On several consecutive pages of an old notebook, I’ve made lists. Not to-do lists, or to-buy lists — those are in another notebook — but word lists. I’ve made a list of words we remove a syllable from when we speak, a list of words with a silent letter, a list of words that end in -ist. I guess these are the kinds of lists English teachers make…?

One of my favorite language activities is sorting. Sorting is very simple and can be done with students from elementary to high school. Here’s an example. If I want to introduce my students to the jobs words do in sentences (parts of speech), I divide the class into small groups and give each group 9 words — 3 nouns, 3 verbs and 3 adjectives — and 3 blank cards. Without giving the students any idea about how to sort the words, I ask them to sort the words into 3 groups and then label the groups using the blank cards. Then I walk around the room, observing each group and asking how they decided the words should be sorted. After some time, we come together to discuss nouns, verbs and adjectives; over the next several lessons, we would take time to look at each one.

There’s another kind of sort that I like to do, one that would work well with my starting-point list of words ending in -ist. If you look at words ending in -ist, you’ll notice that they’re all job words, so I listed other job words and came up with words with 3 other suffixes and with a group of words that didn’t have a common suffix. Once I saw how many jobs words have similar suffixes, I realized I could create a series of lessons to introduce or reintroduce my students to suffixes and I could start with -er/r, -ist, -or and -ian. (This word study lesson would probably work with students in 4th grade and up.)

1 Teacher writes a word from each group on the board. No headings are given.

2 Students copy the 4 words into their notebooks and add as many words as they can to each list.

3 Teacher invites several students to come to the board one by one to add 1 word each to any list.

4 Teacher invites several students to come to the board one by one to label each list.

5 Teacher asks students what they notice about all of the words. (Students: All of the words are jobs!) Teacher asks students what the notice about each group of words. (Students: The words in each group have the same endings/suffixes!)

6 Teacher asks students what we might learn in this lesson. (Students: Words belong to groups. Words are made of parts. We can group words by their parts. Words ending in -er/r, -ist, -or and -ian are job words. The ends of words are called suffixes.)

As you can see from the students’ responses to what we learned in this lesson, I can go in several different directions in the next lesson. Students can study each of the 4 groups more carefully. Students can make lists of other groups words might belong to. I can give students 4 words with different prefixes, following the steps of this lesson. Students can separate base words from their suffixes and on and on.

My general philosophy behind this lesson is the idea that students should do the work. I like to give my students a starting point and then let them take it from there, including figuring out what we can learn from what we’re doing. My job as a teacher is to help the students take responsibility for their learning.

I hope to post more sample lessons in the future and hope you were inspired by this one!

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