Learning to Love the Language

by Rhoda Samkoff

At the beginning of my teaching career one of my fifth-graders complained, “I have ideas, but I can’t make them come out my pencil!” 

While my definition of successful creative writing is “the manipulation of words that results in a unique product of self-expression,” the student’s statement is a reminder that producing a piece of writing from start to finish is not as simple as it sounds.

The high-interest lesson plans and printable worksheets that follow set the stage for writing by helping teachers to:

  • Motivate by showing fascinating ways that words enter our language
  • Provide tools such as retrieval lists of alternatives for overused words
  • Introduce strategies and skills to expand and enhance writing
  • Give open creative writing opportunities to apply the skills

Imagine a world in which artwork came in only monochromatic color schemes. How dull and repetitive it would be! Color, depth, and range give the artist a means of vivid self-expression, and creative writing is no different. When our young writers realize that their choices can make a blank page come alive, that they can create humor, suspense, pathos, or surprise with their words, watch enthusiasm replace reluctance and complacency morph into confidence!

DAY 1 : Clues to our Language

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Examine common words with Latin roots as clues to their meanings.
  • Use vocabulary words in complete and effective sentences
  • Expand sentences by adding details: a specific character, a number, place, time, object, or action.

Materials: 

  • Worksheet 1: Words from Past to Present
  • Worksheet 2: Fill-ins for Fuller Sentences
  • Worksheet 3: Sentence Stretchers
  • Open-ended Creative Writing Sheet: Tug-of-War

Introduction: 

  • Write or post the following words: company, salary, tricycle, interrupt, manuscript.
  • Say: Here are five everyday words.
  • Next, circle the Latin origins for each word: com, sal, tri, cycle inter, rupt, manu, script.
  • Ask: What do these five words have in common? 
  • These words all come from Latin and there is a little story behind each one. Today we are going to use etymology to see how these words entered our language. Etymology means the study of the origins of words. Almost half of the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language have Latin or French origins!

Group practice:

  • Distribute Worksheet 1: Words from Past to Present. Read aloud with the class.  (Answers may include: companion; salad (Lat, salata, salted); triangle, manufacture, automated.)
  • Ask for students’ responses for one to five (words that contain the Latin prefixes).

Independent practice:

  • Distribute Worksheet 2: Fills-ins for Fuller Sentences.
  • Read the directions and emphasize that students are to fill in the 12 blanks with a specific character, number, place, time, object or action.
  • Have students work in pairs or groups of three to read aloud and compare their answers on Worksheet 2. 
  • Circulate to make sure every student participates in the exercise.

Closure:

  • Ask: Did everyone’s partners fill in all the blanks in exactly the same way? No, the answers were not identical because we all think differently.
  • You can always write fuller sentences by adding a specific character, a place, a time, an object, or an action. This will make your sentences unique and reflect your thinking. Try to do this whenever you write sentences.
  • Latin is the basis for many of our words, but words enter the English language in other unusual ways which we will explore in the next lessons.

Follow-up classwork or homework:

  • Distribute Worksheet 3: Sentence Stretchers.
  • Students write sentences for eight more words that have Latin origins.
  • They practice making each sentence their own by adding detail: a specific character, number, place, time, object, or action.
  • You may also want to give student the Open-ended Creative Writing Sheet: Tug-of-War.

Day 1 Worksheets

Day 2: Six Surprising Origins of Words

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Identify six ways that words are added to our language.
  • Use loanwords to enhance sentences.

Materials:

  • Sample Sentence: Write or post on board/screen
  • Worksheet 1: Six Surprising Word Origins
  • Worksheet 2: Loanwords
  • Worksheet 3: Toponyms
  • Worksheet 4: Food toponyms lists
  • Worksheet 5: Activity, menu template
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: Restaurant Review

Introduction:

  • Focus students’ attention the sample sentence:

Would you like to have a Belgian waffle at a smorgasbord with the CEO of the Hilton Hotel while bees buzz around the beautiful skylight?

  • Say: To review the previous lesson, much of the English language originated from Latin. You also learned that English is constantly changing!
  • This sample sentence contains six clues to how words enter our language. Can you find the six words that have unusual origins?
  • Ask students: What do you think the sentence is trying to tell you about the origins of our language?

Ask a student to read the sample sentence aloud.

Group practice:

  • Distribute Workshop 1: Six Surprising Word Origins.
  • Students read the sample sentence to themselves. 
  • Using the Sample Sentence as a guide, students underline the six word or phrase clues on their worksheets: soufflé and smorgasbord, Belgian waffle, CEO, Hilton Hotel, buzz, skylight.
  • As the teacher reads each of the six hints, the students fill in the words and phrases they underlined on the sample sentence.
  • DistributeWorksheet 2: Loanwords
  • Go over the meanings of these loanwords with the students: bazaar, moccasin, molasses, origami, futon, and taekwondo.
  • Compare the examples of unclear sentences with descriptive sentences that give the reader a clear picture.
  • Students write a clear descriptive sentence for each loanword, demonstrating that they understand the meaning of the word.

Independent practice:

  • Distribute Worksheet 3: Toponyms.
  • Ask students to read the Did You Know? section and complete the sentences using the information on the worksheet.

Follow-up classwork or homework:

  • Distribute Worksheets 4 and 5 and Open-ended Creative Writing: Restaurant Review.

Closure:

  • Say: Words enter the English language in many ways. Two of the ways—loanwords and toponyms—occur frequently in our everyday speech and writing. 
  • The purpose of this lesson was to help you become more aware of two types of word origins, loanwords and toponyms, so that you can use such words to make your writing more interesting.

