Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

A student helps organize our thinking


I’ve been learning so much during video conference tutoring sessions with families around the world. I always encourage students to keep an eye out for interesting spellings between sessions. Parent-child teams can have a go at investigating of these words on their own, or they can just bring up words they are interested in for us to take on together. 


In between sessions with twelve-year-old Nemo and his mom recently, Nemo thought there might be a relationship between the words <truce> and <true>. We had done some work on the “structure and meaning test” and Nemo was determined to take his investigation as far as he could before sharing his findings with me in our next session. 


Nemo’s mom tells me that as he was trying to work out his thinking, he exclaimed, “I just can’t make sense of this.  There’s too much stuff.  I need it in a table!” 


And so, just like that, Nemo created a brilliant table to organize his hypotheses, observations and findings about the relationship between these words. Nemo emailed his findings to me on his table before our session. I was floored, not only by the scientific investigation Nemo had done, but with the table he constructed to organize and explain his thinking. When we met, I was able to share my screen so that we could look at his findings in his table together. In the process we were able to see how he already had all the evidence he needed to draw safe conclusions about the nature of the relationship between these two words. 


With Nemo’s permission I have created this little film using his work to share how he uses the structure and meaning test to falsify his own hypotheses that don’t stand up the the evidence. I encourage you to consider the trail of Nemo’s investigation as presented in his table in this little video:




Inspired by the effectiveness of Nemo’s table to organize his thinking, I constructed a kind of blank template of “Nemo’s Structure and Meaning Findings Table”. My hope is that other word scientists around the world can take advantage of the tool created by Nemo’s rigorous scientific mind.  Nemo has offered our community an excellent launching pad to organize and communicate our thinking. We now get to adapt as we see fit. 


Watch this short video for ideas for how you might use this file for your own purposes. 





  • Download a Word version of this document here.
  • Download a Pages version of this document here



(BTW: I already changed a weakness in the blank template since posting the video. Instead of treating “Etymonline” as if it were the etymological reference we should use, I signal that it is just one excellent reference to draw from.)


Why is this table, and the structure and meaning test itself so valuable?


Nemo’s table guides us to ask exactly the questions a scientist needs to ask to come to a safe conclusion about word structure. It also offers a suggestion of how to make our hypotheses concrete in writing so that we can better consider and communicate them with fellow word scientists. 


Most of of all, as Nemo himself illustrated with his investigation of <truce>, <true> and <truth>, guidance from this template helps us uncover evidence that allows us to reject a hypothesis that does not stand up to the evidence. 


Falsification & Science

It may not be an exaggeration to say that essentially the entire purpose of Word Works is to help people (including myself) to learn to use scientific principles to reject false hypotheses.  


Learning how to perceive flaws in our thinking is the what science is for. It is the engine that makes science work. Falsification provides the traction necessary to gain control over our understanding of any complex -- but ordered -- system like English spelling. 


Only when we can perceive and understand evidence that a hypothesis is flawed, do we know to reject it and thus stop hindering ourselves with the acceptance of false assumptions. 


Only by rejecting false assumptions do we have a means to put our cognitive energies into investing hypotheses that better explain the data. 


Only by trying our hardest to reject a hypothesis but failing, do we have a scientific basis to accept a hypothesis as the best explanation for a given set of data. And such a conclusion is always pending further evidence


Nemo’s investigation of <truce>, <true>  and <truth> exemplifies this kind of scientific thinking. Constructing a chart to guide his thinking was an inspired choice of a rigorous scientist whose goal is understanding. Nemo is a scientist who is teaching himself to identify deeper and deeper questions about how orthography represents meaning. He knows that questions are king, and answers are only temporary. 


I tip my hat to Nemo, Sigourney and their parents for following along with and supporting the learning of their children. One result of their excellent owrk is that they are helping the rest of our community better organize our thinking as well.


Related Links

  • The Structure & Meaning Test Real Spellers Post
  • A video of Pete teaching Dan Allen’s class to discern the difference between morphological families and etymological families. 
  • A wonderful TED Ed video on the principle of the scientific method -- which is that we set out to disprove our theories -- falsification.
  • A brilliant reflection of the relative value of questions and answers via a comic strip 

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