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How Does Word Study
Improve Spelling & Vocabulary?

Word study is the study of changes made over time to words in a given language. This can be achieved through looking closely at the etymology of words, their roots and affixes, synonyms and antonyms and compound words. Word study enriches our vocabulary and can be used as a highly effective aid to spelling.

I remember a conversation I had with a few new Montessori guides my first year teaching. Together, we were participating in a new teacher program. The subject was on spelling. I mentioned I was experimenting with weekly spelling lists, similar to what I saw other teachers doing.

Similar to what I remembered from back when I was in elementary school, too. The lists were always grouped by a subject – things you might see on a playground, sports, animals, holidays, etc. I told them I wasn’t convinced this was an effective way of ‘teaching’ spelling to elementary students. It seemed too random and they didn’t really show too much interest.

How one of my colleagues responded changed my view on introducing new vocabulary forever. She shared, “I never understood random lists of words grouped together to teach spelling. Why would students see a connection in that? The way we were taught how to approach words through etymology is the only way learning new words makes sense to me.

Word families and roots are a more logical way to group words together. And it’s far more interesting. It makes words and their meanings much easier to remember.”


How is Word Etymology Different than Word Definitions? 

From that point on, I have never strayed from Montessori word study. From time to time, a teacher has comes across a new fangled spelling program. They have shared it with their fellow teachers and they’ve try to entice other guides into joining them. This has only made me dig my heals in deeper.

Here’s why.

Etymologies are not dictionary definitions. Rather, they are explanations as to what our words have meant and how they might have sounded many years ago. They are a window to ancient history.

Word families grow from a shared root word. New words are made simply by adding prefixes before the root and/or suffixes after. Moreover, changing affixes will modify the word’s function or part of speech (verb, adjective, noun, etc.).

Most affixes we use in English come from Latin, Greek, French, or Scandinavian roots of words. They did not exist in old English. As children work with affixes, they may begin to realize adding a prefix to a word changes its meaning.

For instance, place is to put something down but misplace means to put it in the wrong place. Replace means to fill the place of something and displace is to move something. Each word is a verb but all with slightly different meanings.


Avoid discouraging struggling spellers! 

Throughout our traditional schooling, we were often given groups of nonrelated words having no etymological relationship to one another. Rather, words might be grouped by broad categories (i.e. colors, types of vehicles, types of fruit, etc.) for us to then memorize.

Unfortunately, the accepted approach is disjointed and often unproductive. Memorization of unrelated words often reinforces spellers who have already experienced success. The reverse of this is also true. It continues to discourage those that are struggling with spelling.


Help stir curiosity within young readers. 

Looking at words through etymology allows children to discover the origins of words, why they are spelled the way they are and to see connections among words within a word family. Most importantly, it can stir curiosity within young learners. Etymology encourages them to delve more deeply into the nuances of our language.

These are the precise skills readers need in order to use word parts in predicting the meaning of new, more complex vocabulary words. Some researchers believe that knowing vocabulary is more important than using structure and context clues to make sense of a text!

Moreover, analyzing meaningful word parts aligns with ELA Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4:  Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


How do Word Families grow?

What is a word family? When we have words with the same root but different affixes, we say they are in the same word family. The words may take different forms, but the meaning of the root is the same each time.

Affixes are little bits added to an already existing word. They are either suffixes, which come behind the words or prefixes, which come at the beginning of words. Suffixes and prefixes are syllables often having no meaning by themselves. When added to an existing word, they modify the meaning.

A suffix tends to change the function of the word – its part of speech. Occasion, Occasional, Occasionally. Here we have a noun, adjective and adverb, respectively. These aspects of affixes and how they change the meaning or functions of words are later studies in the elementary.


Other Ways to Study Words:

A compound word is a word created by putting together two separate words having their own meaning. Together, they form a new word with a modified (or slightly changed) meaning.
Modifiers tend to be descriptive words, such as adjectives or adverbs.

Here we have a short list of compound words sharing the root book: Textbook, notebook, guidebook and handbook. The root book is a noun. When both words are nouns, the first noun modifies the second noun. Therefore, the first noun begins functioning as an adjective (i.e. what kind of book? A handbook, a notebook).

A thesaurus is not a type of dinosaur. It is a reference tool similar to a dictionary. Instead of definitions, it lists words in groups of synonyms, antonyms and related concepts.

Thesauri is the plural of thesaurus. They are commonly published in print form. A synonym is a word or phrase meaning nearly the same as another in the same language. For example, the verb walk has multiple synonyms: Meander, wander and stroll are just a few that are similar.

An Antonym is a word having the opposite meaning. The antonym of walk is ride.


Explore the inner workings & 
nuances of modern English!

Happy New Year! I am so excited to publish my first learning resource of 2022: The Montessori Spelling & Vocabulary Guide III: VETERAN Elementary Word Study

I got the idea to create this Montessori spelling guide series last school year. During a staff meeting, a few teachers discussed different products available for spelling and vocabulary at home during virtual school. At that moment, I realized there was a need for a Montessori-inspired spelling & vocabulary home resource. 

This three workbook series guides young linguists to: 

• Study roots, suffixes & prefixes and how they modify the meaning of words 
• Explore the nuances among words within different word families 
• Determine the meaning of unknown words by analyzing meaningful word parts 
• Delve more deeply into word study with synonyms & antonyms 
• Examine how two words joined together will create a new compound word! 

Don’t discourage struggling spellers. Word study enriches our vocabulary and can be used as a highly effective aid to spelling!


Do you have comments or thoughts on Montessori Word Study? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at grumble.services@gmail.com.

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Read More: Comprehensive Thinking Strategies

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References & Read More:

Parent-Teacher Communication: Strategies for Effective Parent Inclusion & Engagement

Montessori Elementary School Learning 
by Maria Montessori International Academy