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Meaning-based spelling for struggling spellers--and everyone else

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A linguist friend of mine, who also works with dyslexic students, has convinced me that all the weird spellings in English and "exceptions" to rules are actually orderly and pattern-driven. If you're skeptical, read on.  

 

Since all whole-language and even phonics-based spelling texts eventually resort to labeling things as exceptions, she says it's more accurate, easier, and more fun for struggling spellers to learn spelling through understanding that "words are made of stories."  In other words, words have histories, and the histories explain the spelling.

 

For instance, she says that the "wr" in all wr- words comes from an Old English base that means "twist":  wring, wrangle, wrestle, wrap, wreath, wreck, etc., even wrath and wrong.  Once you see them all grouped together, the shared meaning becomes clear.  With a little imagination, you can picture wrath as a state of being twisted internally with rage, and wrong as somehow twisting away from the straight path.  Cool, huh?

 

She says dyslexic students in particular make great gains by approaching spelling in this way and by learning words in "meaning families," rather than by the usual memorize-each-word-separately approach, along with memorizing the "rules" and the "exceptions."

 

She has three fascinating TED-ED talks, including one explaining that the silent 'b' in doubt is there because 'doubt' shares a base with 'double,' as in, being of two minds about something.  You can watch it here.

 

With her help I'm trying to pull together some simple lesson plans because she doesn't write curriculum, but you can learn a lot from her website, called www.linguisteducatorexchange.com.  

 

 

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This would be fantastic for my dyslexic, right-brained, whole-to-parts child who cannot wrap her mind around spelling. If you create a curriculum using these methods, I would pay for it.

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So, I've followed the rabbit trail and have learned about "true", "one", and plurals.  I could do this all day.  Thank you :hurray:

 

Please share your links! I've been rabbit trailing as well, but not as successfully at this point.

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The tip about the "wr" words was in AAS.

I'm not familiar with AAS, but maybe it already does some of what my linguist friend is advocating.  How do you like it?

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Studying roots is always valuable, but the roots programs I’ve used focus on Latin and Greek roots, whereas most of the really oddball spellings in English—wr, wh, most kn’s, ough, igh, and others—come from Old English and Germanic sources.  If anyone knows of a roots program that includes these, please post!

 

One of the things I like about approaching spelling through meanings rather than sounds is that it integrates spelling with history and it would give kids a sense of looking back across time to real people who have left their mark on the words we use now.  For instance, although this is not a case of irregular spelling, the ‘tril’ part of ‘nostril’ comes from the same base as ‘thrill,’ which means ‘hole’ or ‘pierce.’  So a nostril is a nose hole, and a thrilling experience is one that pierces you, or leaves a hole in you.  When I learned this I immediately pictured an ancient peasant ready to hurl a spear.  My linguist friend Gina says that learning word histories is like looking down a deep well, and seeing someone at the bottom waving up at you. 

 

Another benefit would be introducing kids to figurative language, not as a flowery add-on to literature but as a building block in the words they use everyday.  Many words change over time from concrete, literal meanings, like being pierced with a spear, to abstract, figurative meanings, like having an emotional experience that feels like being pierced with a spear.  The literal piercing becomes a metaphor, and the metaphor is built right into the modern meaning of thrill, which sometimes still carries the sense of danger, as in a thrilling ride on a roller coaster, but just as often refers to a pleasant experience, like being thrilled by a job offer. 

 

Spelling in my experience usually has a tacked-on feeling, like a chore that needs to be done but isn’t meaningful in itself.  “Do your spelling.  Sweep the kitchen.† Showing kids how spelling fits into a long story of people and language would make it more meaningful, interesting, and fun.  Anything that's part of a story is easier to remember.

 

I'm not sure what rabbit trails people have been following, but you can find Gina's TED talks by googling "Gina Cooke TED."  On her website (google "Gina Cooke LEX"), there are some highly academic conversations between professional linguists, but if you poke around in the "categories" you can find stuff that might suit your interests. Take a look also at her Blogroll, which includes blogs from a couple of classroom teachers whose students are doing "word investigations" and other fun stuff, and links to other useful sources.

