A Time for Thanks—and Fun with Word Roots!

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November is one of my favorite times of year. Despite the weather getting increasingly colder and the threat of winter weather on the horizon, I view November as a time for nesting, when family and friends often come for visits.  During these visits it is not unusual to bring out a board or card game.

November is also a time of thanks, when we think of the blessings we have received over the past year.    With that in mind I have developed a word ladder game that combines these two sentiments.  I hope you might share this one with your students.

Thanksgiving Word Ladder

Begin by having your students write thanks at the top of a sheet of paper.  Now tell your students that they are going to be guided by you to make ten more words.  Each new word will be based on the one before it.

Here goes:

  1. thanks: Take away one letter to make a movie star who starred in Castaway and The Polar Express.
  2. Hanks: Take away another letter to make the diminutive form of the name Henry.
  3. Hank: Change one letter to make the part of your body that you use to hold things.
  4. hand: Change one letter to make another word for the part of the earth that is not water.
  5. land: Change one letter to make a residential street or avenue.
  6. lane: Change one letter to make something that can help a person with an injured leg walk.
  7. cane: Change one letter to make a place with bars used to hold animals.
  8. cage: Change one letter to make a word than means anger.
  9. rage: Change one letter to make a word that describes when people run to compete with one another
  10. race: Add one letter to make a prayer of thanks often offered before the Thanksgiving Day meal.
  11. grace
    The reason I chose grace as the last word for my word ladder is that it contains grac (also can be grat), a Latin root that literally means thanks or a kindness deserving of thanks.  As many of you know, my colleagues Nancy Padak, Evangeline Newton, Rick Newton, and I have long advocated a roots approach to vocabulary instruction.  If students understand the meaning of many Latin and Greek roots, they will have the tools that will help them unlock the meaning to many English words.  Grat/grac is one of those roots.  (By the way, the reason we made 11 words in this word ladder is to reflect that November is the 11th month of the year!)

So after doing the above word ladder, share with students the meaning of the grat/grac root and then explore other English words that contain that root.  Here are a few:

  • grateful
  • gratitude
  • gracious
  • graceful
  • gratis
  • gratuity
  • ingrate
  • congratulate

Even the Spanish word for thanks has this root: gracias. 

Discuss with your students what these words have to do with thanks or kindness.  You may have to use a dictionary to confirm some of the meanings.  Put these words on a word wall and challenge your students and yourself to use these words on the days before and after Thanksgiving.  Through this brief instructional activity, you will have played an enjoyable word game and expanded students’ vocabulary by helping them notice and understand one word root.

During this month of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all the great and gracious teachers I have met over the years who have helped me understand the power and potential of word study to improve students’ literacy outcomes.  Thank you.

Your Turn!

Can you make your own Thanksgiving word ladder?  Share it with us and your colleagues here!


 

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Dr. Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D, is a Professor of Education in the Reading and Writing Center at Kent State University, Ohio, where he directs the reading clinic. His scholarly interests include reading fluency, word study, reading in the elementary and middle grades, and readers who struggle. He has served on the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association and is widely published in reading journals. His book, The Fluent Reader, provides background information and practical applications for the teaching of fluency. Dr. Rasinski speaks all over the country to education audiences about reading fluency.

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