Thursday, January 7, 2010

Etymology is Everywhere!

et⋅y⋅mol⋅o⋅gy  [et-uh-mol-uh-jee]

1. the derivation of a word.
2. an account of the history of a particular word or element of a word.
3. the study of historical linguistic change, esp. as manifested in individual words.

Parents often ask me what is the best way to teach their children new vocabulary before they come to IST. I am convinced now, after only a few short hours of a completely non-scientific experiment, that the first step in effectively learning new words is to simply open your ears and eyes throughout the day.

Tonight, I was sitting in church when I heard a man next to me repeat one of the words the pastor said, as if to ask, "What does that mean?" The word was "chasm." It was then that I realized that I had been subconsciously creating a list of the SAT-type words that I heard during the past two sermons.

Later, after I got home, I watched two hours of prime time TV (this is a lot for me!) to see how many more SAT words I could add to the list.  Click the link below to see the results...



This is a total of 20 words in about 5 hours of just listening to my surroundings. Not bad! I challenge each parent to do this at home by helping their student(s) start a vocabulary journal. Inside the journal, students should keep a running list of new words they encounter each day and in what context. Over the years, I've learned that students retain more words when they have an event or conversation they can relate back to or visualize rather than relying on rote memorization.

At the end the day, students must define the words and trace their origins as part of the exercise. There's a line from the movie, "Akeelah and the Bee," when Akeelah's spelling coach tells her that every big word is made of up smaller words (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, roots). Guess what? It's true! Try helping your student recognize this throughout the excercise. Knowing basic Latin and Greek roots is a virtual necessity on tests like the SAT.

The next day, instruct students to track how many times they use the new words correctly in their regular conversations. Siblings can compete against each other on the way to school, soccer practice or at the dinner table. Try repeating this every day for a month and let us know how it goes. Parents can (and should) start their own journals too!

1 comment:

  1. What a great way to build your vocabulary. I was at the same revival and had a few new words introduced to me as well. So if I, an English major over 25 years ago, am still hearing new words at this stage of my life--imagine the rich vocabulary a middle or high school student can begin building RIGHT NOW!!!