word inquiry tools
our word scientists use a variety of tools to help them with their investigations
The word sum enables even our youngest word inquirers to make strong visual connections with the morphemic structure of a word; they learn to add affixes to bases in order to build words of increasing complexity. Understanding every word has a base which holds the core meaning is fundamental to being able to find related words, which in turn builds vocabulary. Word sums are used to both analyze and synthesize words. Our students practise building words by synthesizing bases and affixes. They also use word sums to analyze words, trying to identify the base and any prefixes or suffixes. The students investigate the different suffixing changes and practice applying them to consolidate orthographic patterns. Word sums offer the means to determine words in the same family.
Students are encouraged to find words related to a specific base element. As they group these words around the base, they are reminded to always consider the meaning of their hypothesised words as well as their structure. They must constantly ask themselves, Does each word share the core meaning of the base as well as having the same spelling structure? Discussion can then ensue as the students decide on how to subcategorize their words.
The matrix is a very useful tool as it incorporates a number of morphemes that can be used to develop a bank of words around one main base element. Every base is bolded in a matrix and the core base for the family being investigated will be slightly larger to draw attention to it. A compound word has two bases, as can be seen in <caveman>. Not every prefix can used with every suffix and thus decisions must be made as to whether a synthesized word makes sense. For example, Could <excavity> be a word? What would it mean? How could you use it in a sentence?
One way our children test their hypotheses is by sorting words and trying to decide what governs the groupings they discover. They are encouraged to always ask themselves, What patterns can I notice? What fits the category and why? What doesn't fit and why not?
Words might be given by the teacher or the children might generate the list by looking in their reading books.
Investigations could include:
- Which words fit into <act> word family?
- How do we know when to double a letter when we add a suffix?
- When do we use a letter <k> to start a word instead of a <c>?
- Does the final 'silent' <e> always make the preceding vowel long?
- Is <ed> always a suffix and what sound or sounds (phonemes) does it represent?
- Will the letters <ph> next to each other always represent /f/?
- Do all the words with <fair> in them belong in the same family?
A frequently-used word sort is the 'What's in/what's out' sort where a group of words that have some links, either through letters or meaning, are categorized into those in a morphological word family and those not in - or out - of the family. For example, consider the words <hop>, <bounce>, <hope> and <hopping>. Which ones are 'in' a family and which ones are 'out'?
Our children use dictionaries of many types to check word meanings and histories. Dictionaries that have information about the origins of the word are far more useful than standard children's dictionaries, which do not. Online sources all have this information and it's important to compare information from different sources. Although it can initially be quite challenging to understand the comprehensive information contained within Etymonline, it is a favourite source for teachers and older children alike.
We use flowcharts to help children work through the reasons behind suffixing decisions. They use home-generated or published charts to assist them as they learn to develop automaticity in suffixing. The students are often involved in creating the flowcharts as this process in itself helps them organize their thinking. They are then able to use their flowchart until they have internalized the suffixing patterns and can apply them independently.