It is so good to be back with face to face learning with PETAA, and a vocabulary workshop that I love working with.
It seems almost natural that our teacher minds, our training, our interest in learning steer us into a deep interest in words.
Some of the most interesting words and word ideas that we explored in this workshop were a challenge – abecedarian, susurrus, and petrichor.
One sceptic immediately had to check that these were ‘genuine’. They are.
As I noted in the workshop, there are words in English that are so rare that even a very enthusiastic reader will never actually come across them. These three almost fit into that category. But then, they are the perfect word for that very thing we didn’t know there was a word for.
• abecedarian – adjective/noun
Pronunciation – ā-bē-(ˌ)sē-ˈder-ē-ən
– one learning the rudiments of something (such as the alphabet)
– of or relating to the alphabet
– alphabetically arranged- rudimentary
– The history of abecedarian is as simple as ABC—literally. The term’s Late Latin ancestor, abecedārius (which meant “alphabetical”), was created as a combination of the letters A, B, C, and D, plus the adjective suffix -arius; you can hear the echo of that origin in the pronunciation of the English term (think “ABC-darian”).
Examples in a Sentence
– Noun – Abecedarians soon learn that martial arts have a spiritual as well as physical side.
– Adjective – She took an abecedarian approach to historical study.
• susurrus – noun
Pronunciation – səsʉrəs
Definition – a whispering, murmuring, or rustling sound;
(literary) a whispering or rustling sound; a murmur
This was their rural chapel. Aloft, through the intricate arches
Of its aerial roof, arose the chant of their vespers,
Mingling its notes with the soft susurrus and sighs of the branches.
from Evangeline: A Tale of Acadi by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1847)
• petrichor – noun
Pronunciation – pĕt′rĭ-kôr′
the earthy scent produced just before rain falls on dry soil; from ‘petra’ = rock, and ‘ichor’, the ethereal blood of the Greek gods, believed by Ancient Greeks to be held in rock.
In the 1950s, CSIRO scientists Dr Isabel (Joy) Bear collaborated with Dr Richard Grenfell Thomas to study the smell of rain. This led to Joy’s most recognised contribution to science, identifying its cause and giving it a name: petrichor, in 1964.
(See CSIRO Vale Dr Joy Bear)
The smell of petrichor will entice you and a pluviophile would, if he could, bottle up that heavenly aroma of love and nature.
Research indicates the average student in Australia comes to school with a vocabulary of about 5000 words, and are capable of learning 5-10 new words every day.
What we explored in the workshop was some of the explicit and effective ways that we can introduce our students to new words.
But we also need to consider the words are we have in our own vocabularies, and how we use them every day, to help move and shift our own understandings.
What word play are we indulging in?
‘Letters and Numbers’ (SBS) is a variation on the anagram. It is about how words are built, looking for patterns in the letter groups, and making connections between known spelling structures.
The game is good for exploring words already known, and David Astle (super wordsmith – see his column on the back page of Spectrum in the Sydney Morning Herald every Saturday to really stretch your vocabulary) always pushes to the next level or three.
The wonderfully popular ‘Wordle’ (and now ‘Quordle’) stretch the thinking, and certainly exercise the vocabulary knowledge we have.
These are great fun to adapt for your own students, and to use as reference points. But they don’t necessarily extend vocabulary itself.
One way to more effectively extend vocabulary is by exploring word origins, links and patterns between words in a given topic.
The online etymology dictionary explores many aspects of the words we need to find out about. And heaps of others that it is interesting to explore.
This helps to build the semantic webs of our students, as they build their knowledge.
Example learning about ‘water’ words
To return to two of our examples – susurrus and petrichor. Both have a link to water – the first to its sound, and the second to that ‘smell of rain’.
When the rain returns (which it will), build a stock of watery words that you and your students can use to talk and write about their experiences. This can be the incidental, interesting topic you build on first thing in the morning, as you (and the students) notice the sounds and smells of the rain, and as the morning recess is disrupted yet again by heavy rain.
- Sounds of water – Classic Thesaurus provides three pages of words associated with susurrus, Some of these are perfect for the quiet sound of water, others are more appropriate for other contexts. Examine the words in the list. Substitute new words in sentences you have created – how is the meaning altered? Use each as you hear the rain pouring down, again, as you discuss rain.
- Where our words come from – get a good list of Latin and Greek word roots. Explore and build new vocabulary by using the following:
- aqua (Latin for ‘water’) gives us aquatic, aquarium, Aquarius;
- Hydro (Greek ‘water’) gives us hydro-electricity, hydrangea, hydrogen (so called because it forms water when exposed to oxygen).
- Other water weather words – precipitation, muggy (from the old Norse, via Middle English), condensation, evaporation. Mould, clammy, (“soft and sticky,” probably from Old English clæm“mud, sticky clay,”.)
- The smell of rain – investigate the work of the CSIRO in general, and of the two scientists who created the term ‘petrichor’. Explore the ways different parts of the school smell before and after rain – trees and shrubs in the school garden, the lawn, the concrete, the play areas; bags, clothes and jackets – all the aspects of school. Is there a particular ‘school in the rain’ smell? What could it be called?
Example activities (general)
- Explore the roots of words – make etymology part of the daily working with words vocabulary building activity – draw out the links between words, make connections, and be prepared to really explore words in homework activities.
- Build ‘clines’ that develop both richness in vocabulary and extent. Students can understand the difference between ‘susurrus’ and ‘murmur’ and will use both appropriately.
It’s time for more face to face work in our professional learning, to be able to enjoy the susurrus of teachers exploring ideas, without the cacophony of the playground..