A Missed Opportunity

poem by Janeen Brian , illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

Learning intention: 

I am learning word origins so that I can spell unfamiliar words. 

Success criteria: 

  • I can identify the silent letter in a word. 
  • I can identify the origin of the word. 
  • I can research the origins of subject specific vocabulary (Tier 3 words) with silent letters. 

Display the poem on the board and read aloud to the class. Ask students to look carefully for words that have silent letters in them. Students might answer with the ‘gh’ in night/spotlight – mention that these are part of the trigraph ‘igh’. 

When students find the word ‘nestling’, ask the class what the base word is (nestle). Have students discuss the definition of the word, where they think the word might come from and what else they know about the word. Comments might include: 

  • It has the word nest in it, like a bird’s nest 
  • It means to snuggle 
  • It’s the same spelling as Nestlé, the brand (pronounced Ness-lay or Ness-lee) 

Visit Merriam-Webster’s entry on the word nestle to view the definition and etymology, then Collins Dictionary’s entry on the suffix -le (scroll down to the second entry). Discuss how the word nestlian and the suffix -le came together to form the word nestle, and how the ‘t’ was assimilated by its surrounding consonants to lose its sound. Ask students what other words have a silent t. Answers include: listen, thistle, wrestle, castle, pestle, apostle, gristle, whistle. 

Explain that students are to research three to five words with silent letters that are less often used and specific to a certain topic. Use the word pterodactyl as an example. Encourage students to use dictionaries, online dictionaries and reputable websites for their research. They are to write down the etymology of the word, a definition and a sentence using the word. An illustration can be included. This can be done using a Frayer diagram with the boxes: etymology, sentences, definition, illustration.