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!

Celebrate Good Times

The end of another year has arrived.  This is always such special time of year, when we celebrate all that the students have accomplished and we say good-bye to our 5th grade students who move onto the next school building for 6th grade.


(Did you notice how many words have the suffix ?!?! Remember why we drop the non-syllabic !)


celebr + ate/ + ed –>  celebrated

celebr + ate/ + ing –>  celebrating

celebr + ate/ + ory –> celebratory

celebr + ate/ + ion + s–>  celebrations

celebr + ity –>  celebrity

celebr + ity/ (i) + es –>  celebrities


Each of my groups has their own celebration in which we pass out awards for demonstration of character traits that make each of us unique or that help our group learn well together.  It’s one of my favorite times of the year.  While we compliment or acknowledge many of these traits daily during our group time, there’s just something special about being recognized on paper — seeing the kids eyes sparkle, a smile form and seeing them sit a little taller after receiving their official recognition makes these moments special.

Ah, the 5th graders….such a tearful time — while I smile and celebrate with them, I am always holding back tears of knowing that I will miss them.  The crew this year, have all been with me for at least 2 years, some as long as 4 years.  I’ve watched them grow as learners and as young people. I’ve experienced a large part of their early learning journey with them.  After we passed out our Character Trait Awards, we read a poem and letter I wrote to each of them and feasted on some delicious pizza and snacks.  We ended our celebration with a game of Pie Face….it involves a huge dollop of whipped cream, a timer and a slap-stick hand that if you’re unlucky, or lucky…depending on how you look at it, may come splatting into your face!  Such a fun way to celebrate an especially fun group of kids!

Whipped Cream-Nosed Selfie

Whipped Cream-Nosed Selfie

Scroll down for a few pics and video clips of us anticipating getting creamed!  The videos uploaded sideways..don’t know why…but still fun to watch–be sure to turn on your sound too!

Thanks to all my students for a fantastic year of great learning!  Have a wonderful and relaxing summer!


Love, Mrs. B

The Debut of the SWI News!!


They decided that others needed to know about this suffix information,

so they created the SWI News

Please take a few minutes (6 min and 12 seconds to be exact) to watch this informative and entertaining newscast.  The students are hopeful that teachers will show the video to their students and they are eager for their families to watch.  They are excited to pass along this nugget of knowledge to you!  Feel free to post a question or comment as well.


These 5th graders are hoping to make this a monthly Newscast Series to bring you the latest orthographic conventions, evidence and knowledge.  Orthography is spelling and they know that if you can spell a word, you can read a word!!

Today’s segment questions the suffix <-tion> and provides evidence of the real suffix being         <-ion>.

Note: after reviewing their first filmed event, the group would like to add a few notes for clarity.

  • When announcing word sums (base + suffix) they would like to point out that the word ‘equals’ should have been the phrase ‘is rewritten as’.
  • In the next video, they want to be sure to announce the spellings of each word instead of saying the base and spelling the suffix.
  • They would also like to clarify why there may be an ‘e’ crossed off on some of the base words. This is due to a common spelling convention of dropping the final, single, silent e when adding a vowel suffix. They also think this spelling convention might be a good one to make for their next newscast!

Thank you for your understanding of any small faux-pas due to their nerves as they participated in their very first filmed event!  We want to thank you for watching and hope that you learned something new today!


Mrs. Barnett and the Star Group wish to thank our videographer and mentor, Fenton High School Senior, Nick Campbell for his time, videotaping & editing skills and for his advice on Newscasting!!

Greed and Patience

Matrix_greedThe Diamond Group (4th graders) are studying Fables at the moment.  A common theme among the fables we are reading is greed.  This theme also provided a nice transition from our author study of Patricia Polacco who often writes and speaks of bullying and the consequences of greed.  Last Friday we watched a speech she gave at a school in which she talked about greed, bullying and learning disabilities along with kindness, compassion and finding one’s own strengths.  The students listened to her set ground rules before she passed the wishing stone  around to the kids to make wishes upon. I was humbled by the understanding my students had of why she set rules that they could not wish for anything that could be bought for them or done for them….no money, toys, etc., that greed was likely to take over and they’d want more. She also said they could not wish to change anybody, because we can take action to help someone by showering each other in kindness.  The students gave exceptional responses to the discussions we held after the video, some even surprised me with their self-reflections and grasp of the message she intended to convey. (Click on the above link to view the video)

This week, as we began studying the theme of greed in fables, The Goose with the Golden Eggs, The Lion and the Hare and The Stonecutter Who was Never Satisfied (all found on ReadWorks.org), we also wrote word sums with the free base word <greed>.  Digging into a word study takes time and leads to distraction — in a good way–the best way, actually.  It leads to reviewing what the word means, what it doesn’t mean, connections to their own lives, and noticings by the students (“Oh! I see a ‘y’ suffix like we did last week…” and “Wait, what about the word …”).  We didn’t get as far with the reading of these fables as I wanted to, but I spent a glorious amount of time being impressed by the kids’ reading and reasoning skills as they came across unfamiliar words–this is another amazing distraction that warrants spending quality time praising their efforts, their noticings and wonderings– “Look Mrs. B., I can cover up the <-ly> suffix and I can see the beginning is <even> but I’m not sure if <tual> is another suffix or a base” — how can you ignore the richness of this type of wondering?  It’s impossible unless the clock runs out…which of course it did.  But alas, there’s always tomorrow!

