A new word is like a fresh seed sewn on the ground of the discussion.
I’ve always loved Ralph Fletcher’s advice that vocabulary instruction is all about helping students fall in love with words. But what does that look like, and how do we help students feel the love? Teaching students to look for portmanteaus and eggcorns is a fun way to build word awareness.
My favorite new word is a portmanteau. The Choice Literacy website server briefly crashed and restarted a few weeks ago. A message was sent by email to alert me to the problem, noting the site was up and running after “a restart was attempted automagically.” I chuckled at that word “automagically.” From now on anything wonderful that happens in my life with no effort on my part will be something that happened “automagically.”
A portmanteau combines two words and their meanings into one new word (in this case, “automatic” and “magical”). Discovering a new portmanteau is like finding a buried treasure in a text. Portmanteau has both French and English roots, derived from a term for a suitcase with two compartments. Smog and frenemy are also examples of portmanteaus.
More recently I’ve had fun with eggcorns, which are sort of practical-joke kissing cousins of portmanteaus. An eggcorn is a substitution for a word or phrase which may shift its meaning, but still makes sense in the context. Eggcorns are usually accidental on the part of the speaker — cold slaw for cole slaw, old timer’s disease for Alzheimer’s disease. When I was a snarky teen, my best friend and I enjoyed how her grandma would exclaim over the nice “sediment” in Hallmark greeting cards. We found the corny words a little sludgy too.
Lists of portmanteaus and eggcorns abound on the web, and once you’ve introduced them to students, they will no doubt find many examples to share on a class graffiti board or online log. Exploring the origins of these creative words and phrases, both accidental and purposeful, is a great way into conversations about how language evolves and meanings vary in different contexts.
This week we look at word learning in content areas. Plus more as always — enjoy!
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Andrea Smith uses photographs to build content vocabulary in her fourth-grade classroom. She explains how in Word Storms: Integrating Nonfiction, Technology and Word Study:
Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris are Breathing Life into Content Area Word Walls:
Pat Johnson explains how Signal Words are a terrific tool for teaching content vocabulary:
If the concept of eggcorns is new to you, hundreds are available in the eggcorn database:
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Shari Frost has some practical suggestions for Raising the Quality of Word Work:
Maria Caplin is discouraged at the low level of transfer of new vocabulary in her fifth graders’ writing. Her solution involves students Going Public with Word Work:
In this week’s video, Danielle French’s first-grade students are practicing new math vocabulary during a lesson. This is the first video in a series:
Max Brand uses written blind word sorts to build student word learning skills:
In an encore video, Sean Moore teaches second grader Mikhail some strategies for learning words in a conference:
That’s all for this week!