I often get asked about how best to teach Greek and Latin Roots, Prefixes and Suffixes. In this article, I'm going to share eight ways I integrate teaching Greek/Latin Roots into my vocabulary instruction. Teachers and instructional coaches will recognize that these methods are designed to take only small amounts of time and energy above what they are already doing in the classroom, and that many of these suggestions can be done in connection with other vocabulary learning and review methods.
“The word ‘benevolent’ starts with the root ‘bene.’ How many of you can think of a word that starts with ‘bene’ or ‘ben’?” I ask my students when reviewing the two vocabulary words of the day.
“Benefit!” “Benefactor!” “Benign!” “Bengal!”, shout students. I laugh, caution them that they aren’t all quite right, and I then ask them what most of those words have in common. The students suss out that “bene” means good or positive. Then I ask what the opposite of benevolent is, and one student mumbles quietly, “malevolent.”
I probe deeper, asking about the meaning of the root “mal” and if the Spanish cognate”mal” also means bad (it does). I ask about other words that start with “mal” and soon students have a strong grasp on the roots “bene” and “mal” without me having to didactically explain each word or its meaning.
This is my favorite part of teaching Greek and Latin roots- the excitement and charge students get from linking their prior knowledge with their current learning. This charge is really important because it proves to students that they often know more than they think they know about their language, and that they are curious about words, their meanings, and their mutations.
Benefits of Teaching Greek and Latin Roots
Our English standards imply that teachers should encourage students to be curious word learners, and, by imagining vocabulary words as puzzles to be solved rather than pieces of information to be digested, they become much more engaged.
Research reinforces that deep learning occurs not when our students blindly memorize information, but rather when they get excited about their opportunities for growth.
No matter how small the time investment, when a teacher or coach takes the time to develop students’ basic knowledge of roots/suffixes/prefixes, much more sophisticated lexicon development can occur. Students can access and develop their root skills in order to expand their knowledge without teachers having to devote whole class periods to studying language.
Ideas to Integrate Greek and Latin Roots Into Vocabulary Instruction
Idea 1: Greek and Latin Root Words Worksheet
First, teachers can provides students with this basic Greek and Latin root words worksheet that Sadlier has created. Have students fold the paper in half so that they can only read either the meaning of the root or the root itself. Then students can see how many meanings/roots they can identify just with this simple self-assessment.
Students who score highly on this formative pre-assessment can set goals to see how many words they can identify with the roots/prefixes/suffixes, while struggling students can focus on simply linking their new word learning with these basic prefixes/suffixes and roots.
Idea 2: Greek and Latin Roots Matching Game
Another fun way to test students’ knowledge of root words is to use the Greek and Latin root word games games on Sadlier Connect online.
When students visit Sadlier Connect, they can click into their vocabulary program and grade level. They will then see 'Matching Challenge- Greek Roots' and 'Matching Challenge- Latin Roots' under the Games and Study Aids section. With these games, students will work to match the roots or meanings at the bottom of the screen with the words or roots that float by. The game aspect can both intrigue and frustrate students so teachers should know which students learn from the competitive online game and which do not.
Idea 3: Identify GreeK and Latin Roots Reviewing Daily Vocabulary Words
The third resource that will assist you in teaching Greek and Latin roots while reviewing daily vocabulary words. As teachers or coaches review two or three vocabulary words each day in class, students can add the Greek and Latin roots to the mnemonic device column on the Vocabulary Sheet of the Week.
In doing so, teachers are providing students with a mnemonic device for their learning of an individual word, as well as providing the necessary instruction on Greek/Latin roots that students need and our standards demand.
Idea 4: Connect Vocabulary Words That Contain the Same Root
Simple Word Webs are a great resource to utilize when teaching Greek/Latin roots. Have students place a root on their Word Web sheet and then surround it with various vocabulary (and more basic) words that contain the same root. This basic thought exercise really helps students make connections across many dissimilar words until they see the big picture of the root’s meaning.
When teachers/coaches play the Vocabulary Baseball Game with students, they should designate that the pitcher “throws” roots/prefixes/suffixes at batters, rather than words. The pitcher must answer with the meaning of the root/prefix/suffix, an example word, and how that word utilizes the Greek/Latin word part in its meaning.
To learn more about how the Vocabulary Baseball Game, grab the free download! This will help you get a better idea on how the game can be adjusted to review Greek and Latin roots.
Idea 6: Reward Students for Recognizing Greek and Latin Word Parts
A quick and easy way to encourage students to analyze their words is simply to reward them when they recognize Greek/Latin word parts in vocabulary words or in other words in texts! This incentive really puts the ownership on the students to recognize and analyze when and how Greek and Latin roots are being used. It costs the teacher little to nothing and can pay off significantly.
Idea 7: Build Vocabulary Words Around a Greek and Latin Root
Finally, teachers and instructional coaches can tweak one of my favorite vocabulary activities to practice Greek and Latin roots!
To repurpose the Build a Sundae Vocabulary Activity teachers and/or coaches should simply write a root in each student’s bowl, then have each student describe the elements of the sundae using words that include the root.
Example: “Mal” -the ice cream was a malignant blight on the bowl as it began to run so the malicious strawberries began attacking them with their stems…
Idea 8: Vocabulary Workshop Achieve
Vocabulary Workshop Achieve provides a variety of activities and games to help students see these roots/suffixes/prefixes as an extension of their vocabulary learning that can help students become better word detectives.
When using Sadlier’s Vocabulary Workshop Achieve program, each review unit contains a Greek/Latin root practice page highlighting a specific root. All of these activity pages can be completed in one lesson, perhaps by assigning one page to each student in a group, and then each group member reports out. Thereby, students can really start to understand the way much of our language developed.
Greek and Latin roots are an integral part of vocabulary instruction but can be tedious and overwhelming to teach in isolation.
The more students feel success in connecting their prior knowledge with their current learning to actually understand and ultimately utilize their vocabulary in their own writing, the more the teacher or coach has succeed! If students enjoy this vocabulary learning and sleuthing, the more they can take ownership of their own education.