their findings.  These were shared with the rest of the class so that students would be aware of prefix families other than the one they investigated.  After the presentations and discussions, the posters went out into the hall.  Here are a few of the posters.

When you look at these posters, you’ll notice the one main prefix with all of its assimilated forms.  You may also be wondering again what makes these assimilated.  You heard an explanation with the <ad-> prefix, but here’s a similar explanation using the <sub-> prefix.

Assimilation is what happens when the articulation of a sound is modified to better match the articulation of an adjacent sound.  Assimilation can happen in other situations as well, but for now I am focusing on prefixes and bases.  When looking at prefixes, I’m focused on the neighboring elements and what has happened over time as they were articulated.  For example, let’s look at the word “supply.”  If you look in an etymological resource such as Etymonline, you will notice that <sup-> is an assimilated form of <sub-> “up from below”.  The base is <ply> and is from Latin plere “to fill”.  The word “supply” means  “fill up.”  If I supply pencils, I fill up that need.  But why did the prefix assimilate to <sup->?  Why isn’t it <sub->?  Well, let’s just pair up <sub-> and <ply>.  Our word would be *subply.  Now say that word several times in a row.  What did you notice?  Did you start out saying *subply and ending up saying supply?  Of course you did.  That is assimilation in action!  The /b/ assimilated to a /p/ to better match the /p/ in the base <ply>.

Now because these investigations weren’t all started at the same time, they didn’t get finished at the same time.  Truth be told, I like it that way.  We present posters and discuss as they are finished.  We rarely have a stockpile of posters to present at any one time.  I don’t like to rush these presentations because I want the sharing and discussing to feel leisurely.  Thinking about what you are seeing and being told deserves time for contemplation.  For many it is the think time that allows pieces of understanding to fall into place.

The boy who was first started on this project was one of the first to finish.  He took his time and was impressed with what he found.  Look at how many assimilated forms of <ad-> he found!

After he had shared with the class, he was back at my desk.  “What should I do now?”

I replied, “Wouldn’t it be fun to make a game show and while people are participating, they are learning about assimilated prefixes?”

He glanced at me with a not-so-sure look.  I reminded him of the video some fifth graders made a few years ago called Assimilated Prefix Family Feud!  (You can find it HERE if you are curious.)  I told him (and every other student/group who began to find themselves at my desk wondering where to go from here) to give this idea some thought.  I asked them to think of games that they have played or game shows that they have watched that they could turn into a teaching opportunity.  As you might guess, a few knew exactly what they wanted to do and others spent a day or two playing with ideas in their minds.

Once they had decided, I asked them to write a script.  What a perfect opportunity to blend writing skills and orthography knowledge!  At first they didn’t really get it.  They thought they would set up a game show, I would set up the camera, and then we would see what happens.  I had to explain to them that only the audience would think that this was happening live.  The host, the participants, the studio audience, and the camera person (me) would know it was a script we were all following.  It had to be.  Otherwise, how could we be sure we would be including enough information to teach the audience about assimilated prefixes.  We had to blend the humor and entertainment with solid information and teaching about assimilated prefixes.  They were excited and couldn’t wait to get to the writing.  Here is the first game show that was ready to be videotaped.  It is the one about the <ad-> prefix.

The host is the student who wrote the script.  When he first turned it in to me for revising, I suggested he give more than one example for each of the assimilated forms he chose to include.  By doing that, he illustrated over and over what this process of assimilation with prefixes is!  As I was filming, I couldn’t stop smiling.  The atmosphere was one of my favorites.  There was laughing; there was learning.  There was camaraderie, helpfulness, and fairness.  The learning will be memorable; I have no doubt!

The next script to be ready featured the assimilated prefix <sub->.  Again this was written by a single student.  She was so excited to model her game show after The Bachelorette!  I asked her what she had in mind.  When she said that each assimilated form of the prefix <sub-> would be hoping to find its perfect match, I chuckled.   I couldn’t wait to see how she pulled this one off!

Here is her poster.

And here is The Bachelorette – The Assimilated Prefix version.

The scriptwriter is the one handing out the roses.  The students had so much fun with this one.  The outtakes were hilarious!  This is one of those topics (love) that both intrigues ten and eleven year olds and embarrasses them all at the same time.  A great combination of learning about the <sub-> prefix family and laughing!

The next show ready for the big screen was called What’s My Prefix?  This focused on the <con-> prefix and its assimilated forms.  Here is the poster this group created.

Here is their game show.  It was interesting that this group chose to list the prefix choices on the board, and then to plant some incorrect prefixes in that list.  They wanted the contestant to think about the spelling of the whole word. The host spelled out the base and then the contestants thought about what word they could form and which assimilated form of <con-> would be appropiate.  The rest of the class enjoyed being our studio audience!

