Friday, February 11, 2011

Language Arts Resource: Etymologic

If you have a middle schooler who loves words in your household, like we do...or would maybe like to encourage one into developing...check out the online language arts resource, Etymologic.  It bills itself as "The Toughest Word Game on the Web," which isn't too much of an exaggeration (although I would dispute the term game--it is just an online quiz).  The page brings up a word or a phrase that is appropriate for a middle school vocabulary, along with four proposed explanations of where the term came from.  All four options are reasonable, and none of them are obvious.  However, you can sometimes dwindle the choices just through some knowledge of the language from which it is derived.

It's not easy.  I'm fairly good on etymology, and I haven't done better than 7 out of 10 correct answers yet.  But it is a great thing to do with your middle schooler and to talk through the word and the possible origins.  And referring to my post earlier this week about Subtle Ways to Prepare Middle Schoolers for college, this is an interesting way to help them prepare for tests like the SAT or ACT, not only by improving their vocabulary, but also by practicing the skill of eliminating choices to improve your odds of getting the right answer, even if you end up guessing.

For real word nerds (student or parents or other interested relatives), there is also a neat function where you can submit your own question and proposed answer set for the question bank. We aren't there yet, but when we have a bit broader experience of ancient languages, I think my son will get a real kick out of making up his own questions and having them appear in the quiz.  And, of course, having lots of people contribute words helps keep the answer bank big and interesting.

Over 100 million people have visited the site, so it must be doing something right!  And let me know if you submit a word, and we'll keep an eye out for it.

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