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Activities to Teach Students About Word Derivation

by Michael Stratford, studioD

Words derive from roots: "logical," for example, derives from the Greek "logos," meaning "word." When you teach students about word derivation, you not only enrich their vocabulary and their sense of a word's meanings, you open up a language's cultural roots. Fortunately, no pupil need ignore those roots and their branches, since there are several excellent activities to teach word derivation.

The Word Derivative Chart

A good beginning activity to teach derivatives is to take ReadWriteThink's word derivative chart. Have your students note the simple additions that create words, such as "ism" turning adjectives to nouns, or "ful" turning nouns to adjectives. Most classes, even at elementary levels, should also be able to build a word journal, a personal dictionary that not only functions as an instrument for students to track word backgrounds and create sentences, but also develops a class project for a final assessment.

Concepts Behind Derived Words

Once your class starts discovering word derivations, it's important to teach them the concepts that derivations create. An excellent tool for this is a definition map, which graphs newly derived word into four elements: A. the word's category -- what is this thing? B. its characteristics -- what is it like? C. specific examples -- things that fit the definition D. non-examples -- things that do not fit the definition. One example is the Four-Square activity, a piece of paper divided into four squares for filling in terms, definitions, examples and non-examples.

Fun with Words and More

Some of the more enjoyable games your students can play with word derivations come recommended by Fun With Words.com in their Etymology section, where students can discover the backgrounds to words like "assassin," "pedigree" and "quarantine." There's also a source for phrases such as "hit the hay," "raining cats and dogs" and "throw in the towel." You can build on these by giving students activities from A.Word.A.Day, where they will see all the derivative changes rung on a single word; this is an excellent class opener.

Interactive Gaming, Greek Root Style

A fine interactive game for young learners from Scholastic is called "It's Greek to Me," which reviews Greek roots. The game is played as an Athenian Olympic tournament, and offers archery -- easy -- or discus -- harder -- levels. It is enjoyably competitive if played by classroom teams. It also solidifies their knowledge of roots, which in turn helps them build more word derivations.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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