Teach Vocabulary and Grammar on Google Sheets!

Each word in a sentence has a meaning, a part of speech, and a job. Some words team up with others to perform additional jobs. When working with students, it can be very helpful to analyze all of this information, to take on the whole “ecosystem” of a sentence at once. In this way students learn both the meaning and function of words, improving their reading comprehension and writing skills. Here’s a simple way to do it in the classroom:

Step 1:
Select a sentence to analyze–preferably one written by a student. For example: Gladys, an incorrigible chatterbox, talks incessantly about her friends.

Step 2:
Open a blank Google Sheet on your projector, give it a title, and enter the sentence starting with cell B1.

Step 3:
Discuss the meaning of each word with the students. In row 2, add synonyms or root cousins for the challenging words. For example, incorrigible has the root cousin correct. To be incorrigible is to be “uncorrectable.” The word incessant is related to cease, so incessantly is “the manner of not ceasing.” If you are working on a sentence from Word Voyage, your students will already know these root-level connections. Otherwise, www.etymonline.com and www.thesaurus.com are handy resources. Your sheet should now look like this:


Step 4:
In row 3, add the Parts of Speech.


Step 5:
In row 4, add the job performed by each Part of Speech. If the students are confused about any job, show the Word Voyage grammar video. (From your dashboard, click any group and go to Units>Modify, then click the video title). For example: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs. Other suggested resources: www.chompchomp.com and owl.english.purdue.edu. Expand the cells as needed and use Format>Text Wrapping to make everything easy to read.


Step 6:
In row 5, label the phrases. Use Format>Merge Cells. Darken the unused cells for visual clarity.


Step 7:
In row 6, describe the job performed by each phrase. Again, use Word Voyage videos as needed. For example: Appositives Merge cells, wrap text, and darken unused cells.


Step 8:
Add colors! This makes the whole chart much more readable.


Step 9:
Change the sentence. For example: The loquacious Gladys has no regard for reticence, so she just keeps talking.

Step 10:
Go through the steps again.

Other Ideas:

  • Have a student lead the analysis of each sentence.
  • Go around the room so that each question is answered by a different student.
  • Assign extra practice with any words or skills that present difficulty.
  • Have the students complete their own sentence charts as homework and then present them to the class.
  • Share all the completed charts on the class Google Drive.


Keep an Eye on the Sky

You really have to hand it to the early explorers. They sailed most of the globe without the ability to accurately navigate (from Latin roots meaning “steer the ship”). They often had a pretty good idea of their latitude (north-south position), but the east-west position, the longitude, was mostly guesswork until the invention of the chronometer (“that which measures time”) in the late 18th century. Learn more. If they were traveling east across the Atlantic, for example, they not only didn’t know how far they’d gone, they also didn’t know how close they were getting to the next shore. If they over-relied on the celestial bodies for guidance, they risked disaster— from dis “wrong” and aster “star,” the idea of a calamity caused by an inaccurate sighting of a star or planet.

But the sailors were going on more than dumb luck. They would spot things floating in the water which indicated that land may be near. And they would watch for birds, which leads me to auspicious. The au root maps to the Latin avis “bird,” and spic is a variant of spec “view, look, see.” Yes, the story of auspicious is the spotting of birds before land– a good omen, a favorable outlook.

Birds have long been an important source of information. In ancient times an augur was a prophet or soothsayer, one who interpreted omens from the flight patterns of birds. Now we mostly use augur as a verb meaning to portend a good or bad outcome. And then there’s auger “that which bores into the future.” (Just kidding. I made that one up). To predict future events is also to augment (“make greater”) the collective knowledge of what is coming. If your track record is sound, folks might even see you as an august authority, or a respected author. Each of these words carry the idea of prognostication (“knowing before, foretelling”). To be under the auspices (“sponsorship, support”) of something is to have favorable guidance, to be steered clear of bad outcomes. And did you know an inauguration is etymologically the inducting into office of the bird-watcher in chief? Check out this piece by Brian Kimberling.

But let’s cycle back to navigation. It wasn’t all disasters. In fact, one legend from the Age of Exploration suggests the word America was born of a successful estimation of longitude. Here’s the story: Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian mathematician, astronomer, and navigator, set sail across the Atlantic in 1499. He brought with him an almanac (from Arabic al-manakh “calendar”) produced by astronomers in Ferrara, Italy and containing annotated positions of stars at exact times. It just so happened that a Mars convergence (from Latin roots meaning “a turning together”) was predicted in Ferrara at exactly midnight on August 23rd, 1499. On that date, Amerigo, now on the coast of what later became Brazil, began making celestial (“from the sky”) observations. He measured the stars to determine the exact local time and then waited for the moon to cross Mars. Based on these observations, he determined the time difference from Ferrara and calculated an accurate enough longitude to prove that he was on a new land, nowhere near India as Columbus had long maintained. For his great discovery, cartographers (“writers of charts, maps”) labeled the new land America, after the feminine Latin version of Vespucci’s first name, and King Ferdinand made him chief navigator of Spain.

It pays to keep an eye on the sky!


I’m Amenable to Egregious Peculiarities!

It’s no wonder that many words map back to rural life. For most of history, that’s how life was. Words like pastoral and bucolic are commonly used to describe rural scenes. And there are others with rural roots that have taken on new meanings. In an earlier post I mentioned peculiar, “of one’s own cattle, flock.” It used to be a long haul into town, and as a result, some farmers spent more time chatting with cows than people. When they did occasionally make the trek, townfolk may have thought: here comes ol’ Home on the Strange!

Villain comes from the Latin villanus, “farmhand.” Notice villa in there: “country house, farm” (related of course to village, originally “farmstead”). The word traveled up through French taking on “peasant, farmer, commoner, yokel, base or low-born rustic.” But it was a few more centuries before “one with evil motives or actions” got into the mix. Sometimes leaving the farm doesn’t end well.

Here’s another word that’s taken a journey: amenable. This is from the Latin minare “to drive (cattle) with shouts.” Also in the mix is minari “to threaten.” Huh? How unamenable can you get? But unlike villain, this one gets better. Rather than morphing into scoundrels, the wild cow drivers became open and responsive to suggestion. You know, amenable.

A peregrine is a type of falcon, but it also has a rural, archaic meaning: “coming from another country; foreign or outlandish.” The roots are interesting. The egr maps to ager “field, territory, land, country.” Combined with the prefix per “away,” the sense of “from a field away” takes shape. And there’s the close cousin pilgrim “from beyond the country, fields,” wandering from one field to the next. Upon settling down, pilgrims needed to practice agriculture “the tending of fields” to survive.

As rural communities came together, people often formed congregations. Here we have the prefix con “together” with the base root greg “flock.” Folks who thrived in congregations were said to be gregarious, “sociable, disposed to live in flocks.” Those who didn’t congregate were thought to be egregious “outside (the norms) of the flock, wayward,” and the worst offenders were segregated, “made apart from the flock.” Seems harsh. Maybe folks who stayed out on their own farms weren’t that strange after all. Here’s to being peculiar!