Pronoun Performances!

Audio Recording of Pronoun Performances

“Words are just words aren’t they?” was the question one young person asked during a recent lesson about Parts of Speech.

Words can appear to be basic commodities when in fact they are much more than basic — they, along with punctuation, give our writing definition, character, style and most importantly, sense and meaning. If we use them properly, then what we write will convey a message, story, directions, feelings, and much more.

How do words become more valuable to students? By helping them form a deeper understanding of them and their grammatical functions. So, we study words and we study the structure of sentences. Continue reading

Fun with Fish In A Tree

Quick pics of our fun and festivities as we celebrate the culmination of reading the wonderful novel, Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

The tables are set, we are ready to dine!

Fish ‘n Chips, ocean blue juice with fish


A personal precept to remind ourselves that we are brave and can handle challenges.

Swim fishy, swim! Creating her very own Fish in a Tree!

What a cake!! Yummy!!


Tell us about your favorite part of the story:

  • “My favorite part was that Ally made new friends.”
  • “When she learned to read!”
  • “My favorite was when her brother got his car and they called it Pickle!”
  • “I like that she realized that she could change her attitude and it changed everything.”
  • “I liked it when she won over the mean kids and got them to like her and leave Shay.”
  • “My favorite was when she got a new teacher, Mr. Daniels.”
  • “I liked when she felt good about herself.”
  • “I liked when she didn’t feel like everything was impossible anymore.”
  • “I liked her Sketchbook of Impossible Things, she draws good!”
  • “My favorite part is when Keisha is always brave.”

Are We Cemented in Common Practices?

Image credit: Eghtesad Online

“Common cement,” uttered by a young 7th grade student took my breath away.

We were analyzing words, phrases and sentences from a novel he was reading that had been giving him difficulty in understanding details in the story.

He had been reading a story about a young couple from his hometown set back in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. He understood most of the plot and setting well enough but some of the details were fuzzy or downright confusing.  As he read about this young couple who were going to a “Commencement Dance” he became confused. He thought they were headed to an event of some kind but didn’t know the meaning of the word “commencement”. Once he landed on this word, which he attempted to sound out using syllabication skills taught in previous years, he read it as,  [ˈkɑmən sə ˌmɛnt]. He read this in a hurried kinda-way since he was not confident with his pronunciation of the word and he had no idea what common cement and a dance could mean.  I was surprised he’d read this word as a phrase but after a moment or so I could see how it was possible for him to come to this conclusion. How devastating for his comprehension of the detail the image in this part of the story is supposed to evoke.  

Continue reading

Curious About Curiosity?

I am.

I care how this word evolved over time so I can learn about it’s orthography (spelling).

I care about my own wonderings about other words these two could possibly be related to so I will study the etymology of these words.

I care to try to understand the suffixes in this word, there’s WAY more to it than just trying to remember that ‘curious’ has a <u> and ‘curiosity’ does not.

Most of all, I care to bring understanding of this language that we speak so easily, to my students who struggle to either read, spell, comprehend or any combination of those.

This makes me curious. Curious to learn more and more about how the English language is structured. Is it possible to bring sense or order to spelling?

One thing I remember hearing often as a child was the phrase, “curiosity killed the cat,” which in some small but profound way, ebbed at my innate curiosity each time I asked a question and was met with the phrase by an adult.

Eventually, I began to stop wondering, stop questioning, stop thinking when words, individual or in groups, didn’t make sense. I saw my students doing the same thing.

Fortune rained down one afternoon during one of my many, fervid internet searches for a better way to teach phonics. I found the same components of what I’d been doing, repackaged in oodles of programs, but I also stumbled upon something different.

Something led by wondering, questioning and thinking. Something built on scientific principles of inquiry, hypothesizing, testing theories, research and the building of actual evidence within the language itself! 

