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One Piece at a Time: Roots, Stems and Literacy

ImageIn my second year of teaching, my school implemented a much-needed school wide literacy plan. Over 2/3 of our students were significantly behind in reading and part of the school’s core mission was to advance students dramatically enough to allow them to take courses at a local college in their junior and senior year of high school.  Clearly 6th graders who were reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level had a long way to go.  Like many literacy plans, the intent was admirable but the execution was, well, less than effective.

A core part of the plan was for all teachers- even math and science teachers like me- to include the “word of the day” in our instruction.  The teachers leading the program were very dedicated humanities teachers, and I wish I could say I resisted the urge to be snarky when the first week’s list consisted of the following words:  polyglot, propaganda, symbolism, insurrection, and doctrine. I couldn’t, though: I replied with a note asking them to include the formula for photosynthesis in their lessons.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and we revisited the intention behind the plan and decided it made a lot more sense to support school-wide  instruction of a new common prefix, suffix or Greek  or Latin root word each week.  In addition to preventing weekly turf wars over the word list, teaching prefixes and suffixes led to much better results for students.

This makes a lot of sense because learning a relatively few number of prefixes, suffixes, and roots words gives students an advantage when trying to decipher a vast amount of words.  In her book Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing, Patricia Cunningham explains that,

“Four prefixes— un, re, in (and its variants im, ir, and il, all meaning “not”), and dis— account for 58 percent of all prefixed words. Add sixteen more prefixes— en/em, non, in/im (meaning “in”), over, mis, sub, pre, inter, fore, de, trans, super, semi, anti, mid, and under —to account for 97 percent of all prefixed words. Students who know how to read, spell, and attach meaning to these 20 prefixes can apply that knowledge to decode, spell, and understand the meanings of many multi-­syllabic words.”

Every lesson made with automatically includes the option to focus on one of the affixes found in the reading, so it is an easy way for teachers to support morphology instruction while still focusing on text related to specific content (Click here to give it a try!)

For More Great Resources on Word Roots, check out:

The Supplement to Massachusetts’ English Language Arts Framework
Scholastic Worksheet on Common Prefixes and Suffixes
Wikipedia’s List of Greek and Latin Roots
Anne Murphy Paul ‘s “Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Word Roots)

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Close Reading with LessonWriter

Close reading is not a new concept; engaged readers have always practiced close reading.  However, the Common Core State Standards, which challenge students to dissect and evaluate texts with high degrees of complexity, have ushered in a frenzy of discussion about how best to teach close reading.

LessonWriter provides several tools to make it easier to structure lessons that support close reading:

  • The textual analysis that the system performs extracts core components of literacy instruction and increases the accessibility of the text.
  • Differentiation groups help teachers target the right amount of support to each student.
  • Graphic organizers support important comprehension strategies like self-monitoring, questioning, predicting and summarizing.
  • Our question prompts help teachers structure questions to encourage student to re-read the text and extract, evaluate and explore the meaning behind the words.

In the Sourcebook on Rhetoric, James Jasinski explains: “The principal object of close reading is to unpack the text. Close readers linger over words, verbal images, elements of style, sentences, argument patterns, and entire paragraphs and larger discursive units within the text to explore their significance on multiple levels.”

We hope you’ll use LessonWriter to help students “unpack the texts” in your classes!

Here are some other great resources on Close Reading:

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