At the beginning of last year in the classroom, I  put up notecards in a line with a red string attached above my whiteboard like this:

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The idea behind it was that in a 90-120 minute literacy block, I would hit each of these structures and try to make as many connections as possible.

I bolded word because my literacy block always started Mondays with teaching new vocabulary words. For example, I would teach a word like produce and then we would analyze the sublexical units through Structured Word Inquiry (Bowers, 2010).

As I have been transitioning to working one-on-one with students, I have been developing routines that help students see the connections between these structures.

Today, I had a review session and we looked at the phrase “the car stops.”

There is a lot that can be studied with this simple phrase. Here is the diagram of what we covered together:

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We put the phrase “the car stops” into three sentences…

The car stops.

The car is stopping.

Yesterday, the car stopped.

…with dialogue that was something like this:

Scholar 1: I could write the car stops. I could also write the car is ________.

Scholar 2: “stopping”

Scholar 1: “I could also write, Yesterday, the car ____________.”

Scholar 2: “stopped”

Kids are really good at this even if they don’t know that they are good at this because grammar is innate. Try it sometime!

Scholar 1: “What is different about the forms in each of these sentences?”

Scholar 2: “In the first sentence stop has –s, in the second it has -ing and in the third it has -ed” (The italics show spelling. Angled brackets don’t work in blog posts)

We followed that up with word sums:

stop + s → stops

stop + ing → stopping

stop + ed → stopped

Notice the green highlight in the graphic. We reviewed the consonant doubling suffix convention. This is a review session, so we had already covered all three suffixing conventions, and this was a good time to highlight these within connected text.

We then drew a quick matrix. Notice the matrix isn’t exhaustive. It doesn’t need to be.

Finally, we identified that the forms of stop in each sentence are verbs. I have been slowly introducing grammar, so as not to overwhelm. We color coded the blue noun car and the red verb stops in the original phrase and labelled them accordingly. This student can identify nouns and verbs, but not articles yet. That is ok, we will get there.

We then contrasted the verb forms (and their inflectional suffixes) with the noun car. We pulled that word out and used the syntactic test one _____, many ______ to confirm the noun, with this dialogue:

Scholar 1: “You could have one _____”

Scholar 2: “car”

Scholar 1: “Or many _______”

Scholar 2: “cars”

Scholar 1: “Or no _____”

Scholar 2: “cars”

So, we see the difference in forms: car and cars.

Scholar 1: “The difference is?”

Scholar 2: “The suffix -s”

We drew a matrix using the base element car and even did a quick review of a compound word: boxcar

Compounds are an interesting study, but for now, we understand that a compound word is made up of more than one base element.

We are really nicely set up for an introduction session into form and function with what we have done so far. A question that is begging to be explored is:

How is the s in cars different from the s in stops in the context of this phrase?

What a great question and one that involves the form s and its multiple functions.

The last things we noticed in the original phrase were the digraph th (highlighted pink) in the word the and the two consonant clusters st and ps (highlighted yellow) in the word stops. 

Just to pull back to a wider lens, we have studied graphemes, morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences, noticing the interconnectedness of all of these structures along the way.

Here’s a diagram to illustrate that:

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