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I'm not familiar with AAS, but maybe it already does some of what my linguist friend is advocating. How do you like it?

It's not, really. It's rules based spelling. It lays out the rules in a very orderly way though, based on sounds and speech. However, in a few places, like for those "wr" words, it tosses in meaning, almost like a memory trick, to help kids remember.

 

I'm dubious that you could build a whole program -especially for beginning spellers - based on meaning in this way, honestly. For many words, there is no meaning connection to why they use one spelling of the sound of "re" over another. Or, when there is, it's more convoluted and longer than memorizing the rules... Such as that or says the sound of er when preceded by w.

 

I'm sure for spellers who already have the basics down, doing root words and meaning at that level could be feasible though.

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I like this idea. I wouldn't use it as a primary way to teach spelling however. But I can see this being interesting from a vocabulary or creative writing standpoint. 

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I'm dubious that you could build a whole program -especially for beginning spellers - based on meaning in this way, honestly. 

 

I'm not sure an entire program would be feasible either, or necessary.  I'm thinking of that pile of leftover words that seem not to make sense based on the usual rules, including some of the little words like 'do' and 'does,' and 'to, two and too'--all the weird spellings that are especially hard to remember.  Plus a toolbox for learning how to analyze and investigate where words come from.  Once you start down one rabbit trail, it can get addicting, and for some kinds of thinkers/learners, this could make language arts very exciting. 

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Thank you!

A linguist friend of mine, who also works with dyslexic students, has convinced me that all the weird spellings in English and "exceptions" to rules are actually orderly and pattern-driven. If you're skeptical, read on.

 

Since all whole-language and even phonics-based spelling texts eventually resort to labeling things as exceptions, she says it's more accurate, easier, and more fun for struggling spellers to learn spelling through understanding that "words are made of stories." In other words, words have histories, and the histories explain the spelling.

 

For instance, she says that the "wr" in all wr- words comes from an Old English base that means "twist": wring, wrangle, wrestle, wrap, wreath, wreck, etc., even wrath and wrong. Once you see them all grouped together, the shared meaning becomes clear. With a little imagination, you can picture wrath as a state of being twisted internally with rage, and wrong as somehow twisting away from the straight path. Cool, huh?

 

She says dyslexic students in particular make great gains by approaching spelling in this way and by learning words in "meaning families," rather than by the usual memorize-each-word-separately approach, along with memorizing the "rules" and the "exceptions."

 

She has three fascinating TED-ED talks, including one explaining that the silent 'b' in doubt is there because 'doubt' shares a base with 'double,' as in, being of two minds about something. You can watch it here.

 

With her help I'm trying to pull together some simple lesson plans because she doesn't write curriculum, but you can learn a lot from her website, called www.linguisteducatorexchange.com.

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Please share your links! I've been rabbit trailing as well, but not as successfully at this point.

If you scroll down on the link provided by OP (Ted videos) there are others on the word one, true, and why we use "s" to pluralize words.

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I'm not sure an entire program would be feasible either, or necessary.  I'm thinking of that pile of leftover words that seem not to make sense based on the usual rules, including some of the little words like 'do' and 'does,' and 'to, two and too'--all the weird spellings that are especially hard to remember.  Plus a toolbox for learning how to analyze and investigate where words come from.  Once you start down one rabbit trail, it can get addicting, and for some kinds of thinkers/learners, this could make language arts very exciting. 

If you wanted to make it a full spelling program you do spelling along the lines of Phonetic Zoo/AAS then once a week or every few weeks do a linguistic lesson instead of the "your own words" that we always skip.

 

If you end up doing a program I would love to see it.