I had clicked on a presentation given by Dr. Pete Bowers of Word Works Kingston on Structured Word Inquiry (also known as Scientific Word Investigation).  Boy, was my curiosity piqued!! He was talking about spelling in a way that made sense!  In a way that connected words to other words!  He was not looking for patterns or chunks or sounding words out.  He wasn’t doing any of the strategies that every other program was touting.  He wasn’t even teaching or selling a program, he was simply uncovering the sense and order of the real and true structures of our language and he’d been doing it with elementary students.

My curiosity got the best of me for the next few years.  I’ve reopened wondering, questioning and thinking about spelling, reading, ….well, all of literacy actually.  There is an oasis beyond phonics, beyond whole language, beyond balanced literacy and beyond memorizing spelling lists. And it isn’t just studying morphology. It is the interrelationship (dependency on each component) of morphology, etymology and phonology that drive the structures of this language.  Each of these ‘ologies can influence the how and why of orthography.


Here’s an example of a small word study we are doing for the kick-off of the Positivity Project at our school.  The first character trait we will study is ‘curiosity’.

Historically, the words ‘curious’ & ‘curiosity’ link back to the Modern Day English (MDE) word ‘cure’ and even further back, to the Latin etymon ‘cura‘ which has an orthographic denotation of (sense of meaning of)care”.

When one is curious or his/her curiosity is piqued, one cares so much, he/she wants to know more.

Analytic Word sums (separate [verb] the orthographic morphemes):

  • curious —>   cure/ + i + ous                                            
  • curiosity —> cure/ + i + ose/ + i + ty

[the / bracket indicates that the vowel suffix replaced the preceding single, final, non-syllabic <e>, which is one of the 3 spelling conventions]  

Many people look at morphology, but if you also study the etymology (true sense & history), you can find more words in this family — this is where meaningful connections are really made!!

Synthetic word sums:                                                          Spelling convention applied:                   (bring together morphemes)

ac + cure/ + ate —>                            accurate                      (replace <e>)

ac + cure/ + ace/ + y —>                    accuracy                     (replace <e> 2x’s)

in + ac + cure/ + ace/ + y —>           inaccuracy                     (replace <e> 2 x’s)

in + ac + cure/ + ace/ + y/i + es —> inaccuracies                  (replace <e> 2x’s; toggle <y> to <i>)

se + cure ->                                         secure                       (No spelling conventions applied)

se + cure/ + i + ty —>                          security                     (replace <e>)

mane/ + i + cure —>                       manicure                      (replace <e>)

pede/ + i + cure —>                         pedicure                      (replace <e>)

All words in this family carry the sense of ‘care’ in them.

  • accurate:      done with care 
  • inaccurate:   not done with care
  • secure:         free from care of dread or danger
  • manicure:     caring for one’s hands;
  • pedicure:      caring for one’s feet

There are many more and plenty of evidence for that Replace the <e> spelling convention too:

         cure/ + able →           curable

 in + cure/ + able →            incurable

         cure/ + ate/ + or →     curator

pro + cure →                       procure


But it isn’t necessary to represent every word in a word family…besides, it leaves you curious for more, doesn’t it?!

Studying the etymology of a word is far more valuable than many people recognize or understand.       It uncovers meaningful connections. 

It is in these connections and in these denotations that depth of meaning finds a new layer to anchor to, causing comprehension to increase.

  Another way to represent word families is in a Lexical Word Matrix:

If your curiosity is piqued, you can learn more from the many resources listed on the Resources and Blogs tabs of this website.  I highly suggest watching the embedded video above and taking a look at the research links on Word Works Kingston’s website.  A colleague recently posted a stellar article on her website, Learning About Spelling that you may also want to read. Two more superb articles that explain SWI well are linked here (Mrs. Steven’s Classroom Blog) and here (Ann Whiting of Word Nerdy).  Word Works has a host of research articles linked here. Of course, you’re always welcome to post your wonderings, questions and musings below as well.

Enjoy curiosity, it’s a characteristic that has created inventions, life-saving devices, solved world problems and so much more….I bet the guys at Positivity Project are full of curiosity!  


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Please Don’t Make Pleas!

