Friday, 14 July 2017

A World Of Discovery...A Reflection and a Collection

Discovering and encountering the elegant world of English spelling:
its deep structure
its meaning
its stories
its relationships
...through scientific inquiry

This piece is a reflection and a collection of my thoughts and ideas whilst studying significant orthographic aspects with very young children.
It’s an orthographic canvas, an orthographic landscape. At times, I will zoom into significant orthographic aspects that need highlighting.

Besides sharing the power of studying orthography with very young children, this piece discusses the importance of embedding word study in meaningful contexts. Studying words deeply is a vital part of the understanding of the current learning. Words are not relegated to the margins, they are part of the mainstream. These words are a vital part of everyday discourse, throughout the day, everyday.

As I reflect on recent in~school visits in Australia and Indonesia, what was clearly apparent was the rich lexicon visible everywhere in these learning environments. 

As we delved into scholarly discussions about using meaningful learning contexts to embed critical orthographic principles, a question many teachers often asked and pondered is: "What words should I use to teach these important orthographic principles?

The words are your classrooms, in the hallways, in the staffrooms waiting to be investigated, analysed, questioned, revealed and discovered.

Many of the schools I work with implement the PYP curriculum where inquiry transcends all areas of learning. The units of inquiry, as presented to the students, are formulated through a central idea statement. 

This is the central idea that I recently studied with a group of very young children whilst teaching at an international school in Indonesia. The central idea guides our quest, deepening the children's understanding of the interaction and interplay between humans and the environment.

Central Idea 
We use senses to discover and explore the world
around us.

The words in this statement are exquisite, taking us on a journey where many significant orthographic principles will be joyfully studied and scientifically analysed:

We will study:
~free and bound base elements
~meaning and structure relationships
~the history and etymology of words
~function and lexical words
~graphemes and phonemes
~the functions of the single, final non syllabic <e>.

I choose carefully, very carefully, what we will study, which orthographic aspect I will focus on. I decide carefully what is the most generative learning this group of learners will need at this time in their learning.

A World of Discovery:
This is a snapshot of our orthographic journey.

Daily provocations are engineered for the children to explore, investigate, discuss and study the interrelatedness of the human sensory system and interaction within our environment. We use the real world around us to identify that interrelatedness. Significant words are communicated, explored and recorded.

The central idea is revealed by collaboratively placing the words in a coherent, meaningful statement that makes sense to our community of learners. The children discuss, question and debate.

I observe the scholarly discussion between these 3, 4 and 5 year olds, and manage and guide these scholars, through questioning, on a pathway of learning. 
The joy of scholarship and engagement.

As their guide, I implicitly embed some significant orthographic principles for future explicit learning. I am planting learning seeds, deliberately. 
I do this by naturally announcing aloud the structure of each word we uncover. When announcing the word these are some learning seeds I may add for the children to think about and notice.
  • discover <dis-c-o-v-er> (I wonder if that is the base element?)
  • senses <s-e-n-s-(replace the e)-es>
  • explore <ex-p-l-o-r-single final non syllabic e>
  • the <th-e> (function word)
  • world <w-or-l-d> (a free base element)
  • I <I> (function word, homophonic)
I'm a word scientist too. I talk about the morphemes and present my own hypotheses. I particularly highlight and imply the base element of <discover> and question and give evidence for the prefix <dis->.
I bring forth words that are related, that share the same base, that have the same meaning and structure.


I comment on whether the word is a function or a lexical word.
"What's a lexical word, Lyn?" asks one of the children.
Scholars notice important things.

We place that beautiful question on our Wonderwall and I continue to highlight function and lexical words throughout the day and every day when I'm writing and when the kids are writing.

I highlight the orthographic phonology of the base elements of each word by bringing to the children's attention various graphemes, like the digraphs<th>, <ou>, <or> or the single letter grapheme <s>. 

I think aloud as I question the phonemes these graphemes are representing in the words we are studying. I particularly highlight the graphemes we will study later on... explicitly.

"I know a digraph," says a 4 year old Korean student.

"<qu>," she says with a beaming smile as she refers to the collaborative grapheme/phoneme chart that we previously constructed for the digraph <qu>.

