Emily Brandt’s warm-ups and morphemes game
Helping high school students write daily and play with intimidating words I recommend Sin and Syntax to my seniors and freshman honors English classes. And we used it in class to demonstrate the contrast between flat, dull writing and writing that makes use of a full range of techniques. I have used the exercises in "Constance Hale's Lesson Plans for Teachers" as daily warm-ups. At the beginning of class on Monday, I give students one of your exercises. Then, on each subsequent day that week, I make tweaks to it. These warm-ups shouldn't take more than 5-7 minutes. I allow them to work on them at home, too. I collect the exercises at the end every week, read them (quickly) and record points for the students. Grading feedback cannot be the point of these activities; it's the exploration of writing and grammar. We have so much curriculum (from Common Core)—with teaching the research paper, service learning projects in neighborhoods, analytical essay writing on literature, and persuasive essays on nonfiction articles—that we don’t have much time to focus on craft. But these small exercises help. There’s one additional exercise I’ve developed that I’d like to share: I teach my students to identify Greek and Latin morphemes in English words throughout the year. They also get a brief introduction into the formation of English. I give them lists of Greek and Latin-based English words and teach them to break the lists of words into morphemes. As an example, we start with sen-, for “old,” as a root and build from there: -il(e)(adj ending) -ity(noun ending) -escent(noun ending) This leads to words like senility and senescent (becoming, growing). The same process can be used with pub(es), for “adult”: -escent becoming, growing We end up with pubescent. Words with multiple prefixes and suffixes are fun, too. When students see that words can mostly be reduced to prefixes (or none), roots (derived from verbs or nouns, whichever was first) and grammatical suffixes which determine the number and person of verbs (and sometimes the tense) or the number or case of nouns, they are amazed at how it's all related! The work helps them spell better, de-code unfamiliar words, and recognize the power that prefixes—which are really prepositions—exert over nouns and verbs. I use the book Word Clues, which isn’t exactly a collection of words that would improve your poetic or narrative writing, but which is loaded with tough scientific, religious, legal, and medical English words using those morphemes. Students develop their own flashcards using whatever pictorial mnemonic devices they can think up with the Greek or Latin morpheme on one side and on the other, the definition of the morpheme and a familiar English word using it. They make a game of using the flashcards. They memorize the words for quizzes, too. It’s not that I’m a fan of quizzes, but that added step helps them stick better. Invariably, years later, former students tell me what a great help learning morphemes has been when it comes to figuring out difficult words. ~~~ Emily Brandt teaches freshman honors English and senior English at Bullard High School, in Fresno, California. She writes that she loves being an English teacher because all language is “the fruit of lips.”
About Constance Hale
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