Quests Have Lots of Side Roads!

A few posts ago, Mayah and Martha began their investigation of the digraph <ge> and the trigraph <dge>.  In the second film down on  Developing a Scientific Mindset you can hear what they were thinking when they first began.  Well, now they have presented their findings.  As you will see, all sorts of questions sprouted up which took them in several directions.  Some of what they have done is very well supported, and some could use a bit more evidence.  The great news here is that they kept coming up with new questions.  Such a scientific mindset!  “Why is it like that?”  “Is it always like that?”

In that first film, they were asking questions about the phonemes represented by <g>.  Looking back, I wish I had talked to them about the International Phonetic Alphabet and the accurate way to put into print those phonemes.  As you will see in this new film, both girls refer to <g> as representing /g/ and /j/ instead of /g/ and /dʒ/.  Another question they had was in regards to <g> used initially in a word. They wondered why it sometimes represented /g/ and other times /dʒ/.  They had words like <gear> and <geek> on their list of “Words with <ge>”, and I wondered aloud if a vowel digraph following the initial <g> had any bearing on the pronunciation of the <g>.  I asked them to collect words with a similar pattern to see.

The collection they put together does not really have enough evidence to answer that question, but it sure brings to mind some other questions.

  • When can two consecutive vowels be considered a digraph?
  • When an <r> or <l> follows a <g>, does the <g> always represent a /g/ phoneme?

I’m delighted that Martha and Mayah noticed so much with this investigation.  Never having had the opportunity to look at words in this way, there is much to see!  Here are some of their hypotheses concerning the letter <g>.

  • The trigraph <dge> is always at the end of a word.
  • There is always a single vowel in front of <dge>.  (bridge, ledge, badge)
  • The digraph <ge> can be found in the initial, medial or final position in a word.
  • When the spelling pattern is: <g> + consonant + vowel digraph, the <g> represents /g/.  (ground, great, gloat)
  • When the <g> is followed by a double vowel, the <g> represents /g/.  (good, geek, goose)
  • In words with a <gi> combination (where <i> is a single vowel), the <g> represents /g/.  (girl, gift, gives)
  • In words in which the <gi> combination represents /dʒ/, it may be because the word is from old or middle languages.  (ginger, giraffe, giant)
  • When doubled, <g> will always represent /g/.  (nagging, bragging, legging)

As I said earlier, some of these need more evidence.  Whether or not we can count on them as hard and fast rules is not the most important thing right now.  What is important is that Mayah and Martha are learning to look at words and how they are spelled.  They will not hesitate to wonder about letters and the phonemes they represent.  And they are equipping themselves with a way to deal with their questions and wonderings. Instead of learning to spell each word in isolation, they are looking at graphemes and phonemes and noticing that our language is indeed logical.  There are some very predictable patterns occurring all over the place!


Developing a Scientific Mindset

Last week I wrote a post called, ” Lab Coats Are Optional”.  In that post I described the scientific approach we are using to explore familiar words. As I walked around the classroom today with my video camera, I was thrilled to hear the kinds of conversations students were having about words, letters, and phonemes.

In groups of two, students have been asked to collect words and then to make some observations.  Some groups are comparing words with a <ch> digraph to words with a <tch> trigraph.  Other groups are comparing words with a <ge>sequence to words with a <dge> trigraph.  Still other groups are comparing words with a <k> grapheme to words with a <ck> digraph.

In this first video, Daphne and Emma share what they have noticed about words with the <ch> digraph and words with a <tch> trigraph.

They found that when the <ch> digraph was final in a word, there was either an <r> or an <n> immediately in front of it, or else there was a vowel digraph immediately in front of the <ch>.  The use of the words “usually always” confused me and I kept asking the girls to determine whether what they were noticing happened usually or always.  They did find one word in which there was a single short vowel immediately in front of the <ch> digraph.  That word was <attach>.  All of the rest of the words they looked at (<coach>, <reach>, and <screech>) had a vowel digraph in that spot.

At that point I suggested we look at Etymonline to see if <attach> is an English word.  Often times the rules that apply to English words do not apply to words that are not English.  We found that it has French origins!

In the next video, Kacey has made some quick discoveries about words with <k> as compared to words with <ck>.  Then Martha and Mayah begin a look at words with <ge> and words with <dge>, but have interesting questions about the phonology of <g>.  I enjoyed seeing their curiosities become unleashed in this way!