I particularly comment on several phonological functions of the single letter grapheme <s> in the words senses and use and us. I am deliberately planting some phonological learning seeds. I want the children to notice that the single letter grapheme <s> can represent different phonemes, /s/ and /z/ in words, in the words we are studying.
I will demonstrate and model the IPA (International Phonetic Association) and plant the concepts of the < > and / / brackets to indicate graphemes or phonemes. I want the children to ask me questions about these orthographic linguistic brackets and talk to me about their thinking.
We move on quickly because they are a group of young scholars. They need time, leisure time, to absorb and process ours and their own learning journeys.

The children discuss the placement of the words so that we construct a meaningful, coherent statement.

“What are you thinking? What are you wondering?” I now ask the children.

I want to gather a sense of where they are standing on their own personal learning journeys of understanding. The children talk to me, to their peers and record their thinking and wonderings.
~What do the children notice? 
~How do they demonstrate their understanding of senses?
~What are the questions and wonderings that will deeply affect their learning?

I’m listening, observing and deciding what to nurture and grow.

Each day we unlock the central idea statement in a different way, in a different a meaningful way.

I want the children to understand the statement, deeply.
I want the children to understand the words, deeply.

Everyday I highlight and bring forth the learning seeds I want these young scholars to notice. 

We continue to evoke and explore how we use the human body to provoke our senses as we consider; question and seek evidence for our hypothetical questions.

We have set the scene, explicitly embedding important orthographic principles and we have now arrived at our pathway of discovery.

Studying Orthography

One day I extract <discover> from our central idea statement and set the scene for the next part of our explicit morphological, etymological and phonological journey.

"Mmmm...I'm wondering about this word. I know it has a fascinating story. Let's dig deep!" 

Our journey is to reveal the deep meaning and structure of words, discover their stories, identify related words and the phonological aspects that matter. 

We talk, we collaborate about our hypotheses about the words' construction, and we talk some more. Here are some hypotheses presented by these young scholars. I record our collective ideas with the orthographic word sum. 

dis+cov+er ----> discover?
dis+cover ---> discover?
dis+cove+r ----> discover?

We need to find evidence... 

On another day I tell the historical story of <discover>. I illustrate and show images as I share the 'story'. We discover that the word has had a wonderful journey from Latin, through French, to English in 1300 and its meaning has been retained throughout its journey. We also discover that the word was born in a language so old that that it wasn't written down. (PIE Proto Indo European). Check out this wonderful story on Etymonline. Click on this link: cover

We then delve into the word bag to bring forth words that are related in meaning and structure to <discover>.
As each word is revealed we discuss its synchronic, present day, meaning by using it, always showing an understanding amongst our community of learners. 

<discovery> <covered> <covering> <covers> <uncover>
I ask the kids to always give evidence...always.

We collaborate and help each other by playing the 'trading game' and talk about our understanding of the words.

This is motivation and learning ...we are moving in our understanding.


I announce the structure of each word and highlight the morphemes and significant graphemes by deliberating pausing at each morphemic and graphemic boundary.
Revealing the deep structures brings clarity. 

We begin to explore the prefixes and suffixes we know and don't know.
We identify some common suffixes after checking for evidence.
These suffixes are the ones we have discovered evidence for: <-ed>, <-ing>

We begin to hypothesise the base element that is shared by these words. 

"I think the base is <c-o-v-er>," says one student gleefully. Her younger classmates all agree with her but I ask this student to give us evidence of her hypothesis just as real scientists do.

We begin to construct a linguistic word web to demonstrate how the words are connected by meaning and structure. 


"Orthography is human thought made visible in text."

We continue to search for meaning by using the words in context...often.
We collaborate by illustrating and talking about the words so that everyone can be involved regardless of age, language, experience and understanding.

We share our knowledge and discoveries (dis+cover+y/i+es) with anyone and everyone who enters our classroom.
Some of the wonderings we consider on our journey: 

~Why is the base element <cover> spelled with an <o>?
~Is <-er> the suffix or is it a digraph <er> in the final position of the base element?
~How do we know that <dis-> is a prefix?

It's a world full of amazing scientific discoveries. 

