By Diane Talbot
One of my reluctant reader teen students, Rory*, needs to read three books over the summer. The first book he chose was Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Rory listened to the audiobook quickly—and immediately started the next—high praise indeed! He dubbed it a “page turner” which we thought funny since he is listening to it. I read my copy on my Kindle and I liked the option of highlighting and returning to ideas for exploration with Rory. I like reading along with my students so we can discuss the books and I often use words or themes for further study.
One of the things I like about using this book as a launching pad to our tutoring sessions is how the names of many of the Epics (superhumans who take over and rule the earth) have names that were morphological treasure troves. The first name we explored was Refractionary, an Epic who is a “Class A Illusionist with invisibility capabilities.” She is a lesser Epic and has difficulty maintaining her illusions. There is always a tell-tale shimmer as if light is reflecting on her.
We began this investigation by finding the base of the word. Rory is an experienced word investigator with gifted level verbal abilities and was able to analyze the word into a word sum <re + fract + ion + ary> or maybe <re + fract + ion +ar(e) + y>. In any case he teased out the <fract> as the probable base and we went to Etymonline to search out the meaning of the base. We did not find <fract> but our search showed us <fracture>. Was there a possible relationship? I suggested he try adding back on the prefix <re-> and we found our trail.
We found that refract is a verb meaning “to bend” and is a back formation from refraction, from Late Latin (1560s.) Refraction is a noun of action, <re> “back” + fract “to break up, possibly with a sense of undoing” + ion (a noun making suffix). The Latin word it is derived from is the combining form franger “to break” which in turn appears to come from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *bhreg- “to break”
Following the PIE Root led us to find connections that did not fit in our matrix to other familiar words such as brake, fragile, frail, and fragment.
We agreed that <fract> must be a bound base because it shared the same meaning in the word fracture. We agreed that this was a fitting name for our Epic, because she shimmers as she refracts the light.
Next, we went to Wordsearcher and found words that we thought would be related and began to construct a matrix. We decided to leave any exploration of <ary> versus <ar(e) + y> for another day and use <ary> in our matrix.
As we put each word into the matrix, Rory defined words, used them in sentences, and explained how they had a sense of “breaking.” Words we were unsure of, we looked up in a dictionary to get a better understanding.
To finish off our session, we played one Jenga block after writing out a word sum This is Rory’s favorite part of the lesson and we get very competitive. We keep playing until we run out of words to build or our tower falls down.
*Names and details changed