A frantic week with a light hearted meeting of city states out on the field in an Olympian contest! While it may have been light hearted competition on the field, in the classroom the wrestling was in earnest as students tackled roots written in Greek and used this knowledge of the root to confirm hypotheses as to the morphemes.

 How do you determine the base element?

Students examined a group of words they were told are related. They were informed that each group is a family so there are members that share a base element. So far so good, somewhat familiar at this stage of the year. However, families share the same root but may have different bases! New information!!  Students quickly spotted the fact that many of the words in their ‘family’ are compounds so there are two or more bases. The challenge then became one of analyzing each word into its morphemes as a word sum and to identify the related bases .

Dear reader, can you do this?

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Base elements were discussed, hypotheses  formed and revised  and finally the bases in common were agreed upon based on the evidence students had before them. At this stage we did not use dictionaries or go online, just stuck with what was already there.

The next stage was to identify the ‘family root’. Here’s what they were given. I hear your gasps- good grief it’s Greek!!

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How did these neophyte word nerds handle this task? Well, with the help of a copy of the Greek alphabet, upper and lower cases and a sheet on transcribing the Greek alphabet to the more familiar Roman alphabet courtesy of Real Spelling (Toolkit Real Spelling 3B and 4C). Too difficult? Absolutely not- mostly there was laughing and some mutterings that it was hard. However, no-one one wanted to give up: the short videos below bear witness to the students persistence, determination, enjoyment and learning.







From here it was using our knowledge of the root to confirm our hypotheses of morphemes.





 Questions for further investigation

  • Is there a final non syllabic <e> in the base element connected with democracy: <dem> or <deme>?
  • Is <en-> a prefix in energy? What is the base element here? What are related words?

What we discovered about words:

  • Words are related through common bases and a common root.
  • Words have a story to tell of their journey into English and once in English they continue to be shaped.
  • The coining of a word is reflective of the culture of origin, as well as reflective of the time and culture when the word enters English.
  • Some roots have produced many base elements and therefore many related words, some only one base and far fewer words.

Douglas Harper, Word Nerd Extraordinaire aka The ‘Emperor of Words’, as my students have dubbed him, expresses this far more poetically below:

‘You can walk in the woods and know nothing of the trees and enjoy the walk. So in the forest of words, but in both you see only half the life from the above the footpath.Etymology is the magic diving stick to see the roots. Some words are oaks as deep as they are broad and high, others shallow rooted corn. Pull on a bramble vine here and you’ll be surprised to see the movement in one hundreds of yards away. And some peeping toadstools in the moss are the tips of tangled mats as big as a house, threaded through the soil.’ ~ Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary)

Through this continuing inquiry into Greek roots and bases students are beginning to grasp the etymological ‘diving stick’ and are discovering the biodiversity in the forest of English words.