Where next?
We construct word sums and build the morphological matrix together. + cover  --> discovery

The matrix grows each time we encounter it.
We construct additional words that share the base element <cover>.
I ask the children, "What if we have more than one discovery?" I'm planting a learning seed, an orthographic learning seed to encounter the i/y relationship. 
The children announce the structure of the word as they write each word sum. They are learning about the 'dance of the pen' and are practising the pathways for each letter as they scribe. 
I want the children to know that the alphabet letters are the raw ingredients for graphemes or orthographic markers. Alphabet letters have names, not a sound, attributed to each one.
I want the children to know that the alphabet letters are not shapes but have beautiful pathways to be elegantly scripted with pens.
We identify other words with the <dis-> prefix and hypothesise how this prefix brings meaning to the base element. Words like: <disappointed> <disobey> <disaster> <dislike>.
We investigate the vowel grapheme <o> in cover and begin to understand the <o>/<u> relationship. I briefly talk about the free base element <love> because it's a word they love to use in their writing.

At this time we revisit the vowel letters, their names and their scripted pathways.

Now that we have dealt with the morphology and the etymology of the word we embark on a phonological learning explicit journey.

I want the children to understand graphemes and phonemes must be studied within the orthographic domains of morphology and etymology.

I want the children to know that there may be several pronunciations of the same phoneme; allophones.

The orthographic phonology of the 

single letter grapheme <s>. 
First we investigate a bag full of words through meaning and structure, which include words from our central idea:- <senses> <use> <us> <discover>.

We identify the single letter grapheme <s> in free base elements, in complex words and in the plural suffixes <-s> and <-es>.

We 'taste' the sequence of phonemes in a word...naturally, without any stretching or that we can feel what is happening in our mouth, lips and throat.

We discover the /s/ phoneme is unvoiced and the /z/ phoneme is voiced. We talk about initial, medial and final.
We sort our thinking and understanding through an orthographic phonological Venn diagram.
I show the children how phonemes are represented by the IPA (International Phonetic Association) encased in slash brackets / / and how graphemes are represented by the alphabet letters, encased in angle brackets < >.

We discover many interesting phonological aspects about the single letter grapheme <s>. In the final position of a base element, <s> often represents the phoneme /z/.

The children spend time independently constructing their learning and understanding. 

We continue to talk about the pathways of letters as we script the words.
We continue to talk about the morphology and the etymology and the phonology of the words.

The children have discovered many critical orthographic structures to deepen their understanding of how English is structured. I love that the children consistently share these discoveries with their parents.

Our quest understand the critical interrelatedness of morphology, etymology and phonology.

Word study is an ebb and flow and all the time we are planting little seeds that will flower and blossom and who knows which seedlings we will choose to nurture and grow. I am always wondering what to pick. 

I am learning the art of remaining silent, to listen very carefully, so that I can decide which pathway to guide these young scholars.

More than anything else the children are joyfully learning that the: 

the first priority of English spelling is to represent meaning.

My own journey continues too, to study and deepen my understanding of orthographic linguistics.

Special thanks to the following websites and colleagues who support and guide me on my quest for understanding.


  1. Lyn, this is a brilliant account of how to embed word inquiry into all facets of learning. It gives us a window into how to foster not only a love of words but a love of learning in the classroom. You have planted not only the seeds for further orthographic inquiry but are cultivating curiosity and fundamental principles of learning: forming questions, developing hypotheses, gathering evidence, reflecting on this and revisiting hypotheses. These are lucky young scholars and fortunate teachers who join you on your orthographic quests, Ann

  2. Ah, Lyn. This is such a joy. You've succeeded in conveying the message I see you emphasize over and over whenever we work together. ALWAYS work within a meaningful context! That message has hugely influenced my own work. You know I'm sending this to the 14 people in my Summer Course starting tomorrow. A perfect launching pad!

  3. Thanks for sharing wonderful information of giving best information. Its more useful and more helpful. Great doing keep sharing.

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  4. As always Lyn, your post is provocative and motivating. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting and sharing the amazing work you do with children, as it really serves as such a guide.

  5. As always I continue to love your work! Your blog looks fabulous. I hope we meet up again in the future!