Let’s look at a couple ways to bring inductive thinking into vocabulary and spelling instruction:
We’re teaching the -s, -es, and -ies plural rules, but let’s not reveal the rule yet. As with our other inductive lessons, we begin with carefully selected examples:
|one chair → two chairs||one lady → two ladies|
|one bird → two birds||one box → two boxes|
|one dog → two dogs||one fox → two foxes|
|one candy → two candies||one whale → two whales|
Have students categorize these examples based on patterns they spot. As they work, walk around and monitor their progress.
As the majority start spot the three groups, bring them together to share out. Then ask students to formalize the rules they discovered within their groups:
- Words that ended in -y changed to -ies.
- Words that ended in -x added -es.
- Everything else just added -s.
Give them some more examples to practice with, highlighting the fact that you’re using their spelling patterns.
Let’s move from plural rules to something more advanced: determining the etymology of foreign words (or phrases) used in English. Languages are full of patterns, so it’s the perfect place for an inductive lesson.
Gather a group of foreign phrases used in English that share some obvious characteristics. Don’t tell the students how many languages you’re using. Instead, they’ll infer the number of languages by grouping the phrases using patterns.
|bon voyage||subpoena||c’est bon|
|c’est la vie||sub judice||sub silentio|
|c’est magnifique||bon vivant||bon appétit|
There are three patterns, but only two languages:
- bon – French
- c’est – French
- sub – Latin
Hopefully, as they analyze the phrased, students will merge the c’est and bon groups using the phrase c’est bon.
Note that this linking phrase is no accident. Examples should be carefully chosen to enhance the patterns.
Once they have their groups, congratulate your students on organizing these words they don’t even know the meaning of! and announce that these are examples of French and Latin words used in English.
Then, see if kids can puzzle out some meanings. It’s amazing how they’re often able to abstract small details they already know and decipher a phrase.
For example, starting with the well-known bon voyage and bon appetit, students might generalize that bon means “good.”
They know sub means “under,” and can infer that sub silentio means “under silence” and sub judice means “under justice”.
Eventually, they’ll hit a slump and you can step in and unclog the pipes. For example, revealing that c’est means “it’s” might suddenly unveil “it’s magnificent” and “it’s good” [thanks to Mylène for some corrections here].
If your students like working with foreign phrases, this could be a great weekly vocabulary extension activity.
Working With Students’ Natural Gifts
Think of how much more interesting these two lessons are because we allow students to discover meaning. We are working with students’ intuitive nature rather than against it, and the benefits are plentiful.