When the host offers up the base <rode> with a denotation of <gnaw>, each of the contestants takes a guess.  One guesses <co->, the next guesses *<corr>, and the third one guesses <cor->.  If you were to show this to students, a great follow up discussion might include why the structure of “corrode” makes sense if we identify an <cor-> prefix.  Another follow up question might be, “Why isn’t <con-> used?”  Using this same example, a third point to bring up could be the role of this <cor-> assimilated form of <con->.  We usually think of this prefix as having a sense of “with,” but in the word “corrode,” this prefix is actually an intensifier.  It is intensifying the action of the base.  When something corrodes, it is intensely gnawing or wearing away.  The students knew of this prefix function in this word by carefully reading the entry for this word at Etymonline.

The next group ready to film had an interesting take on the game show format.  They took the family feud idea and wanted two assimilated prefix families to “duke it out”.  So two groups combined and wrote a script in which the <ob-> assimilated prefix family competed against the <sub-> assimilated prefix family.  They called it Family Fortune!  Here is the <ob-> poster showing what they had to pull from as they wrote their script.  I did not get a picture of their <sub-> poster.

What I especially loved about this game show is that they found bases that could take either an <sub-> prefix or <ob-> prefix.  At first they thought this would be an easy script to write.  But they soon realized it would be tough to find bases that would work for both prefix families.  I loved watching their persistence in looking!

As the show started, the hosts named a base. Then each prefix family decided whether or not they had a member that could indeed pair up with that base!  Cool challenge!

The first base they named was <fer>.  The assimilated prefix <suf-> stepped forward to created the word “suffer.”   At the same time the <suf-> prefix stepped forward, I wondered why the <of-> prefix from the other team didn’t also step forward.  It might have changed the feeling of the game a bit. It would also have highlighted how the sense of each prefix affected the overall sense and meaning of the base!  I hope that as you are watching these videos, that you see ways to strengthen the important information in them.  Use them as discussion starters.  Ask your students to contemplate what my students presented and then think about what else could have been said or added.

The last game show to be filmed was called Flip That Base!  It featured the <con-> assimilated prefix family.  As you watch, you will notice that the scriptwriters included ten stems and asked the contestants to bring up the prefix that matched best.  Once the prefix and base or stem were paired up, the hosts briefly explained why a specific prefix was a good match.  Here is their game show.

The two hosts of this show were the scriptwriters.  They were especially excited when I told them that I had never assigned a project like this before.  I have made a lot of classroom videos, but often I am the scriptwriter.  They loved bringing their creativity, writing skills, and orthographical knowledge to the big screen.  I loved watching them enjoy this project so much!

Even though we were far from done with this project, I am happy that at least five of the groups had their work filmed.  All students had an opportunity to see these shows.   And that means that all students got familiar with the idea that the assimilated forms of a prefix assimilated to better match the articulation of the neighboring element in the word.

Prior to fifth grade, students were taught that <con-> and <com-> were prefixes.  They were not, however, taught that they were two forms of the same prefix.  They were also not taught that <con-> had other assimilated forms. The problem with having such a limited understanding of this prefix is that the students don’t even consider that the <col-> in “collapse”  or the <cor-> in “correct” could be a prefix.  Don’t forget this:  To understand a word’s structure is key to understanding its spelling.  If students can learn about <con-> and <com->, they can learn about the rest.  This doesn’t mean memorizing a list and taking a test.  This means encountering words and having someone guide them to this understanding.  The more of it they see, the more of it they will recognize for themselves down the road.  Understanding the structure of a word will help them when reading and when writing.  It is the biggest missing piece in modern reading instruction in my opinion.  Yes, teachers will tell you that they include it.  But what happens when the word has a structure that the teacher doesn’t understand for themself?  They certainly can’t teach what they don’t know they don’t know, now can they?

Back to our big project that was halted mid-stream.

So what great game show ideas did we miss out on once school was cancelled?  Well, my camera has footage of a partial game of PREFIX (a version of BINGO).  Each column had one of the assimilated forms of <ob->.  The hosts read off words and participants marked the squares with that word.  While the participants were marking their boards, the hosts shared more information about the various pairings between the base and the prefix.  We’ll just have to imagine someone shouting out “PREFIX!”

And while I was filming other groups, two boys finished a board game they made.  The goal of the game was to collect one word with each assimilated form of <ex->.  If you followed the path, got to the end of the board, and didn’t have at least one of each, you had to keep going around the board until you had them all.  You had the opportunity to collect and lose cards along the way.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the board game.  Those two boys played it enthusiastically for three days during our video shoots of other scripts!

Here are pictures of the backdrops for two more groups that didn’t get to finish their project.  Creating the backdrop was the last step before filming.  That means their scripts were finished because there had to be a script before any props were to be made (unless there were group members available to do this).  I can only imagine how exciting these shows would have been!  Encouraging the students to unleash their creativity was just what they needed.  This project involved investigation, discussion, writing, revision, reading, memorizing, creative prop making, performance, and learning more than what was expected.  Oh, and there was a huge helping of laughter!

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

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.

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.

#### 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.

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 <rode>)
~~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.

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.

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!