What to Call a Dragon

poem by Sandi Leibowitz , illustrated by Andrew Cranna

Success Criteria:

I understand and can define the terms etymology and word origin

I can make linkages between words based on their etymology

I can discuss some of the links Latin, Greek and French had on the formation of the English language.

Investigate the etymology of the various names for a dragon, identifying links between root words and how the names have changed over time.

Read the poem with the class. Ask students to identify the ten different terms in the poem for dragon (Serpent, Wyrm, Gargouille, Lung, Wuivre, Wyvern, Hydra, Drake, Draco, Naga). You can provide the hint that all these names are proper nouns with capital letters.

Explain the word etymology to students: the source and history of a word (see ‘word origin’ in the NESA Curriculum Glossary).

Read the Etymonline page on Dragon. Highlight for students that the term comes from Old French (dragon) which came directly from the Latin (draco) and Greek (drakon). These terms referred to a serpent, a giant seafish and a creature with great eyesight and a deadly glance. Finally, explain to students that many words in Modern English have roots in Latin, Greek and French.

Next, either provide students with the table (below) on the word origin of the dragon terms, or ask students to research their word origins independently. Please note that the website Etymonline has the etymology of some of these terms, however it may be harder for students to research terms such as Wuivre (more commonly spelt guivre), and Gargouille.

Word Origin:

Term: Serpent
Word Origin: Middle English from the Latin word serpent
Meaning: A Limbless reptile

Term: Wyrm
Word Origin: Old English
Meaning: Limbless, wingless dragon

Term: Gargouille
Word Origin: Old French
Meaning: Grotesque water spout

Term: Lung
Word Origin: Chines
Meaning: Legendary mythical creature

Term: Wuivre
Word Origin: Oled French from the Latin Word vipera
Meaning: Snake

Term: Wyvern
Word Origin: Middle English, linked to wuivre
Meaning: Winged dragon with eagle's feet and a serpent's tale.

Term: Hydra
Word Origin: Classical Greek with the prefix hydr-(water)
Meaning: Water Snake

Term: Drake
Word Origin: Old German from the Latin Word Draco
Meaning: A Type of fire breathing dragon, with or without wings.

Term: Draco
Word Origin: Latin
Meaning: A large and fearsome reptile

Term: Naga
Word Origin: Sanskrit from Classical India
Meaning: Word for Snake

Optional activity: after students have read or completed this table independently, instruct them to find and label a relevant illustration of each of these types of dragons using Google Images and restricting their search terms using Boolean Operators. For example:

Serpent AND Dragon AND Middle English

Naga AND Dragon AND Sanskrit

Finally, create a word web highlighting the interconnections between these terms using the worksheet Dragon Word Web. You may want to show students an example of a word web, visit the Visuword’s page for Dragon. (Note: if you double click on the outer circles, such as dragon/firedrake or Draco-genus-Draco, more linkages will appear.) After students have matched the dragon terms to their word origin and their Latin or Greek roots, highlight that while most English terms for dragons have European origins, dragons are a global mythological creature.