Spellbound by the connections I see in word families, morphemes and etymons, I dreamily mutter, “What’s more pleasing than finding out that English spelling really does make sense?!?”

“Are you joking? No it doesn’t!” some plea. Others quip, “English has too many words in which the spelling does not make sense!”

“Give me an example of this nonsense,” I plead.

A distraught person nearly shouts, “My students never spell ‘please‘ right, they leave off the final <e> (*pleas). I can see why they do this; the digraph <ea> says the sound for ‘eee’ already. That extra <e> on the end is not even necessary!”

Another adds, “Well, I can never remember to put the <a> in the middle (*plese) because the <e> on the end already makes the first vowel say its name.”

“Oh! this simply will not do,” I plead, “We must open our eyes and our minds to the structures of words!”

The room begins to buzz with even more tension and grumblings of ways people misspell this word!  I gather my voice, talk above the rest and scratch out the word ‘please’ on the whiteboard in front of me.  “Please, let’s investigate, let’s see if there is more to be discovered other than letters and sounds.”  The buzz in the room begins to settle and we begin our journey with one simple word.

Click the video link to view the Power Point presentation:


This version of the video includes an explanation of the lesson:




There’s Strength in Learning about Lovely Valentines

These past few days my groups have been learning about the structures of words that we use often in the middle of February….. love and Valentine. We learned the origins of each of these words.  <love> comes from Old English and is a free base (can be a word on its own without any affixes).  We learned that <valentine> comes from Latin and has a bound base of <vale> (a bound base is an element that must have an affix attached to surface as a word in English).  Bound bases are very useful and can be hidden in many other words but only those that share the etymon (the denotation of the root word) are related.

We finished analyzing words to see which elements each was made from, looking for connections of meaning and structure along the way. Some of the words we analyzed:

loving –>     love + ing    (spelling convention: replace single, silent, final <e>)

loved –>      love + ed

lovely–>       love + ly

loveliness–> love + ly + ness   (spelling convention change y to i)

lovebugs –>  love + bug + s  (compound word: no spelling convention)

lovable –>     love + able  (hmm…2 acceptable ways to spell this one!)

unloved –>  un + love + ed    (prefix: no spelling convention; suffix — yes)

beloved –>  be + love + ed    (hint — we’ll talk about this one later)

Along with these wonderfully, lovely word sums, we also discussed the parts of speech each of these words can be — may depend on how it is used in context — grammar, grammar, everywhere!

He loves pizza. (verb)

Oh, pizza and steak, my two favorite loves! (noun)

The girl has a beloved dog. (adj.)

That dog is her beloved. (noun)

We also learned that some words have more than one way to pronounce them, like ‘beloved’ which can be /bəlʌvd/ or /bəlʌvɪd/ — the suffix <-ed> has an allophone — more than one way to pronounce this grapheme. We analyzed and organized our list of affixes into a matrix.  We made a rough draft before making a final copy to display in the hallway.

One of the last things this lovely group of 3rd graders did, was to learn about other words that may or may not have a direct relationship with <love>. We did not find any relatives that share the same etymon even with a different spelling so we did not have any words to place in the oval (words that share etymon AND structure, spelling of the base, go in the matrix; words that share an etymon but not the same spelling of the base go in the oval).

We did have a few words that are often synonymous with ‘love’ or used to show our love for our friends such as:  caring, kind, and friend.  We placed those words outside of the oval on our white papers.

We found a word that shares the same letters and sounds as our word, it was <glove>.  But, we quickly determined that their was no meaningful relationship to <love>.  In this 30 second video, you’ll see the kids practicing this learning… takes a lot of thinking to see letters with our eyes and hear phonemes with our ears and STILL understand that they are in no way related.  There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, you know, so there are bound to be repeated letters and sounds but without a meaningful connection, those are just random things to remember.  We have proven, through the progress and confidence the students are gaining with studying the structures and meanings of words, that the letters and sounds just are not as important to our learning as the meaning and structure connections.

