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Working with Word Within the Word

I'm not sure how many people that read this are familiar with WWTW, but WWTW is short for Word Within the Word, a study of morphemes by Michael Clay Thompson. It is a study of Greek and Latin roots, and in my opinion, a great way for students to identify and define vocabulary. I have seen programs that have better activities accessible within the actual book, and that it my main issue with this program, it is not user friendly. I have found that the activities in the book are good for in class work, but nothing that was really challenging or helpful in terms of utilizing the stems in writing. That's my other problem with canned vocabulary and morpheme programs, they focus on memorization rather than implementation. 

I find a lot of my students cram and dump the information as soon as the test is over, and I want them to see the value in the words. I personally always share with students how valuable knowing stems has been for me. A great example I shared with them was when I had to take the Miller Analogies Test to get into graduate school, which is exactly what it sounds like, a test with nothing but analogies. If it hadn't been for my knowledge of morphemes, I wouldn't have been able to define and determine the relationship between the words without it! 

Here's how I do an example with them:
Complete the following analogy: acropolis : port city :: skyscraper :  Sears Tower/edifice/hut
First, can you tell me what an acropolis is? *answers vary, mostly "no"
Well, let's break it down. 
What does acro- mean? *high
What does -polis mean? *city
So it literally means, high city.
What is a port? *something by the sea?

Ok, so what is the relationship between these two words? They are antonyms. So what would an antonym of skyscraper be? *hut

Would you have gotten that answer correct if you didn't know what acro- and -polis meant? (I rest my case.)

So to make it a bit more *fun* for students, since they had a bit of a negative attitude about WWTW, I had them create folders in class on Thursday. I have a lot of extra manila folders hanging around from the great purge of May 2013. Students spent time decorating and making the folders their own, and then we went into the lesson. I asked them, "Why are we 'wasting time' decorating folders?" and they were able to answer pretty quickly, "Because we are doing this all year, and it should be our own." -thank you previous teachers, for teaching them the value in ownership of work ~mwah!

In the past I have always required students to do notecards. I don't know why, except that I always had to make notecards, and felt that this particular form of torture and paper cuts should be passed down to future generations. Just kidding, I actually love notecards, but in middle school, one or two (or half) always seem to get lost, end up in the hallway, or wedged inside their lockers somewhere. 

So I created this little stem sheet, and thought it would be great if students kept all of them in their folders, that way they would have easy access to all of them in the room for writing assignments. My goal is to tell them on every writing assignment that they need to utilize at least TEN *I'm mean stems in their writing. Some students still wanted to do notecards, so I asked them to bring in a ziploc bag that we could staple in to the folder, that way the cards would stay in there and not get lost. I will not deny a student the opportunity to learn something in a way that is best for them. Most opted to do the handout. Some started the notecards and decided halfway through that they would rather do the handout. We'll see how many of them switch over in the next month or so.

Students are required to write the stem, definition, three examples, and a sentence using one of the examples. If they don't know the meaning of one of the example words, they need to look it up in the dictionary in order to use it correctly in the sentence. I think the sentence is important, because it means they are writing it and connecting the meaning of the word/stem to make sense in the sentence. Of course I color coded mine because...why not? It's pretty.
I put in extra spaces on purpose so that if we are going to review any stems from the previous lesson we can add them there. My thinking is that if they have stems they missed on the test, they should add them at the bottom of the sheet. 
Here's a student decorating her folder. 

I'm still trying to think of different ways to have students study morphemes that are new and different for them. I think this is a good start, but I'll for sure be posting as we use more strategies! I also used to have students use Quizlet, but I'm testing out Study Blue, and I think I like it, I'll get the verdict from students on Tuesday! Happy Labor day, I still have a few more posts in me for this long weekend!


  1. This is an awesome idea. I think it could be really useful for my ELL students, too. Yay! You're awesome.

  2. I never liked the WWTW book but love using the roots. Another issue I had with it is that there were so many I didn't feel I could effectively cover much of them. I started assigning each student in class to study just one at a time, and made up a template where they took their root, defined it, found three words that stemmed from it and defined them, wrote sentences, drew the meaning of the root, and finally made up a word using the root including a sentence with their made-up words. At the end of the week each student presented his or her root to the class. I never had quizzes on them or anything, and not every student learned every root, but we covered a lot of them and quite a few stuck, especially with visuals for each and every one.

  3. I would be very interested in what you include on your stem test. I am implementing it in my 7th grade AIG class and your blog has been very helpful. I find your blog very refreshing.

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