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Superheroes and Word Study

Monday - Warm Up

An Excerpt from "Superheroes and Word Study" (Classroom Notes Plus, April 2008)

In this project by James Bucky Carter, names are a starting point for learning prefixes and new words. Here's a sneak peek into the first day's activities.

Lead into the first day’s activities with some questions:

Have students seen any recent movies about superheroes or read any recent superhero comic books?

What superheroes or supervillains are their favorites? What are their special powers or characteristics?

Have students thought about how superheroes and supervillains receive their names?

After some responses are shared, tell students that you’ll be asking them to participate in some activities on words and word roots that are inspired by superheroes and their names. Also indicate whether you want students to work individually or in pairs.

Riddle Cards

Give each student or pair two riddle cards, each featuring the face of a hero or villain and a riddle on the front, such as “Jean Grey can read thoughts from afar, which is why she is considered one of these types of mutant heroines” or “This Spidey foe wears an alien for a skin, and he’s mean enough to rip the flesh off your bones! ” (See sample cards on page 5.)

Ask students to make a few guesses about words that could answer the riddles; you’re likely to hear suggestions like “psychic,” “mindreader,” “ripper,” and “jaws.” Ideally, students should throw out a few ideas before the answer is revealed. You can leave the card backs blank or prepare the cards with answer words pre-printed on the back (as shown in the samples), and ask students to wait to turn cards over.

After a minute or two of guessing, reveal the actual words to the class—telepath and carnage—and ask students to think about possible definitions for them. The riddles have provided some idea as to meaning, but now the class examines the words together for more clues, and the teacher has a perfect opportunity to model how to speculate about a word you don’t know: draw students’ attention to the component parts of the words, make some guesses aloud about the word—“I wonder if ‘telepath’ has anything to do with ‘telephone’?”—and help students to do some similar thinking aloud.

Brainstorming about possible definitions need not take more than a few minutes, and prepares students for looking more closely at the prefixes.

James Bucky Carter joined the University of Texas at El Paso in the fall of 2009 as an assistant professor of English Education. He is the author of Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels (NCTE, 2007)

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