Words are very cool things. Not only do they teach with their meanings and their sounds, they teach with their origins.
If you’ve ever looked at multiculturalism or immigration in your classroom, try an exercise that can incorporate geography, literacy, and technology in one easy swoop. Aside from the definition, pronunciation, and spelling, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary also supplies word origins and direct links to corresponding articles on the topic at Britannica Online. Try this: choose a word that students hear often, and look it up with them on m-w.com. Show them all the great information they can get about the word — including its origins.
See if they can find the country of origin on a map. Better yet, if you have a good old-fashioned wall-map, write the word on a an index card, a post-it note, a scrap of paper, what-have-you, and pin it there.
Have students brainstorm a list of English words they encounter every day. Maybe you can split them into teams and color-code the cards or papers they write the words on. Maybe you can have them compete to see who can find the most words from the most varied places. It depends on your students’ dynamics and map skills. However you do it, it’s going to give them a little worldly perspective and make them look twice at their vocabulary. Hey, maybe you’ll get them hooked on online dictionaries.
This is something you can do at just about any age. If they know what a map is, and they know what a country is, and they can think up a word, then they can have fun with this activity — and no matter how old, they’re bound to find something they didn’t know before.