I regularly work with teachers and students trying to help them learn the steps that can be applied to determine the nature of the orthographic relationship between any two words. The key to this process is to understand how to put words through two reliable and verifiable tests:

  • The Structure Test: Construct coherent word sums to see if the two words share a common written base.
  • The Meaning Test: Use etymological references to see if the two words share a common root origin

Recently I was working with my brother's ESL group and his Grade 11 English class. I've been working with the ESL group for a while, and just once before with the Grade 11 English group. I decided that my goal was to do a lesson that would help these students and my brother gain confidence in learning how to analyze any word they encountered. I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with bound bases and that they could use word sums and etymological references to draw conclusions to questions I know they will encounter when I'm not there.

If they encounter two words that have some similarity in spelling that makes them hypothesize a possible morphological connection, I wanted to make sure that they had guidance of the kinds of questions to ask, and the resources to use to come to their own conclusions.

I ended up creating this two page document that starts by providing a model of an investigation of the question of whether the words repercussion and concussion are related and if so, how.

Making a Word Matrix

I also wanted to use this session to help users know how to use the Word Searcher and the Mini-Matrix-Maker to construct a larger family of orthographically, morphologically related words when they identify two words that are in fact related. 

I was quite pleased with how both groups with very different backgrounds were able to get through the process including constructing their own matrices.

Download the pdf here to see if you can use it in your work, and please let me know if you can think of any ways to improve it. If you and your team of scholars make insteresting discoveries, please share them in the responces to this post. 

Post Script

The highlight of the day for me was what I was taught by one of the ESL students. She has been given the job of doing some morphological analysis of words for a reading frm the class and she had some questions for me before he presentation next week. One of the word sums she was not sure about was one for the word continue. She provided this analysis:

con + tinue --> continue

I was not convinced about a base <tinue>, but we decided to follow the advice from the lesson. In the process we found interesting etymological information, and I was introduced to a new word for me <retinue>. I'll let you do your own investigation if you are curious, but the only person more excited about my introduction to our discoveries than me, was the student whose question taught "the expert" something new. "This is so exciting!" she exclaimed as our reserach in Etymonline began to narrow towards our decision!

I understand there will be more coming from this student to share before too long...

Addendum Nov. 13, 2014

I had no idea how often I would point people to this post on the structure and meaning test when I first posted it here a long time ago. Since this post, I have worked over and over in many ways to represent this same process of scientific inquiry of the structure and meaning of related words. 

This past fall I got to teach a lesson in Dan Allen's Grade 5 class in Zurich. For that truly special opportunity, I decided to have a go at working with an activity I've been using in workshops with teachers (based on activities by Lyn Anderson) to help clarify the difference between morphologial and etymological families. Since Dan posted that video (and others from that same school visit) I wanted to come back to this post and include it here. I think this video may help readers make better sense of the above post. 

Added Addendum Oct 31, 2022!

Unfortunately, the video I orginally posted of me teaching with kids was lost when the school changed their YouTube account. The video below is not with kids, but goes through the same concepts.