At this point I am encouraging the students to make lists of words that support any hypotheses they are making.  I would also like groups working on the same digraph/trigraph combinations to get together and compare their findings.  Perhaps they can combine their word lists so that they can have an even bigger sampling of evidence to support their observations and hypotheses.

It is obvious to me that these students have not been invited to really look at words and spelling in this manner before.  Some of the students are struggling to put their thoughts onto paper in order to explain what they see .  Some lose interest quickly because there is no quick answer.  But once they realize I am not looking for “that one right answer”, they relax and begin to let themselves really wonder about the words in front of them.  And finding the right words to explain their thinking will only improve with practice.  “It usually always does”, she said with a wink.

Introducing the Mighty Yet Neighborly ‘igh’ Trigraph!

A couple weeks back we were talking about trigraphs.  I wrote <igh> and <ugh> on the board and we brainstormed words that had those trigraphs in them.  Then we further sorted the words with <igh> into two columns.  One column contained words with a consonant in front of the <igh>.  The second column contained words with either an <a> or an <e> in front of the <igh>.  As we read through the words in the first column (with the consonant in front of the <igh>), the students noticed that the <igh> represented long /i/.  This list contained words like right, frighten, mighty, and sigh.  As we read through the words in the second column (with either an <a> or an <e> in front of the <igh>), the students noticed that the vowel plus the <igh> represented long /a/.  This list contained words like eight, neighbor, straight, and freight.

When sorting the words with an <ugh> trigraph, we made one column in which the <ugh> represented /f/.  This list contained words like laugh, cough, rough, and tough.  The second column had words in which the <ugh> represented no sound at all!  This list contained words like though, through, caught, and bought.


Next the students practiced spelling out the words and pronouncing them.  The practice helped everyone single out the trigraphs as they spelled.  For example, the word <night> was spelled out as <n> <igh> <t>.  the word <knight> was spelled out as <kn> <igh> <t>.

When we finished with this activity, someone mentioned that they wished they had known this stuff sooner.  I asked, “Are these words you often had trouble with on spelling tests or in written work?”  There was a resounding, “YES!”  It was at this point that I threw out the suggestion that we offer to present this to some younger students.  My fifth graders were very enthusiastic to do this.  So I emailed the second grade teachers and asked if they would be interested.  They were particularly interested in the <igh> trigraph, so we prepared a lesson and presented it today!

I think the fifth graders were a bit surprised that the second graders enjoyed this so much and caught on so quickly.  We left our materials with the second grade students so they could review, practice, and collect more words after we left.

The teachers invited us back to do a lesson on writing out word sums.  One of the fifth graders thought we should prepare a lesson on the <-ion> suffix as well.   I’m thinking that the third graders might be ready for a lesson on the <ugh> trigraph.  Oh! The places we’ll go!

‘UGH’ Can You Hear Me Now?

Over the break I was reading some student writing, and I came upon the word ‘tho’.   It seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about the <ugh> trigraph .  We began by looking at the word <laugh> and identifying the phonemes in this word.  When we looked closely at the letter/phoneme correspondences, the students realized that in the word <laugh>, the  <ugh> trigraph represents /f/.  Then we looked at the word <though>.  When we examined it in the same way, the students realized that in the word <though>, the <ugh> trigraph doesn’t represent a sound at all!

Then I asked the class to make two columns on their paper.  In one column they were to list as many words as they could in which the <ugh> trigraph represented /f/.  In the second column they were to list as many words as they could in which the <ugh> trigraph did not represent a sound at all.  After a bit of independent work time, I asked students to come to the board and write the words they were finding.

This was such a fun activity!  The words on the list in which the <ugh> trigraph did not represent a sound were a source for fascinating discussions. At first we didn’t recognize the word <snowplough>.  Jacob went to the Collins-Gage Dictionary and found that it was an alternate spelling to <snowplow> which we are much more familiar with.  The same thing happened when students found the word <hiccough>.  This time they recognized that an alternate (more familiar spelling) would be <hiccup>.    Many students did not recognize the word <bough> until I read it aloud.  When I talked about decorating with boughs of holly, then the room was filled with, “Ohhh.  Yes.  I know that word.”  The same thing happened with the word <furlough>.   We ended today’s orthography time by reading aloud our lists of words.  Tomorrow we’ll talk more about why the <ugh> trigraph is  in some of the words when it represents no sound.