Saturday 17 August 2013

Starting the learning journey...word families, word webs, matrixes, word sums

Essential Understandings...where to start?

Building essential orthographic understanding in the
early years.
"What are some ways to start teaching structured word inquiry 
with a group of children...?"
A frequently asked question from teachers who are embarking on the critical journey of teaching orthography (morphology, etymology and phonology).

I use the word <critical> with great emphasis, as I believe orthography, and in particular morphology (and etymology), to be the critical 'missing link' in the teaching of literacy in the early years of schooling.
Using significant words to investigate,
from a Unit of Inquiry about materials and their properties.
Although I am particularly interested in provided developmentally appropriate experiences for younger children, the following strategies and activities have been presented to different age groups, ranging from 3 year olds to Middle School students to adults. 
Learning to use resources to independently investigate the
structure, meaning and history of words.
As with all our teaching and learning, the learners' prior knowledge, understanding, age and learning needs are taken into careful consideration to plan the most appropriate and relevant experiences. Consequently these activities are consistently adapted according to the needs of the learner group.
Using significant learning tools like flowcharts, to build understanding of
essential suffixing  patterns.

Here is an example of a structured learning experience to introduce the essential understandings of English orthography.

Starter word: <healthy>

Structured Word Inquiry: A selection of learning experiences
(from 'Starting the Learning Journey' document)
1. Developing a bank of word webs, using free starter bases, to demonstrate the significance of the connectedness of meaning and spelling. 
For example (heal) is the base of (healthy), and is clearly related in meaning, even though there is a pronunciation change in the word (healthy). The spelling comes directly from the base <heal>, hence:
 heal + th + y --> healthy
A 'work in progress' word web created by a Grade 1/2 group to demonstrate the
word family for the base <heal>.

These structured word inquiry activities, such as building word webs, can be effectively embedded in your current Unit of Inquiry. For example, this group of students were investigating the following central idea for this PYP Unit of Inquiry about the human body.
(healthy) was a significant word used throughout the unit.

The students created a base 'pot' to demonstrate
the significance of the base and to teach the
difference between the meaning and spelling of
<heal> , <heel> and <hill>, which have
similar pronunciations.

...and a suffix pot too!

The students are creating morphological word sums for the
base <heal>.
The students created the word sum for <unhealthier>.
un + heal + th + i/y +er --> unhealthier
The word web for (heal), and other related activities, can be shared at an assembly or with other audiences.
The base (heal) jumped out of the base pot!
The students demonstrated the word sum for (healthy), with the base (heal) and the two suffixes (th) and (y), demonstrating the suffix change of the i/y.

These initial, introductory activities help to build a solid foundation for future learning and further exploration. For example, as a teacher you might now decide to:
  • demonstrate how the words can be arranged in the form of a matrix. 
  • write and spell the word sums.
  • focus on the suffixing pattern of i/y.
  • investigate homophones (heal) (heel).
  • investigate the different phonemes for the diagraph (ea) in (heal) and (health).  
  • do a further investigation of the etymology of (heal), looking for etymological markers as a key to the spelling.
Real Spelling has posted a very valuable video in the comments section of this post. This video gives the full story of the free base <heal>. With this information and understanding you, as the teacher, can now make better informed choices about what elements to introduce, teach and guide your students. 
As Pete Bower's states "How can we offer learners an understanding of our writing system unless the instruction is informed by an
accurate understanding in the first place?"

As indicated in the learning experience above, you can begin with a starter base already known by the students, with a prepared bank of words,  OR you can...

...start with a group of words (in a bag, pocket or mystery box) with a starter base to be discovered by the students!

starter base <paint>
Start with a bag of words and a blank word web.
In this activity the words are
<painted> <painting> <painter> <repaint>...
The children predict the base as the words are exposed, discussed
and placed on the word web.
As each word is exposed the students discuss the meaning of the word and think about the base.
The students actively participate in the learning.

When all the words have been added to the word web the students are 
asked to make a prediction about the base. Ask the students to share their ideas with a partner.
When the base has been revealed and proven it can be
 recorded on the word web.
And finally illustrated and presented by the students. The students can now create their own word web.
The completed (or maybe, not completed!) word web. 

You can find more information about these learning experiences by clicking on these links: word web collaborative activity; blog post 'Can you teach morphology to Young Children?'; article Starting the Learning Journey

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