At some point in their learning, you may hear one or more of your students shake their heads and ask, “Why is English so difficult?” or “Who made up this crazy language anyway?” Or perhaps you have found yourself having the same thoughts as you try to help struggling readers and writers understand the complex morphophonemic nature of English and the history of English.
For more support in teaching the morphophonemic nature of English, check out these morphology resources.
One of the best ways to help your students understand that complexity is to set it in the framework of history. The English language reflects the history that shaped it. In Why English Isn’t Crazy and The Resources To Support It, I outlined books and websites for educators and families, but this special post is to help you build your classroom library.
When your students learn to become word detectives and look beyond the phonemes to the etymology and morphemes, their vocabulary and understanding grow. These books provide great tools for investigating words more deeply and building a curiosity about words.
Here are 8 Books to Share with Your Students About The History of The English Language
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This reference book makes diving into word origins fun with delightful illustrations and humorous explanations. The history and origins of words help build a deeper understanding of new vocabulary for students ages 10 and up. There are even activities and puzzles available to be downloaded from the publisher.
In addition to many words alphabetically, there are thematic word lists related to food, fashion, dinosaurs, and onomatopoeia. This is a great resource for students to look up words and build their understanding in a more wholistic way, but also have fun exploring.
This book is perfect for dipping into over the course of several sittings. Text boxes and accompanying illustrations trace the history of written language from pictograms to our modern alphabet. This book is well suited for a read-aloud for elementary and older students and is written in clear, but not oversimplified language.
3. Once Upon A Word
Rather than being a picture book to read through, this book is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 is geared more as a read-aloud. It provides background knowledge about the history of English, different word origins, and how to break words apart to help determine their meaning. This is perfect for accompanying the early study of prefixes, suffixes, and roots.
Part 2 is more of a reference. Like a dictionary, it is arranged with words in alphabetical order. Also like a regular dictionary, it contains a definition and pronunciation guide. But this reference has something a little different and extra. For each of these words, there is a little story about the origins and history of the word and some information about why it is spelled the way it is.
Check out this video: Using Criss Cross Diagrams with Morphemes, for more on helping students visualize and learn the meanings of words.
Part 3 takes a deeper dive into the topics of music and food and invites the reader to use what they’ve learned to predict the origins of a particular word.
4. How Our Alphabet Grew
This classic book written by Golden Books Publishers can be tricky to find. It’s out of print, but you can still score used copies. If you like Ox, House, Stick, The History of Our Alphabet, Your students will love learning about the origins of print and written language. Both adults and children will learn a great deal from this story!
5. Literally: Amazing English Words & Where They Came From
Sometimes the best way to tell a complex story is through examples. And that is precisely what this book does. By taking 12 words that most children and adults are familiar with in passing, and looking at their fascinating origins, readers gain a greater understanding of how the melting pot of English came to be. In addition to looking at the origins of these words, this book also looks at former meanings.
Seeing how meaning and usage have changed over time and the many unique ways that words have entered our language is accessible and enjoyable in this delightful picture book format. In these real-life examples, readers learn not only about words that entered our language through Latin or Greek, but through Arabic, Japanese, or Native American languages. Perhaps most importantly, it establishes an understanding of how one studies word origins to better understand our language.
6. Dictionary of Idioms
Another book that makes diving into language a fun exploration is this dictionary of idioms. As adults, we take for granted the idiomatic expressions that are so prevalent in our language, but for children or English language learners, these idioms can make comprehending what they hear and read tricky. This resource is aimed primarily at grades 4-8 but can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It may be particularly helpful to those who struggle with idioms such as neurodiverse or multilingual English speakers.
These books make a great addition to a classroom library where a struggling reader might dip in and browse during DEAR time, a dinner time conversation starter, or a word of the day. Becoming word curious is a stepping stone to expanding vocabulary and learning more about English.
7. The Dictionary of Difficult Words
There is no wrong way to read this fun book of difficult, unusual, and funny words. It includes words that are heard frequently and those that are oddly specific and perhaps old-fashioned. They are words that might be found in classic works of literature or perhaps you want to pull out as a party trick. In addition to being fun word play for all ages, this book also includes useful tips about word parts from Greek and Latin that can help us figure out a word’s meaning as well as tips for pronouncing these tricky words.
Remember, repetition is key. Check out The Value of Repetition for Students with Dyslexia.
I think one of the best gifts we can give our students and our own children is a gift of curiosity about words. Students that struggle love being able to tell their family about the meaning of an obscure word that even their parent or older sibling doesn’t know. Parents and teachers can model that interest and excitement about language as you have fun discovering or rediscovering difficult words.
8. Dictionary of Word Origins (for older students)
I actually keep a copy of this book handy for all of my Orton-Gillingham lessons. Look up the history of words in this comprehensive dictionary. John Ayto created this Dictionary of Word Origins for adults and teens. It’s a great reference book for teachers or to use with older students.
Download and print this list of eight children’s books about the history of the English language.
I hope this collection of books helps your students see the history of English and the English Language with new eyes and a sense of appreciation! Thank you for stopping by!
You can use Word List Builder to create customized and meaningful review! Build your folder of words, create templates and games, and so much more!
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