Olympic Word Study Part 1: Bronze

It’s easy to think that Olympic athletes are superhuman, born with an innate athletic ability that seems to have eluded the rest of us, when in fact their superhuman feats are the culmination of years, perhaps decades, of practice and skill development, building stamina over time as they layer new skill upon new skill. An Olympic figure skater didn’t start with a triple axle. They may not have even started by putting on ice skates. Perhaps they began by sliding around on the ice in their winter boots. Then over time, with determination, perseverance, and practice (and more practice, and more practice, and on and on), Olympic level athleticism was achieved. It’s awe inspiring to watch Olympians, so let’s give credit where credit is due. They’ve done the work . . . the very hard work . . . of learning.

Growing word study skills can feel like an insurmountable task, yet like Olympians, we can start with the basics and develop our skills over time, adding to the level of complexity as we gain new knowledge and insights. As we learn and practice more, we develop the confidence to question more, discover more, accept mistakes, dead ends, and unanswered questions more, and in doing so we develop more complex skills and analytical thinking.

When I think of the Olympics, potential words to study include: 

team, coach, sport, winner, victory, international, medal

With this word list, we can skate into various levels of word study, from simple word sums to complex analysis. During the 2018 Winter Olympics, my kids and I analyzed the word international. We had already dabbled in word study, spending an entire year just creating word sums for words from our copywork passages that used the 3 Great Spelling Rules. We had begun using Etymonline (the online etymology dictionary) and also building word matrices. Seeing all the athletes from so many countries walking in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics made us curious about the word international. But this level of analysis isn’t how we began our journey into word study, so let’s start with some examples of early skills that can be practiced before we work our way up to spins, jumps, and double axels.

My introduction to word study began with taking Rooted in Language’s Laying a Path: Word Study class (now part of their Foundations course) and implementing strategies from the class and their instructional product, Word Study Packet. Later, we added in Alien Bugs Word Study when it became available. At first I felt like a new skater, slipping and sliding around. But by venturing out on the ice, I began to gain some skills. With skills and practice, my confidence grew. I was ready to take on some spins and jumps – creating my own word study lessons.

Let’s begin with an entry level skill building activity. For these lessons, create affixes on Olympic Rings and build word sums.

Word Sums with “team”

What is a team? How would you define team? Think of a sentence with this word, giving it some context. Use Letter Tiles to build the base word team, adding suffixes from your Affix Chart or using Olympic rings for affixes:

teams, teamed, teaming, teamwork, teammate, teammates

Have students make a list of the word sums and create sentences (oral or written) using the words they’ve built. Teach or review the concept of compound words.

More Word Sums

Use the same process as above to practice creating more word sums with the words coach and sport.

coaches, coached, coaching, coachable

Help your student discover that we hear an added syllable when we make coach plural or change it to the 3rd person singular verb tense, so we add suffix -es.

sports, sporting, sported, sporty, spoil-sport, sportsman, sportsmanship, sportsmanlike, unsportsmanlike

For compound words, discuss and determine which word parts are base words vs affixes, as in unsportsmanlike which consists of three base words, one prefix, and one suffix. Notice that base words carry the main meaning of a word, whereas affixes can change meaning, part of speech, and usage.

un + sport + s + man + like → unsportsmanlike



When writing sentences with a few of these words, new or struggling learners can engage in partnership writing or simply discuss each word's meaning in context, which makes for great conversation.



New Skill - Doubling Rule

Add a layer of complexity with one of the 3 Great Spelling Rules by studying the word win.

What does winner mean to you? Think of a sentence with this word, giving it some context. Do you see a word that you know in winner? Check your Affix Chart to see if there is a suffix you recognize in this word. Let’s see what other words we can make with the base word <win>.

wins, winners, winning, winnings, winless, winnable, breadwinner, breadwinners

Either notice or teach the Doubling rule.

Why do some of these words have a second n? Do a word sort to notice patterns and discover why we apply the Doubling rule when adding suffixes in some of these words but not others.

After some word building practice, students can use some of these words in sentences. Practice partnership writing or independent writing, bringing context and meaning to these newly formed words which helps solidify their spelling in word form memory. Remember, when writing we always spell the base word first. This can help students notice the impact that adding a suffix to a base word might have, like the Doubling rule when adding vowel suffixes.

So we’ve skated around a bit, getting comfortable with the word study ice. It takes time to learn to glide smoothly, so spread this practice out. In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll layer in a few new skills, adding some jumps and spins and even a double axel, before we take it to the next level when we head back to where we started – the word international – in Part 3.

~ Linda


Free download: olympic word study resources

Rooted in Language's Word Study Packet introduces word study concepts along with strategies that can be applied repeatedly throughout your schooling. Alien Bugs Word Study provides skill practice through activities and games. The Foundations for Teaching Reading, Writing & Spelling educator class includes a deep dive into word study and explicitly teaches these skills and processes across all ages and stages of literacy.

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