The fifth grade group tackled the bound base element <vale> which denotes strength, worth, power, health” and is part of the word ‘valentine’ –we were surprised to learn it did not mean love but we can see how its denotations are meaningful.  When we give a valentine to our friends or loved ones, we are showing them the strength of our affection or friendship with them.

Some of the words we were surprised to find connected with this base element whose origin is the same Latin etymon of valere, are ‘convalescent’ and ‘convalesce’.

con + vale/ + esce/ + ent –>  convalescent

con + vale/ + esce –>  convalesce

What most of us thought of as ‘an old folks home’ is actually a place to live while one regains strength and health.  Clearly, this is a related word and provides a much deeper connection to both valentine and these two words.    We also learned that the pronunciation shifts on the suffix <-esce> from a short /e/ to a long /e/ (IPA  /ɛ/ to  /i:/).

Studying bound bases of Latin origin often generates much longer lists of related words, both inside the matrix as well as inside the oval, so this group needs a bit more time to complete their work.  They are working in pairs or trios and have had many days with one or both partners is absent (we may need to study viruses next!), however, one group was lucky enough to have less interruptions and has displayed their work.

Our first graders were in on the action too —                                                                 creating a valuable [vale/ + u + able –> ] resource for their learning as well!

We hope you have a lovely Valentine‘s Day with your loved ones and we hope your love is [equ + i + vale + ent –>]  equivalent to that of an ocean!

An Inaugural Investigation

Today is an historic day in America, we just inaugurated President Donald J. Trump.  Giving my students a deeper understanding of this ceremony led to some interesting investigations.


Inauguration_Slideshow (this link takes you to a pdf of the slideshow of this investigation)

Clicking on the link above will take you to a PDF of the slideshow I created with my students to help them understand the etymology (historical origin) and the structure of this word along with the many others it is related to — “you buy one base and you get plenty more for free!” (said by a SWI friend–wish I could remember who said it, it’s a great motto). 

Historically, an augur is someone who prophesies good things to come.  It was said that an augur based his predictions on the behavior of birds which may have led to an increase in crops at that time. An augur was someone who paid attention to nature, who noticed when the behavior patterns of these aviaries changed and one who noticed what occurred around him.  He may have been very intuitive to pick up on the tiny clues and was able to predict when it was a good time to plant or harvest crops based on the behavior he noted in the birds.

We talked about how we use this in modern times……even without the aide of television, radio and internet weather channels, we can still notice the behavior of the birds and make predictions today. When I see 20-30 birds anxiously vying for position at the feeder on my deck on a sunny, winter day, my first instinct is to think they are hungry and need us to put more seed in the feeder.  Upon closer inspection, the feeder is full.  I wonder, “What’s up with these birds who act like it’s their last meal?!?”  An hour or two later, I notice that it isn’t as sunny anymore, big, fluffy clouds are moving in and the air feels a bit damp and chilled. I begin to wonder if we are going to get a snow storm; in that moment, I am a bit of an augur predicting the coming storm.  I check the weather report and sure enough, 2-4 inches of snow are due by early evening.  Our little feathered friends were fattening themselves up for the rest of the day so they could huddle in their nests during the storm.

Historically, I’m certain some people were better at noticing things in nature and predicting when it may be a good time to plant crops or increase the harvest before an early winter set in.  People with that sense and skill were regarded highly because of their ability to make nature-inspired good predictions that may bring good things to a village.  Ceremonies, inaugurations were held for all to come and listen to these prophesies based on good omens the augur noticed.

So, how is the modern-day use of this term relevant to its historical use?  The bound base <augur> retains its denotation of “predict, foretell, seer” with the idea of bringing an “increase” or goodness of some sort (denotation of <aug>).  When a new president is sworn into office, he takes an oath, he makes a promise of goodness and truth to the American people during an inaugural ceremony.

We also use the word, augur in examples such as these:  Based on the team’s winning streak, he augurs winning the title.  or  Banks are auguring it is a good time to invest in the stock market. However, we also discovered what it is NOT—see the slide show for that little nugget!