It was on the second day, I got greedy!  The lessons we do with SWI take longer than many other things we do because we go off on many different trails.  While these trails are rich and deep and filled with discovery and meaning, I fight the battle with Father Time….I want it ALL — time to dig deep and practice reading and writing text; but 45 min goes by far too quickly.  In my greed, I planned to start the lesson with an Entrance Ticket, which is a way for the kids to show me what they remember from the prior lesson; which I thought we’d finish in 2-3 minutes then have time to finish reading the stories and move on to the comprehension questions.   The best laid plans were meant to be broken, reminding me of the flexible nature of teaching.  On this Entrance Ticket was the task to write 2 of the word sums from the day before and 1 additional word that wasn’t covered.  The kids wrote two of the few we’d done the previous day:

greed + y –>  greedy

greed + y (i) + er –>  greedier

greed + y (i) + ness –>  greediness


However, when they each came up with their own, it did not make sense. I was surprised that in the silence of this 2-3 minute task, all of the kids (group of 5) chose the same suffix or derivation of it with the same ending result — a word they thought sounded like our word, but had a completely different meaning!  The words were:

greed + ing –>  greeding

greed + ing + s –>  greedings

I was completely surprised and not surprised at the same time.  Surprised because, after so many lessons about meaning being central to any word study coupled with feedback from the kids during previous lessons, I felt the kids knew that whatever word they came up with had to connect to the base word of <greed>.   However, they had just demonstrated that the sounds they process in their mind independently, often do not assimilate with meaning yet which does not surprise me.  Language processing is often a weaker area for people who struggle with reading.  Words often sound a lot like other words.  Lately, because of the holiday season, they’ve been hearing ‘greetings‘ quite often.  When we discussed the meaning of that word, they knew instantly that it did not connect with the meaning of ‘greed’ and yet, they still had such quizzical looks on their faces….they were certain these two sounded just alike.  After some practice with the 2 base words and feeling where our tongue taps as we say the /t/ and /d/ sounds (eureka! — it’s in the same spot! — just a difference of air flow — try it!) the quizzical looks dissipated and heads began to nod in understanding.

I learned that I need to take a step back and sideways sometimes … provide more opportunities for the kids to independently practice writing their own word sums more often.  I think up til now, I’ve provided more guidance than I realized.  Time to gently push them out of the nest and begin to flap their own wings and make these discoveries of connecting what we hear/say to the intended meaning.  I also learned that I need to be more patient with the pace of the lessons.  If I had rushed this lesson, maybe skipped the Entrance Ticket, I may have missed a very crucial opportunity to right a misunderstanding.

Watching the students’ faces go from confusion to “ah-ha!” when they finally recognized why ‘greeding‘ was not the same as ‘greeting‘ but also that they were not alone in their misunderstanding and that paying attention to how sounds are formed in the mouth can be a clue too, was pure joy.  Joy in the fact that they felt the discovery — I led them there with questioning and wonderings but they made the discoveries.  There is joy in making mistakes when we celebrate the things we learn because of it.

I learned that I if I am greedy with my expectations in teaching with SWI, we risk losing grand opportunities to learn at a deeper level than is recognizable on the surface.  I learned that although I can’t see how we will fit everything in this school year, that if I am patient, I will be open to setting up and recognizing these moments which will be of much greater benefit to the students than rushing through to the finish line.

Hmmmm…..there is another fable I am reminded of……….The Tortoise and the Hare……I believe that fits well here!




Thankful for ….SWI, food, family, and much more!

November 23, 2015…..

Me:  “So, what word do you think we should use this week to make word sums with?”

Students:  ” Um….let’s see…..how about ‘turkey’!  or ‘stuffing’!  Wait, we should probably study ‘Thanksgiving’ since it is happening this week!”

Student 1:  “Or, we should study just ‘thanks‘ because we can make a lot of words with that.”

Student 2:  “We could study ‘giving‘ because we could make ‘give, gives and giving‘ with it.”

Me:  “Great ideas!  Since we can make many word sums with ‘thank‘ , let’s try that one, then we will try to make a matrix!”



  • Beautifully spelled out word sums together,
  • Many “Ah-HA! moments with new learnings (especially when analyzing <giving>)  and
  • Matrix making–planning, organizing & execution!


