Great Questions Are Especially Fun To Answer!

Well, I’m back from an intense, yet exhilarating 3 day workshop on Structured Word Inquiry. In the serene setting of Wolfe Island, Canada, Pete Bowers enthusiastically convinced the participants by use of evidence that the language we have been taught to think of as quirky, nonsensical, irregular and incomprehensible, is in fact a well ordered writing system that adheres to rules.  Now, these are not rules with exceptions (one thing many of us have been erroneously taught), but rules that do not allow exceptions.   It turns out that the English language has structure that we can count on and spellings that we can explain by means of scientific inquiry.  How refreshing!


I left the workshop with a better understanding of how to turn word inquiries into focused lessons, as well as how to more effectively use the resources available to me.  In other words, my curiosity is super charged!  I’m looking forward to the question I can’t answer straight away.  I’m looking forward to being part of the search  and to listen to students draw conclusions based on evidence gathered.  I’m looking forward to my classroom being a place where we celebrate words, their meanings, and our new understandings of their spellings.

With all of that super charged enthusiasm surrounding me, imagine my delight when checking my email upon my return and finding a message from a student.  It seems Hailee was writing a story.  While writing, she began wondering about the word <especially>.  She wondered why the <l> was doubled.  She knew that in monosyllablic words that have a single vowel in front of a final consonant, the final consonant is doubled.  But she also knew that that was not the case in <especially>.

So … in response to Hailee’s excellent question …

The first thing I did  was to think of a word sum hypothesis.  I recognize the word <special>, so I can guess that <e> is a clip of <ex> and is a prefix.  Besides, that would make sense that if something is referred to as <especially>, it is being pulled “out” as being extra special or being set aside as being extra special.

And because I recognized <special>, I suspect that <ly> might be a suffix.  So far my hypothesis is  <e> + <special> + <ly>.  But then I wondered about <special>.  Is that the base, or can I peel off another affix.

At this point I went to etymonline and looked up <especially>.  This is what I found:

There’s my proof that <ly> is a suffix.  (And that is also a big clue to the answer to Hailee’s question – but I’ll explain better at the end.)
From there I clicked on <especial>.

That gave me an idea that perhaps <special> might not be the base.  So then I clicked on <species>.

If you notice, <species> comes from the Latin word <species> and is related to <specere> meaning to look at, to see, behold. (Which also fits with what we think of when we think of something as special!  Now, if you remember that Old Grouch taught us that <ere> is a latin suffix, that means the base of <species> and <special> and <especially> is <spec>!

Back to my hypothesis about it’s word sum.  I’m going to change it to <e> + <spec> + <ial> + <ly>.

Just to make sure that <ial> is indeed a suffix, I went to Word Searcher and put in <ial$>.  Three words I found that have <ial> as a suffix are burial (<bury> + <ial>), facial (<face> + <ial>), and partial ( <part> + <ial>).  Since this post, my students and I have done further research and discovered that <ial> is NOT a suffix.  The suffix is <al>.  The <i> in some words is a connecting vowel.  In other words it was once a <y> and has been changed to an <i> before adding an <es> suffix.  In other words the <i> is part of the base.

Phrew!  Now to answer Hailee’s question about the double <l>.  As you can see, there is an <l> in the final position of the suffix <al> and an <l> in the initial position of the suffix <ly>, so the <l> has not been doubled.  NOW in a word like stopping, the base is <stop> and the suffix is <ing>, and when we add that suffix, we do indeed double the consonant<p> because of the reason Hailee brilliantly stated in her question.  When I sent a reply to Hailee, I also asked her to write word sums and then to create a matrix for the base <spec>.  Below is her matrix.


The next wonderful thing that came from all this was that I presented this matrix to my summer school orthography students and asked them to write word sums.  Then we had a great discussion about “checking the joins”.  That means that when adding suffixes, we may need to apply some suffixing rules and make some spelling adjustments.  The students became familiar with the structure of a matrix and how the suffixes are arranged in a particular order to accommodate the spelling of many words.

Thanks Hailee!  And keep the questions coming!

Teach It! Then You’ll Know If You Know It!