We can synthesize (build) words using the bound base such as:

 augur + ed –>  augured

in + augur + ate –>  inaugurate

in + augur + ate/ + ion –>  inauguration

in + augur + ate/ + ion + s –>  inaugurations

How is <aug> a bit different? It was difficult to determine if these shared a historical root based on the etymology which used words such as perhaps, presumably originally, probably, when describing the history.  I can find 2 Latin roots associated with these 2 bound bases:   augurare (denotation “to act as an augur, predict) and augere (denotation “increase”).  Latin had Latin suffixes that were removed when these came into English (-are, -ere) which leave us with bound bases of <aug> and <augur>.

A bound base is a base that requires an affix (1 or more) to surface in a word; <aug> is in words such as augment, augmentation, and August (I’ll let you discover the story behind that one–click here)!  An augmentation device is one that increases ones ability to do something. We can synthesize words with this bound base such as:

aug + ment –>  augment

aug + ment + ing –>  augmenting

The Latin root augere, is even related to words such as auxiliary (increased support); auction (a sale of increased bids) and author (go look this one up, here)!!  Such intriguing quests….the best quests are those that you go on seeking answers and end up with more questions!  

View the slide show to see both lexical word matrices, word sums, and more about the historic event that happened this afternoon in our nation’s capitol.


History in the Making

Today was an historical day in the world of working together as a group and as learners who are generally challenged by the English language.  Today, the students broke out of the shell that has encapsulated them most of their lives through searching for meaning and structure of a word and by helping each other reason out a word sum with NO teacher prompting, guided questioning or leading.  This moment was so rich and so profound, I had to take a breath in to hold back a tear or two from escaping my gleeful, smiling eyes.

We started the lesson by looking at a Social Studies chapter from their General Education classroom — quite happily, I am able to support their reading, spelling, & writing by doing SWI (Structured Word Inquiry) with concepts and vocabulary from their GE curriculum.  I asked what they needed to understand deeper/better about the chapter on Native Americans. They said they were not able to tell what the words in red ink meant (vocabulary words).  We made a list:  origin stories, migration route, environments, & adapt.  

We looked at the first term in parts:  first we tackled <stories>.  I wrote this word on the board and asked the students to analyze it as we did last school year (without guidance which would help me determine how much review would be required and plan future lessons).  When the group grew quiet with uncertainty, I encouraged them to hypothesize the structure of this word — reminding them that a hypothesis allows us to think and not worry about correctness — we would test out each theory, we would find evidence to determine which hypothesis is right or wrong and we always learn from both of those experiences.

Within a few seconds, downcast eyes began to lift to the board and I could see their minds shift gears.  A few still met with trepidation while still a few others raised their hands to give it a try.

Here’s what was suggested from <stories>:

  • Student #1 said:             <stor>  + <ies>
  • Student #2 said:             <store>  + <s>
  • Student #3 said:             <story/(i)>  + <es>      “s-t-o-r-y, change y to i; plus es”

It is here that the real learning began when St #2 declared,  “OH!! I see what I forgot! My word sum needs to be <store + …….i? no….I forgot the <i> but….hmmm” and he trailed off, clearly recognizing that he knew he was forgetting something but couldn’t make it fit his word sum.    Then St #3 said, “I think mine’s right ‘cuz I remember, ‘change y to i when you add <es>'”.  Student #2 defended his use of <store> and St #1 quickly reminded him that <store> is pronounced /stor/ not /story/. Another student chimed in to say that <store> is a place you buy things from and the collective agreement from the group was audible, “Oh yeah!” which came loudest from St #2.

From here, much discussion ensued among the majority of kids who were present. The quietest kids were the 2 who are new to our group this year.  There was a wonderful debate, very mature, no demanding tones or indignation; simply discussion of meaning and suffixes and spelling conventions.  All the while, I stood there, biting my lip to stop myself from interjecting to provide clarity, guide or lead.  The students did not need me to interrupt their remembering of past lessons or the processing of the 2 words before them.  While they discussed and debated, the one thing that rang clear for me as I simply watched and took this moment in, was that they were all around the evidence but no one was confident in declaring why their word sum worked or did not work, even St #3 who appeared to understand the relationship between <stories> and <story> and who’d rattled off the spelling convention with ease or the others who agreed with this convention.  Some of the students were not convinced that <store> and <story> were not the same (a few forget that <e> is silent at the end).