Heart Group — Grade 2



Group_Heart  Thanks_heart group 2   Thanks_heart group1


Diamond Group — Grade 4


FullSizeRender      FullSizeRender (1)



Star Group — Grade 5


FullSizeRender (2)   IMG_1872



Classroom Board


Thank_tchr         Thank_matrix drawn


Tuesday we will journal about things we are thankful for!  At the top of my list—  finding the SWI Community to learn from!

Happy Holidays All

Mrs. Barnett


Word Study of DYSLEXIA

October??  Where did it go??

I started this blogpost well over a month ago but time ran away from me and I’m just getting back to finishing it.  However— time is not on my side any more today than it was a month ago, so it’s going to be short and sweet!

My 5th grade group studied the word <dyslexia> and took some action to raise awareness of this common learning disability during the month of October.  Along the way, we learned a lot more than just what Dyslexia means.IMG_1865

In the pictures below, you can see we found 2 Bound Base Words from this single word and a suffix:

<dys>  +  <lex>  +  <ia>  –>  dyslexia 

From there, we learned how to use dictionaries, Etymonline, the Word Searcher and Mini-Matrix Maker to find definitions, word origins, other related words and a grid forming program to make neatly typed versions of our posters.  We hung the posters in the hallway for the school to view.

Some of the best “take-aways” from this work was learning how to search our minds for relationships between words when using the Word Searcher.  The list of words that have <dys> or <lex> in them was lengthy–we had to ween the list down by finding words that held the same/similar meanings and ignoring the rest.  For example:  the words <duplex> and <flexible> came up in our search but they do not have anything to do with the bound base of <lex> which has to do with words, so we chopped our study list to about 1/8 its original size (oh yeah…..we used this to show fractions too!).

Here are the posters this group made:

Word Study

Word Study

Word Study

Word Study

Student’s Show of Support on Veteran’s Day & More…

Some mornings start out a bit slower than others –maybe its cloudy or windy and rainy or just that I haven’t pulled the shades up yet to let the sun begin to warm the day.  Sometimes, we don’t need the physcial sunshine to warm our souls–it is often caused by student action.  Last week a moment such as this occured, William entered my classroom with a face lit up with pride.  He was dressed in his military outfit, brandishing dog tags and a new book called, Military Animals, that he’d picked up at the Book Fair the night before while he and his family attended Parent – Teacher Conferences.



Veteran's Day

Veteran’s Day


This was one of those rare days when the other members of our group were either absent or had a special activity in their GE classroom, leaving William and I to alter the lesson plans to fit a one-to-one session.  We took full advantage and took a Book Walk through this wonderful informational book on all types of military animals–including insects!  As we read, we determined a common theme among the heros of war times and took a closer look at several of the words that highlighted the theme.


SWI with Vteran's Day words

SWI with Veteran’s Day words

We searched these words on etymonline.com to seek their origins and history.  We looked them up in dictionaries and between the sources evaulated which words described them best and with consistency.  Here is what we learned:

military –>  milit (-is)  +  ary 

(one who marches in a troop)


courageous –>  courage  +  ous

(inner strength, bravery)


loyalty –>  loyal  +  ty



My personal favorite for the day was <veteran> because I struggle with spelling this word correctly–I often misspell it as <vetran> most likely because of its pronunciation /vetran/ and that I’d never connected the base of <veter> with other words.  In looking this word up, we found a connection to the word <veterinarian>.

veteran –>  veter +  an

(from veteris “old” –old, aged, that has been in long use)

veterinarian –>  veter  +  in  +  ary i +  an                        

  • “The entry in etymonline notes that <veterinarian> is an animal doctor, from Latin veterinarius “of or having to do with beasts of burden” , also, as a noun, “cattle doctor,” from veterinum “beast of burden,” perhaps from vetus (generative veteris) “old” , possibly from the notion of “old, experienced” …”

William and I had just enough time to discuss the suffixing rule of how a <y> can change to an <i> when adding a vowel suffix before it was time for him to go back to class.  The really amazing thing about this day was not only seeing a student proudly supporting the Veterans of this country, but also his enjoyment of connecting words and meanings.  He loves finding links to words and asks about them often.


I do believe a light has been ignited in this brilliant young mind!

A Little Bit About SWI

In the world of Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) there are several great blogs to learn from.  On occasion, I will include a guest post from a fellow educator & blogger, especially when that blog is written on a topic I’d like to cover and it is written well–why reinvent the wheel when it’s done so well?!?!

Mrs. Steven’s began this school year with a blog about her introduction of SWI to her 5th grade class.  To get a good idea of what we’ve been doing in our Resource Room, please click this link to read and see photo’s of a lesson on building word sums and a matrix, titled:  You Say Spelling Makes Sense, SHOW ME!