Our community has learned so much over the last two years from Dan Allen's exploration of English spelling with his students that he has shared on his blog. (See the link to his blog among many others in the "Blogs" tab in the menu above.) 

However, the very beginning of this school year Dan offers us a special illustration of how teachers can introduce their students to the world of etymology with the help of Douglas Harper's brilliant Etymonline. I had to publish this post to share Dan's students' work (including a video) as I know many teachers will be able to gain from this amazing work within the first two weeks of school. 

Here is the background...

Dan's innagural orthographic post of the year (clck here) sparked this response from Old Grouch:


What a splendidly captivating read!

These young scholars have certainly hit the orthographic ground running. Their incipient capacity for perception (and percipient they are indeed) shows just how capable they are – and how well, Dan, you have captured the moment.

Let me know when you are susceptible to participating in a study of twin bases from Latin – a great opportunity to get your stem vowels shifting in Roman roots. The concept is fascinating.

As an old hand (of two years!) at this, Dan is well aware that Old Grouch's responses are typically scattered with orthgraphic pearls well worth investigating. So for his follow up, Dan put up Old Grouch's text on the screen for his students to investigate with a simple challenge:


Find all the words related to <inception> in Old Grouch's text.

I encourage you to take on Dan's challenge yourself before gaining from the remarkably rich discussions of Dan's students that you just have to see in the video on his blog post "Sneaky Old Grouch".

The discussion about what words they thing might be related is amazing. (The vocabulary learning alone is inspiring.) Once they use Etymonline to discover that the word <inception> comes from the Latin Root 'capere' for "take, seize", they are off to the races. Groups dive into Etymonline on iPads and come to all sorts of wonderful discoveries and hypotheses about words, meanings and the historical links to be found on Etymonline.

Watch the video to get help with how to use Etymonline to prove or disprove hypotheses of connections between words. 

The engagement and enthusiasm these children show for investigating etymologically related words is simply astonishing. And for those teachers interested in this work, but feel a bit daunted about getting started, consider how completely simple this lesson is to set up. The way Dan leads the discussion is wonderful, and the way he guides students with the use of Etymonline offer you expert illustrations to guide your own work.

Also, please pay very close attention to Dan's use of the words "connotation" and "denotation". I'm so delighted to see this precise language being used so expertly with children from the beginning of thier introduction to how spelling works!

One of my favourite moments in the video is when one of the students recognizes that you can type the Latin root 'capere' into Etymonline to find words that share the root! It took me years to know about that trick, and it was while visiting Ann Whiting's Grade 7 class when one of her students introduced me to that simple idea. 

(See Ann's blog in the list in the menu above too!)

I had to share my excitement about this example of an investigation with students during their first introduction to the scientific investigation of English orthography. My hope is also that teachers around the world are able to use Dan's class as a jumping off point for your own etymological investigations. 

Here are just a few ideas to consider...

1) Share Dan's first blog with your students and study Old Grouch's text with the same challenge with your class.

2) Pick your own word, identify the root on Etymonline, and then search that root to find a collection of etymologically related words. Construct your own paragraph including as many of those words as you can and have students look for the orthographic pearls you plant. Here are a few productive Latin roots you might want to try:

rumpere, placare, vacare, movere

3) Have students identify a set of etymologically related words in this way, and then have them write paragrphs for others to investigate!

Moving on to moorphology...

So far these investigations are all about finding English words that share a common root origin. They are finding words of the same "etymological family". Those who are familiar with the "structure and meaning test" will be aware that some of the words within an "etymological family" (those that share a root) can be in the same "morphological family (those that share not only a root, but also a base). So, after you have identified a list of words that share a root, you can take another step, and analyse those words with word sums to see which share a common, current, English base element (the structure test). 

For those in my workshops over the last year, you will remember the activity of identigying which words belong in the etymological family (in a circle) and which belong in the square within that circle (share a base element and a root.)

Now students could work with word sums to create matrices of words using their etymological family words as a starting bank. 

If any of you take on any of these challenges, or any of your own related to Dan's post, I hope you will share it in the comments below this post so that we can learn from you -- and Dan and his students can see how well their thinking has taken hold with the Real Spellers community!

Thanks again to Dan and his merry band of orthographic scientists for inspiring learning around the world.


Pete Bowers