Making sense of words that don’t

Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Sight words. Demon words. Red words. Irregular words. Maverick words. There is a lot of instructional time spent teaching students to memorize words that do not seem to “play fair” or are just plain crazy. What would you think if I told you there was a way to teach the sense for what has been long taught as nonsensical? Would you read on?

For the purposes of this post, I’ll define a sight word as a word that does not have a readily obvious sound-to-symbol correlation. The fact is that our written language is morphophonemic, which means we cannot pronounce a word until we know what phonemes the graphemes are representing within a morpheme, and we must consider the history (etymology) of the word. So if you look deeper, you will see that these words are perfectly sensible. You just have to know how to find the sense.

Miraculous morphemes
It will take only two words to demonstrate this concept. Think about the words does and goes. We can all agree that these words are taught as irregular words which need to be memorized for reading and spelling. But if we look for their morphemes, something remarkable happens. Does and goes reveal themselves as regular after all, presenting the perfect opportunity to explain that the way we pronounce words changes over time, but the spelling does not.

This article was originally published on January 12, 2015 ©; George Lucas Educational Foundation. It has been reprinted here with permission.

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