Teaching Greek and Latin Roots

 Some estimate that up to 75% of the English language is derived from Greek and Latin roots.  They truly are the “building blocks” of English and present teachers with an extremely powerful framework to nurture students’ vocabulary development.
Why should you be teaching Greek and Latin roots to your students?
1. Consistency: Not only do these roots follow fairly consistent orthographic patterns, they also have distinct semantic components; these features, when explicitly taught, allow students to link pronunciation, spelling, and meaning when encountering new and/or challenging words.  Just as primary teachers utilize the consistency of word families to teach their emergent readers, upper grade and secondary teachers can also rely on the consistency of roots when teaching their students.
2. Effective Intervention: Many English language learners’ first language is based on the Latin lexicon (e.g. Spanish).  Teaching roots to these students allows them to connect new English vocabulary to words they already know in their native language.  Research also indicates that struggling (native-English) readers also benefit from the learning Greek and Latin roots.
3. Increased Demands: Each year students in grades 5 and higher encounter around 10,000 new words in their reading!  Most of these new words will be of Greek and Latin origin.  When students are familiar with highly utilized roots, learning such a vast number of new words becomes so much more manageable.
4. Technical Vocabulary: Content areas such as science and social studies overwhelm students with unfamiliar vocabulary.  Fortunately, most of these scientific or scholarly terms are grounded in Greek and Latin origins.  If students know the meaning of a root, they are more apt to determine the meaning of an unknown word that uses that root.
Activities for Teaching Roots
Most of the pintables referenced below can be
downloaded for free {HERE}.


Greek and Latin Roots1. Root Tree:
This activity is pretty straightforward and easy to implement.  Print a “Root Tree” page (download for free
HERE) for your students.  I really like
having students complete this activity in pairs or triads, but it can also be
completed independently.  Assign students
a root or affix, which they will write at the base of the tree (roots); they
should also include the meaning of the root.
Then students fill in the spaces on the branches with words derived from
the root.  They may need to reference
outside sources (dictionary, Internet, prepared list of root words, etc,) to
find words. This is a great way to introduce a new root to
students and it presents a great visual of how the words are connected in
meaning to the particular root of the tree.
Greek and Latin Roots
2. Root Word Graphic Organizer: This activity is
similar to the Root Tree, except students will include definitions for the words
on this page.  Again, students can
complete this in pairs, small groups, or independently.
Greek and Latin Roots
3. Divide and Conquer: For this activity, you’ll
need to choose 4-8 preselected words.
The words should all contain the same root; the example shown uses
“sens, sent” (Latin – “to feel, sense, perceive). Any affixes that are part of
the words should be ones your students already know the meaning to.  Take for example the word “sensible.”  Students break down the word into its meaningful parts (e.g. sens + ible).  The meaningful parts are then defined (e.g.
to feel + able to be).  Students will
then provide a literal definition based on the meaning of the roots (e.g. able
to feel).  The last step requires
students to provide a dictionary definition of the word (e.g. capable of being
made aware of or of feeling).  Divide and
Conquer allows students to examine the meaningful parts of words to determine
their meanings. They can then compare the literal definition of words (based on
the root and affix meanings) to the dictionary definitions, which allows them
to see how similar the definitions are (in most cases).
4. Word Bingo:  Use a Bingo card that is either a 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 matrix.  You can download a set for free {HERE}.  Create a list of root words that the students have been studying and project them or write them on the board for all students to see.  Students can then write the words down where ever they wish on their matrix (one word per square).  Then you will read clues for the words.  Clues might include a word’s definition, synonym, antonym, or a sentence with the target word omitted.  If a student recognizes a clue for a particular word, he/she can then cross out that word.  The first student to have a complete row, column, or diagonal can call out “Bingo!”
Greek and Latin Roots
5. Concentration: Prepare pairs of concentration cards so that one card has the word written on it and the other has the definition.  A set of cards should contain at least 8 words and their definitions, for a total of 16 cards.  The students will shuffle the cards and place them face down.  They will take turns with a partner to flip over two cards, trying to find a match between word and definition.  Once a match has been made, that student gets to keep those cards.  The student with the most cards wins.  I made a set of these concentration cards for each of the 40 units in my Get to the Root of It! Books.
6. Invent-a-Word: This is a fun “review” activity since it uses word roots that have been previously taught.  Provide students with a list of roots and affixes that they are already familiar with.  Their task is to combine these known roots to invent new words.  They must also compose definitions for these words.  Students can work alone or in pairs to create at least 3 words and definitions.  Students will then share and discuss their invented words with the class.


7. Word Charades: Have a list of 10 words displayed so that all students can see it during the entire activity.  In pairs, students review all 10 words and then select 1 that they will act out.  Give the students 2-3 minutes to plan how they will act out their word.  The rest of the class will then try to guess the word while looking over the list of 10 words.
If you’re interested in implementing a robust and through Greek and Latin roots vocabulary program, click on the image below!