As my students and I tackled Book 1 of The Odyssey a couple of weeks ago, I realized we needed to have a quick vocabulary lesson about the Muse and her role in Book 1. We talked about how the Ancient Greeks directly speak to the Muse asking her to sing the story of Odysseus in lines 1-2:
Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.
In our textbook, we're given an explanation that the Muse is Zeus's daughter, but even this didn't seem like enough "context" for my students. So, I asked if any of them were in theater or drama, many answered, "No." Then, I asked them if they'd read/heard of William Shakespeare before and many agreed they had. I asked them these questions to help give them some background information and then I requested they re-read these first two lines again and asked them:
What are the Ancient Greeks asking the Muse to do?
In our adapted version of our textbook, Book 1 actually begins something like this:
Sing in me Muse... (which provided my students a clue in finding the meaning of muse)
After allowing my students the opportunity to re-read these lines, I asked them, "What is a muse?" They gave me the book definition of "Zeus's daughter." And I said, "Okay. But what does a muse do?"
This time, they responded with, "A muse sings stories."
Once we had this part figured out, I moved into the next part of my lesson.
Root Words and Word Connections
On a poster size post-it note, I wrote the word "Muse" at the top. Then, I asked my students,"What words can you think of that have the word 'muse' in them?" They came up with:
music musical musician
amuse amused amusing amusement
One student mentioned the word, "moose" and we talked about how the pronunciation of this word (and it's spelling) didn't actually contain the root word "muse" within it. I then asked them, "Besides the root word, what else do these words have in common?"
In each class, without fail, someone answered, "They all have to do with entertainment, or they're entertaining." BINGO!
This is precisely what I wanted them to see--how the root word "muse" is not only the base of each word, and part of its meaning is connected among each word we listed. We then talked about how many words in the English language have Greek, Latin, and French origins. We also talked about how English is a "younger" language compared to these other languages.
Because I have many Hispanic students who speak Spanish at home, we also talked about the importance of how many Spanish and English words often sound similar or have similar spellings/meanings. This is why each time we're trying to figure out the meaning behind new words, I'm constantly asking them, "Can you think of any other words in Spanish or English that sound like or look like this word?"
Word Maps and How Words "Sound"
As we worked through this lesson, I had students create a word map like the one you see in the picture. I asked that they underline the root word in each word to remind them of the connections we'd just talked about. As we study vocabulary throughout the rest of the year, we'll use this lesson as the foundation for future study. I'd like to think the word map allows students to see how the root word is used in other words AND how it's pronunciation is key in discovering other words that are created from it.
In my vocabulary instruction, I try to use a contextual approach like the one lesson in this lesson. Rather than providing students with lists of words and definitions they must study, memorize, and then take a test on, we determine what words mean by doing a lot of re-reading, making guesses using context clues (inferences) and re-reading with word meanings substituted for the word we're trying to figure out. This particular lesson lent itself well to the importance of word origins, word maps, and the connections of words across different languages.
As we work with other challenging "classics" and difficult texts throughout the year, we'll come back to this lesson again and again. Making word connections explicit within reading instruction seems like the most organic way to help build student lexicons.