Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Cognate Detectives

Marta Encarnacion
Orange County Schools


Students will learn that there are words in English and Spanish that share the same root. These words are visibly and audibly very similar and have the same meaning. Students will become detectives exploring the many cognates in Spanish and English.


The student identifies examples and understands the significance of true and false cognates (i.e., words derived from a common original form).


- Journal
- Pencil
- English/Spanish dictionary


1. Have English and Spanish dictionaries available for each student.
2. Have Detective Journal ready for each student.
3. Make a chart titled “COGNATES” in a poster board.


*Note this lesson only addresses true cognates. It does not address false cognates or understanding the significance or cognates.

1. Start by asking students: “What is a cognate?”

2. Explain to students that a cognate is a set of words that “look alike” or “sound alike” and “mean the same” from one language to another. These words (in English and Spanish) share the same Latin or Greek root.

3. Ask students: “Does your name have a cognate?”

4. Tell students that they will be learning true cognates to expand their vocabulary.

5. Let students know that not all words that look a like or sound alike have the same meaning.

6. Introduce students with five true cognates written in a chart: (i.e. October – octubre; giraffe – girafa; completely – completamente; family – familia; fruit – fruta).

7. Go over the pairs of cognates.

8. Write on the board two sentences (in English and in Spanish) using a pair of cognates.

9. Ask students to come up with other cognates of their own.

10. Add students cognates to the chart.

11. Go over the list they have created, see if they were right.

12. Distribute English/Spanish dictionaries.

13. Distribute the Detective Cognate Journals.

14. Ask students to write in their journal pairs sentences (in English and Spanish) using five cognate from the list in the chart.

15. When student finish this activity, collect the journals to use as the assessment tool.

16. After going over the journal, give them back to the students.

17. They can keep these journals to add new words as they learn them.


Teacher will observe students as they identify true pair cognates for the chart. Students will write sentences in their detective cognate journal. Students need to demonstrate their understanding of meaning in their writing. Teacher will provide students oral feedback as students add cognates to the list, and written feedback in students' journals.


As students collect more cognates for their journal, ask what they notice about them. Point out the characteristics of words in English and Spanish that are related. (e.g., English words ending in -tion are almost always cognates with similar words in Spanish that end in –ción, and there are many other typical patterns). See if they are able to find out other patterns
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