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Unraveling the Language Puzzle

Unraveling the Language Puzzle

There are over 500,000 words in the English language. My students, armed with a 20-word list every two weeks for each year in high school, were on the path to conquering the English lexicon. Except, with only 36 weeks a school year, and assuming they had impeccable recall and zeal, my students would only have 1,440 checked off by graduation. For a year, I boycotted the list and tried to teach vocabulary in context.

But an idea began to take root; quite literally: tree roots descended from my classroom ceiling, burgeoning with remnants of Greek and Latin. Through student-created vocabulary lists and activities, we studied the finite number of smaller words, like ab, mal, and duc, the roots of our vast language. Together, with whiteboards, cartoons, and etymologies, we examined word pieces, so that, on their own, students could continue to unravel the language puzzle.

Danielle Hartke
Milwaukee, WI
3 years teaching

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