Day 2 Worksheets

Day 3: Word Play

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Put initial letters together to make new words called acronyms.
  • Decipher words that are made up of letters: initialisms.
  • Identify words that imitate sounds: onomatopoeia.
  • Write sentences and paragraphs using examples of these terms.

Materials:

  • Worksheet 1: Acronyms
  • Worksheet 2: Initialisms
  • Worksheet 3: Onomatopoeia
  • Answer Key for Worksheets
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: A Day in the Life of My Sneakers

Introduction:

  • Review: In the first two lessons you learned about ways that words are added to the English language, including Latin origins, loanwords (or borrowed words), and toponyms (place names). 
  • Today you will learn about three more kinds of additions that are fun because they use letters and sounds: acronyms, initialisms, and onomatopoeia.
  • Acronyms and initialisms are commonly used in text message and emails.
  • They are also used to describe objects, organizations, and actions.
  • Initialisms are used widely in the fields of government, technology, and medicine. Let’s begin by finding out how many you know

Group practice:

  • Distribute Worksheet 1: Acronyms.
  • Read each name aloud. Elicit students’ responses regarding the acronym for each name. Students use the lines to write the initial letters of words that make the acronym. (Refer to Answer Key if needed.)
  • Distribute Worksheet 2: Initialisms. Ask students to identify the meaning of the initialisms. (Refer to Answer Key if needed.)

Independent practice:  

  • Ask students to decipher the message by referring to the Initialism Worksheet they completed as a group.
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: A Day in the Life of My Sneakers

Follow-up classwork or homework:

  • Worksheet 3: Onomatopoeia

Closure:

  • Initialisms, acronyms, and onomatopoeia can enhance your sentences and paragraph writing. It is refreshing for the reader because the letters and sounds break up the monotony of ordinary words. The message today is that creative use of the techniques can be very effective!

Day 3 Worksheets

Day 4: Word Parts

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Recognize the difference between compounding, clipping, and blending.
  • Use the three techniques in their writing.

Introduction:

  • In many ways, word study is like cooking. Sometimes ingredients are put together to make a dish. Other times they are separated. They can also be blended. Today we’re going to see how linguists work with words in the same way chefs prepare foods in the kitchen.

Materials:

  • Worksheet 1: Compounding
  • Worksheet 2: Clipping List
  • Worksheet 3: Activity Using Clipping List
  • Worksheet 4: Blending and Answer Key
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: The Closet

Follow-up Classwork or Homework:

  • Worksheet 5: Blending Independent Follow-up

Introduction:

  • In the previous lessons you learned about ways that words are added to the English language: Latin origins, loanwords (borrowed words), and toponyms (place names). 
  • You also learned three additional ways words have been added using letters and sounds: acronyms, initialisms, and onomatopoeia.

Group practice:

  • Complete Worksheet 1: Compounding and Worksheet 2: Clipping List.

Independent practice:

  • Complete Worksheet 3, 4, and 5.

Follow-up classwork or homework: ·

Open-ended Creative Writing: The Closet

Closure:

  • Today we have seen that, like ingredients in cooking, words can be cut, blended, or added. Compounding, clipping, and blending techniques will add spice to your writing!

Day 4 Worksheets

Day 5: Waking Up Tired Writing

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Use idioms to enliven writing.
  • Refer to a retrieval list to choose precise words for writing.

Introduction:

  • The English language is filled with action words that are right at your fingertips! 

Instead of using ordinary, overused words, use the retrieval list to wake up your writing.

Materials:

  • Worksheet 1: Idioms Activity and Answer Key
  • Worksheet 2: Retrieval Help List for Overused Words
  • Worksheet 3: Hints for Instant Success in Writing
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: Action Story

Group practice:

  • Distribute Worksheet 1: Idioms Activity and Answer Key. Ask students to complete the sentences using idioms from the list. Then have students share aloud how they used idioms in sentences.
  • Distribute Worksheet 2: Retrieval Help List for Overused Words. Have a few students read each list aloud. Explain that these are similar to shopping lists. For example, a grocery list may say “apples,” but chances are there are a wide variety of choices.  In a similar way, a student is not limited to one generic word, but can select from a wide variety of words for more precise descriptions.

Independent practice:

  • Worksheet 3: Hints for Instant Success in Writing
  • Open-ended Creative Writing: Action Story

Follow-up classwork or homework:

  • Write a paragraph using one or more skills that you have learned in our Learning to Love the Language lessons.

Closure:

  • The word study lessons have given you specific and interesting ways words have been added to our language.
  • Every writer has decision-making power over his or her selection of words. Always keep in mind the effect that your word choice and arrangement of words will have on your readers.  

Day 5 Worksheets

About the Author:

A native of Massachusetts, Rhoda Samkoff holds an MA in curriculum and teaching from Columbia University Teachers College and she has taught all elementary school levels in the Milburn, New Jersey school district. More than 70 of her students have been published or received top awards in writing competitions. Samkoff has presented writing workshops and seminars for parents and teachers, and has authored articles for numerous magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times. She is the author of the book In a Class of Your Own: Essential Strategies for the New K-6 Teacher. Samkoff has received national recognition for leadership in teaching including six Awards of Excellence from the National Association of Elementary School Principals and a United States Congressional Recognition Award. She also has received the Kappa Delta Pi Teacher of Honor Award for innovation in education. In addition to teaching and writing, Samkoff heads Rhodavator Educational Consulting LLC. In spite of a busy schedule, she always manages to find time to participate in juggling and table tennis.


Photo: Seattle Public Schools


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