Tag Archives: roots

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The Power of Generating Words

One of the most powerful methods for improving vocabulary is morphological instruction. Morphemes (more often called roots, prefixes, and suffixes) are meaning units that help students develop the word consciousness to determine the meanings of words. Even more exciting, morphological instruction can be generative, meaning that students can control their learning rather than the teacher controlling it.

Generative vocabulary instruction builds upon and expands students’ current vocabularies. It operates on the belief that students have background knowledge that we can build upon and use.  Check out an example of student-generated words from a mini-lesson I taught on the roots “pend” and “pens” last winter.

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In this example, I explicitly taught the word independent. Then, I showed students how pend or pens mean “hang” or “weigh.” Students generated words in small groups. Then we discussed how the words related to the meanings “hang” or “weigh.” Sometimes they didn’t — a situation referred to as “false roots.” However, most do. Then, I teach a few new words to students, relating the meanings of new words to “hang” or “weigh.”  Students report that this helps them improve their word-solving skills as well as their understanding of vocabulary in every subject area.

Students move from “the known to the new,” or they identify words they already know which contain the target morphemes. Once students can connect the meaning of the morphemes to their current vocabulary, they are better able to connect and remember new words that integrate the morphemes (Bear et al., 2012; Flanigan, Templeton, & Hayes, 2012; Stygles, 2011). In addition, generative vocabulary instruction emphasizes the spelling-meaning connection (Flanigan, Templeton, & Hayes, 2012). Consistent spelling of morphemes helps students make connections between words, even when they are pronounced differently. For example, the words category and categorical are pronounced differently, although the spellings of the words demonstrate that they are closely related in meaning.

I am currently integrating this approach into a language learning framework I am using in an action research study for the Governor’s Teacher Network. My new study incorporates similar mini-lessons to the pend/pens one, yet now I am having students connect morphemes to words in their native language. The participants in my study are in an ESL class, and they all share Spanish as a first language. I’m excited about how improved morphological knowledge will affect these students’ vocabulary as whole.  Below I’ve included a photo from our first mini-lesson on the prefixes com-, co-, con-, col- and cor-, which all mean “together” or “with.” Students have already generated great connections between words like concert (concerto), company (compania), and coordination (coordination).

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Do you use morphological instruction into your teaching? Have you used generative vocabulary instruction before? What types of lessons and activities have especially benefitted your students?

Word Study Uno has been a favorite for reinforcing word study for spelling or morphology (roots, prefixes, and suffixes) knowledge.  Word Study Uno is just one of many fun word study activities in the book Words Their Way by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, and Johnston.

In the traditional game of Uno, players match numbers or colors to the top card on an incrementally increasing stack.  Once a player lays down all of his or her cards, the game is over.  The first player to lie down all of his or her cards wins.  In addition, there are special cards that make players draw additional cards (Draw Twos), lose turns (Skips), and change the color of the cards to be matched (Wild Cards).

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Instead of matching by color or number as in traditional Uno, students match cards by either spelling patterns or morphological structures in Word Study Uno.   Traditional special cards like Skips, Draw Twos, and Wild Cards are integrated into the game as well.

To introduce the game, I ask students if they have ever played Uno before to determine their prior knowledge of the game. I often ask students who have played before to share their understandings of the rules with those who haven’t, offering  clarifications as needed.

The example photos I am including are from a Word Study Uno game used with students who struggled with short and long a spelling patterns.  Some of the words are different from words the students had studied in order for me to assess whether they could transfer spelling pattern knowledge.

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Long a CVCe (Please forgive this one’s “sidewaysness.” I can’t seem to get it oriented correctly!)

Long a CVVC

Other Cards

Students enjoy playing the Word Study Uno game. During this particular game, I asked the students to say the words aloud when they laid them on the table. Students were tentative about this in the beginning. I repeatedly asked them to pronounce the words, and I modeled saying the words as I laid down my cards. Students’ confidence increased, since they began to see that they would be able to pronounce the words correctly based upon the spelling patterns. For instance, bath and bathe made students a bit nervous, but as we discussed that the silent e denoted a long a sound, they tackled other unknown words successfully.

The same process can be used for roots, prefixes, and suffixes as well.  However, one potential morpheme learning activity is building words with cards. My friend and colleague, high school literacy coach Kathy Bonyun (@kathybonyun), developed a game called OPA! (Greek and Latin roots, get it?)  Students must build words from their hands (a little like Scrabble), but they must also lay down prefixes, roots, and suffixes on previously built words to create new words.  The student who is the first to lay down all of his or her cards wins (sort of like Uno).  You can easily create your own hybrid game such as this, or you can pick up a set that Kathy created from her Teachers Pay Teacher site.

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Are there card games that use to build students’ word knowledge?  What has worked for your students? What didn’t work?