Our class was invited to teach the three second grade classrooms in our building about word sums!  With great enthusiasm and excitement, we accepted.   We chose the word <star> because we knew they were studying the solar system.  Next, the fifth grade students brainstormed a list of words with <star> as a base.  Once we had that list, we sorted out the compound words from the “base plus suffix” words.  Someone volunteered to create the matrix based on our brainstormed list, and we were ready to practice.

For three days, the students practiced explaining what they knew to a partner.  We talked about naming bases and suffixes.  We talked about adding vowel suffixes to <star>.  We talked about spelling out loud while writing the word sum.  We talked about the “is rewritten as” arrow.  We talked about having in mind a logical order in which to share all this. We talked about compound words.

I was fascinated by our first visit.  The second graders were eager to please.  A few of the  fifth graders weren’t as secure in their own understanding as I thought.  I heard the “is rewritten as” arrow referred to as “equal” and “combines”.  There weren’t enough second graders spelling out loud.  But there were also these lovely moments when the joy of teaching and the joy of learning lit up each pair of students.



After that first experience, my students were looking forward to visiting the second and third classrooms and doing it again, only better!  We talked more about the importance of repeating the spellings out loud and of having slight pauses between two bases (compound) or between a base and a suffix.  I also stressed the importance of teaching that the arrow be referred to as “is rewritten as”.

With experience grows confidence.  The fifth graders thoroughly enjoyed being the teachers.  I enjoyed seeing them cement the cracks in their own understanding.  One second grade boy was paired up with his fifth grade sister.  He asked if she would teach him more when they got home!  Another second grader asked why there wasn’t another matrix on the back side of the paper!  Both groups decided this was fun!


Exploring Orthography … and Loving It!

Today we pulled a word from our study of the Civil Rights Movement and took a closer look.  We chose the word prejudice.  I asked students to hypothesize what its word sum might look like.  We had some thoughtful ideas.

It seems that everyone remembered that pre is a prefix!  Earlier this year we made a list of words that included preschool, predict, pretest, prepare, pretend, and preview. With each of these words the students could explain how the meaning of the word had something to do with before (which is what pre means).  But, no one knew for a fact what the base was.  We went to Etymonline to look up the word prejudice.

prejudice (n.) Look up prejudice at
late 13c., “despite, contempt,” from Old French prejudice (13c.), from Medieval Latin prejudicium “injustice,” from Latin praejudicium “prior judgment,” from prae- “before” (see pre-) + judicium “judgment,” from judex (genitive judicis) “judge.” Meaning “injury, physical harm” is mid-14c., as is legal sense “detriment or damage caused by the violation of a legal right.” Meaning “preconceived opinion” (especially but not necessarily unfavorable) is from late 14c.

 We noticed that we were correct in regards to pre meaning before.  Looking at judicium “judgment” and judicis “judge”, we decided to go to Word Searcher to look for words.  Would the root be jud, judi, judic or even judici?  What we found there was an extensive list of words.  Most of them had jud in them.  Few had the other letter combinations we had wondered about.  We came to the conclusion that jud must by our base.  Then we wondered if ice was a suffix.  We tried to think of words we knew that had an ice suffix.  We easily thought of justice, practice, service, and, of course, prejudice!  Based on that list, we decided that ice is a suffix.  Then we were reading to think of word sums built around the base jud.  Below are some of the word sums we found.

un + jud + ge + ment + al –> unjudgemental
un + jud + ge + ed –> unjudged
un + jud + ge + able –> unjudgeable
pre + jud + ice –> prejudice
pre + jud + ice + i + al –> prejudicial
pre + jud + ice + i + ous –> prejudicious
pre + jud + ice + i + ous + ly –> prejudiciously
jud + ge –> judge
jud + ge + s –> judges
jud + ge + ed –> judged
jud + ge + ing –> judging
mis + jud + ge + ed –> misjudged
mis + jud + ge + ing –> misjudging
mis + jud + ge + s –> misjudges
jud + ge + ment + al –> judgemental
jud + ge + ment –> judgement
jud + ge + ment + s –> judgements

Then we created a matrix featuring the base jud.

The students suggested we use a notebook to keep together all these valuable investigations!  Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to organize it …. a section for matrices, word sums, and related words … a section for prefixes … a section for suffixes … a section for bound bases … a section for free bases … and a suffix checker on the inside cover.  Sounds like an awesome idea!