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I love learning that kind of stuff. I do try to explain the reason behind every spelling, and every time somebody tries to tell me that a word makes no sense, I see that as a challenge ;) (yes, there is a reason that yacht is spelled like that!) I love to see how words relate to analogues in other languages, too. Etymology and linguistics aren't everyone's cup of tea though, as my husband frequently reminds me when I try to share some fascinating fact I have learnt. I don't see how he can use words daily and not even wonder why they are the way they are, how they relate to other words, where that weird spelling came from etc. But then he doesn't see how I can be so indifferent to how my computer, phone or car work.  :laugh:

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I love learning that kind of stuff. I do try to explain the reason behind every spelling, and every time somebody tries to tell me that a word makes no sense, I see that as a challenge ;) (yes, there is a reason that yacht is spelled like that!) I love to see how words relate to analogues in other languages, too. Etymology and linguistics aren't everyone's cup of tea though, as my husband frequently reminds me when I try to share some fascinating fact I have learnt. I don't see how he can use words daily and not even wonder why they are the way they are, how they relate to other words, where that weird spelling came from etc. But then he doesn't see how I can be so indifferent to how my computer, phone or car work.  :laugh:

So my DH has a twin?

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The Word Snoop is a good fun book for kids that has a few of these types of things:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Word-Snoop-Ursula-Dubosarsky-ebook/dp/B002XW28EY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407290773&sr=8-1&keywords=the+word+snoop

 

Also, adult level but you could use some of the things, Words Words Words by David Crystal:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Words-David-Crystal/dp/0198614446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407290846&sr=8-1&keywords=words+words+words+david+crystal

 

And, Christian but you could use it if you are not, made for grades 7 - 12, King Alfred's English by Laurie J. White.

 

http://www.amazon.com/King-Alfreds-English-History-Language-ebook/dp/B00892AXAI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407290920&sr=8-1&keywords=king+alfred%27s+english

 

She has a variety of supplemental activities on her website that correspond to the book:

 

http://www.theshorterword.com/king-alfreds-english/student

 

Some of the reasons for things are in "The ABCs and All Their Tricks" by Margaret Bishop 

 

http://www.amazon.com/ABCs-All-Their-Tricks-Reference/dp/0880621400/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407291052&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abcs+and+all+their+tricks

 

And, the author that did the study that The ABCs was based on has a great book, I'll give an example page in another post, it is long, "Spelling: Stucture and Strategies" by Hanna

 

http://www.amazon.com/Spelling-strategies-Paul-Robert-Hanna/dp/0395045657/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407291172&sr=1-1&keywords=spelling%3A+structure+and+strategies+hanna

 

 

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Paul Hanna did a computer study of the most common 17,000 words in English, the study that "The ABCs and All Their Tricks" is based on.

In his book, talks about the structure of the English language and several different strategies for teaching spelling.  For example, on page 162, one hands on approach Hanna suggests is making a list like this:

far, flat, sift, draft, graph, photo, telephone, stiff, stuff, puff, laugh, rough, tough, enough, craft, frog, and nephew

and having your student figure out all the rules for the spelling of f. (Think about them, I'll post answers later!)

Since my daughter loves puzzles, I used to try to teach most of her spelling this way, as a puzzle for her to solve. She had more fun and remembered things better when she learned them this way.

Other times, I would tell her the rule and then have her try to solve the spelling, she liked that kind of a challenge, too. For example, I would tell her that oi within a word is spelled oi and oi at the end of a word is spelled oy. I wrote out 2 examples of each, had her read them, then erased them and quizzed her with a word of each type.

 

(Now that she is older, she prefers to just learn efficiently the words she needs to work on, and she is a good speller so we only do a few words a week.)  

 

My sight word page also has some reasons behind things, including this tidbit from Paul Hanna:

 

During the Middle English period, a certain type of angular writing was in vogue which resulted in some ambiguity for the reader when u was followed by an m, n, or u (sometimes written v or w.) Consequently, scribes replaced the u with o, and that spelling is retained in some words used today, e.g. come, monk, love, tongue, some, honey, son.

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Apples & Pears uses a morphemic approach to spelling. It merges the words, word parts that convey meaning, and the spelling rules that govern. It's goal is to get dyslexic students spelling, not necessarily give the etymology of the words...but A&P would make a great program for someone looking for a change from phonogram/rules based lessons. It would make a great foundation for later (serious) etymology.

 

 

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