After I shared my absolute joy with the group at their stellar debate, I drew a picture on the board –the rectangle barely surfaced before someone blurted out that I was drawing a store and our word is stories, they do not mean the same thing! And yet, still the connection was not quite solidified in their minds (quizzical looks on their faces told the story!).  So I asked them, “What are stories?; Are they buildings where you can buy things?” Answers drew us to the conclusion that stories are the plural form of story and a story is something you can tell or write that tells about something.  Once the students saw the connection to the singular form <story> they were confident they were on the right meaning track and their use of the spelling convention of changing <y> to <i> was applicable.

We then looked at the hypotheses on the board and began to reason out their accuracy with the evidence we had come up with: <story> as the base word; spelling convention of changing <y> to <i> when adding a vowel suffix (more to this convention at a later date). We reasoned we had no evidence, past or present, for an <-ies> suffix and that <stor> was not a bound or free base element.  We recognized that <store> + <s> would give us the plural form of <stores> where we buy things.  In conclusion, St #3’s hypothesis made sense in its structure and meaning.

As a group we celebrated this moment of connection, meaning, and mountain of evidence we’d collected. The next little gem of knowledge was about to be unveiled — not given, but unveiled through thinking, linking it to SS, and physically clipping off a piece of paper …. the students eventually recognized that the word <story> is a clip of the word <history>!

A lot of time had gone by and we hadn’t even gotten to complete the first vocabulary word!  No fear, no worries, only smiles and a sigh of awesomeness; I know these students gained more from these last 20 minutes than they would have had we read the terms from their book with the definition and tried to memorize them (besides, they’d already tried it that way and were here, asking for help with these terms!).

So, onto the first part of this term, <origin>:  a quick look at Etymonline revealed the denotation of the Latin nominative root origo “a beginning, a start, source, descent, lineage, birth”; putting these two words together, gave the students a deeper sense of what their text book meant by Native American origin stories.  These would be stories that reveal the history of this culture, from the beginning of its time, not their current culture or stories. The students’ tone and gestures told me all I needed to know– they understood with deeper meaning — how do I know?  I saw it in their exuberant smiles, heard their cheer, watched them lift their arms in victory — that’s as real as it gets!

We had minutes to spare before the end of the session, so we tackled <migration> our hypotheses came at rapid speed, the discussion and debate even faster.


We quickly ascertained that 2 of the hypothesese were not even going to be up for consideration — as one student loudly proclaimed, “<-tion> can’t be a suffix — remember the video from last year?!?! We proved it!”  I couldn’t resist pointing out that the there would have to be 2 <t>’s in <migration> if we had one at the end of the base and one at the beginning of the suffix as well — hey, the more the evidence ithe better, right?!   Before we ended the session (Mrs. B’s stomach was growling, it was lunchtime for me!) we all felt very comfortable with <migrate> as a base with <ion> as the suffix. Tomorrow, we will begin testing our final hypothesis that <migr> is a bound base by looking at Etymonline and the Word Searcher.

Take a moment to notice the poster hanging in the picture above, it is of a caterpillar’s journey to becoming a butterfly with a quote from Real Spelling’s Michel, that says, “Scholars are people who notice things“.  The poster was inspired by Mary Beth Steven, a teacher in Wisconsin who blogs about her class’ SWI learnings, she made a big poster of this quote for her classroom and shared it with our SWI community.  I found it too valuable not to copy! When kids notice things that build on their learning or solidify a concept or denounce a theory, it’s worth pointing out to them.  It makes them stronger learners, more aware of what makes sense and in turn, builds their confidence.

I am excited to continue noticing these little scholars’ learning this year!