An Unfortunate gentleman, harassed by a hound, perhaps wondering,”Who Let the Dogs Out?”.

Students in considering The Odyssey examined 15 words that they felt could be applied to the story. They have looked at the denotation, identified the roots and then divided the words into the morphemic elements. In doing so they are reconsidering characters and events -where and to whom these words and ideas might apply:

determination, regretful, tormented, malicious, impulsivity, pride/proud, courageous, loyal, rebellious, arrogant, desperate, victimized,  persecuted, harassed.

Today students worked in pairs to arrange characters and words on the paper to indicate relationships and connections. They gave examples and justified various connections to a character trait. Often the examination of a spectrum of words with justification of why or why not the word may be applicable provides alternative views and a re-examination of characters and events and even theme. This activity involves a deep understanding of the words with students frequently referring to morphology, etymology, and a word’s synonyms. Students continuously cited evidence from the text in support of a word choice. These words will continue to resurface throughout the year in regard to other units and texts.

Two students Nina and Oluwadaru work with the resources to understand the words impulsive and harassment.

What are students gaining from this investigation?

Firstly, it’s an ongoing process rather than a one-off activity. Word study is at the heart of humanities, at the heart of reading and writing. It is integrated into every reading and writing experience not just separated out into a one-off or isolated ‘vocabulary lesson’ or ‘word study’ lesson. My classes and I regard word-study as a a body of knowledge and a set of skills that is embedded into almost every lesson. What we learn from one word applies to hundreds of words. Whenever we read literature, and I’m talking about second or third draft readings, where we annotate, go beyond plot essentials to think about how character, setting, theme are built, about how meaning changes depending on the theoretical perspective from which the text is read, we consider words – their elements, related words (sharing the same base) the etymology and synonyms. These words continue to recur in all our units. Is this what the Common Core State Standards refers to as ‘repeated exposure’?(p.32 AppendixA)

This document(CCS) claims that ‘whenever students make multiple connections between a new word and their own experiences, they develop a nuanced and flexible understanding of the word they are learning’. Perhaps. The students at work today are not necessarily connecting to their own experiences at this point but certainly to the experiences Odysseus endured. I would say that understanding the morphology and etymology of these words is leading to ‘lexical dexterity’ (p.32) if we take that to mean:

  •  understanding a word’s denotation
  •  being able to justify the connection of a word ( in this case the character trait or a concept-courage, loyalty)with a character
  •  being able to identify the elements( affixes and the base)
  •  using sources to identify the root ( dictionaries and Online Etymology Dictionary)
  • connecting the root meaning to any base elements sharing the root to see how this echoes through into the current usage and other words sharing the same base element.)

Students are developing their language and critical thinking abilities. I am confident as we embed word study into humanities that students will be reading carefully, and become articulate in their written and oral justifications for a particular point of view. Students in this integrated approach are not passive and the words for investigation not decontextualized, packaged neatly or come in scripted lessons. These students are not developing an ‘awareness of word parts’ (a vague misguided term used CCS p32 ) but are knowledgeable  and intellectually curious about morphology and morphological and etymological relationships, about character, conflict, theme and how writers weave, which is in fact the root meaning of text, words to develop these aspects in telling a tale.

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