Welcome Back, Greek and Latin Roots

Column.ExercisesDespite the fact that I discontinued Greek and Latin root spelling lessons back in 2012, these lessons remain among the most frequently visited of my posts. And, it is easy to understand why.

While Latin has long been regarded as a dead language in terms of modern usage, and the Greek of the ancients is not the same as the Greek of today, English (and French, and Spanish, and many other European languages) is littered with their offspring!

In my teaching, I have found the vocabulary/spelling study of words using classical roots to be a great way to expand usable vocabulary and build word deciphering skills. Over the years, I done my own research, collected roots and words, built lists of my own, and created a Greek and Latin Root Vocabulary/Spelling program.

While I am no longer responsible for teaching spelling, my interest in these words will not leave me alone. Therefore, this school year, I have decided to post (both here and in my classroom) a root, or root pair, each week along with definitions and some words to play with and explore that utilize the root.

Over time, I will share some of the methods I adopted and devised to help my students learn these roots and make them their own.

I hope you will find this little jaunt into word history as intriguing as I do, and as beneficial to yourself or your students as I have. Watch next Monday for the Greek/Latin root of the week.



Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling, Unit I Lesson V: Eu, Bene, Caco, and Mal

1. eu = well/easy/agreeable
2. euphoria
3. bene = good
4. beneficial
5. caco = vile/diseased
6. cacophony
7. mal = bad/defective
8. malignant

Review Roots

9. mater/matri = mother
10. patr = father
11. filia/filius = son/daughter
12. zo = animal
13. avi = bird
14. saur = lizard

Simplified List use only the roots and the following words:

4. benefit
8. malice

Challenge List use only the roots and the following words:

2. euphemism
4. benevolence
6. cacophonous
8. malnutrition

Greek and Latin Roots Review Strategy: Puzzlers

When teaching the Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling System, it is a good idea to have a variety of strategies to use to help your students make the meanings of their roots their own. After Roots for Early Dismissal, Puzzlers was one of my students’ favorite exercises.

To start, have your students get out:

  • the current list of roots
  • a sheet of paper
  • pens or pencils

Instruct them to pair up with partners.

Assign each set of partners one of the roots from the list and have them write the root and its meaning at the top of their paper.

Discuss how roots are “pieces” of words whose meanings influence the definition of the word.

Instruct them to create words of their own by combining their assigned root with other roots or  words then write a definition for this “new word” that is influenced by the root’s meaning. Emphasize the fact that you do not want your students to find real words that include the root, but rather to make up their own words using the root.

For example, from this week’s list they might come up with something like:

Zoodeli = a zoo animal gourmet feed store

Sauroskin = a skin condition in which a person’s skin becomes dry and scaly like a lizard

Require each set of partners to create at least three new “words.” (I offered extra credit points if they created more than five.)

After the students have created their words and definitions, tell them look over their list and circle the Puzzler word they like best.

Call on each pair of students to stand up and tell the class:

  • their root
  • its meaning
  • their Puzzler word
  • its definition

Through sharing their Puzzler words with each other, the students will have the opportunity to not only reinforce the meaning of their own particular root, but to make associations with the meaning of the other roots as classmates share their roots, Puzzlers, and definitions.

Have fun with this strategy.  And please share the wonderful words your students create as a comment here. I look forward to reading them!

Greek and Latin Roots Practice/Homework Options

When implementing the Greek and Latin Roots Spelling and Vocabulary program, I wanted my students to invest time in learning their roots, meanings, and words. Therefore in addition to introducing each lesson with a pretest and discussion of the roots and words, I provided one day per week for practice and exploration activities in class and required as homework, one practice per week from a menu of practice options that provided selections for a variety of learning styles. Today I will share three of these options.

Ziggurats: For each root + meaning set and each spelling word, students create a ziggurat. (This is a visual and kinesthetic practice.)  For example:

hex =
hex = s
hex = si
hes = six

Picture Frames: For each root + meaning set and each spelling word, students create a picture frame writing each fully along all of the four sides of the frame. When done students draw a picture or symbol in the middle representing the root or word practiced. (This is a visual and kinesthetic practice.)

Spell Aloud: Students work with a responsible adult who verbally quizzes them on the meaning of the roots and spelling of the words. For any root + definition or spelling word missed the student repeats it correctly three times. Instead of turning in his or her practice, the student must turn in a signed note from their adult partner stating the date they engaged in this practice. (Auditory)

Each week students were free to select and complete any one practice option they wanted. The practices were due each Friday.

On the Friday of the test, students spelling practices had to be turned in before taking the test in order to qualify for scoring. I found this “no make-up” policy necessary as the purpose of doing the assignment was for engaging in concentrated study before the test.

I scored practices as done or not done. If a student only practiced part of the list, the percentage of roots and words completed determined the percentage of points for which his or her practice qualified.

Rationale: Please note, these spelling and vocabulary practices were not busy work. The objective of the Greek and Latin Roots Spelling/Vocabulary program is for students to remember the formation and meaning of Greek and Latin roots so they can recognize them when encountered in unfamiliar words, and use them to help determine the meanings of these words. For this to happen, students need to engage with their roots and words multiple times within he context of the unit in order to truly own them.

Greek and Latin Roots: Root Extension Exercise

For this exercise, I am using the Unit 1 Lesson 1 Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary/Spelling roots. However, this exercise can be adapted using other roots.


  1. to help students learn the meanings of this lessons roots
  2. to reinforce understanding that roots are segments of meaning that can be combined with other words and roots to make a variety of words.
  3. to learn one additional root and its meaning.


  1. word lists (see sample). Use the dictionary to collect words for potential use in lists.
  2. dictionaries or access to online dictionaries
  3. pencil/pen and paper.


  1.  Tell the whole class they are going to be doing an exercise to help them learn the meanings of this unit’s roots.
  2. Explain that the class will be divided into groups. Each group will be given a list consisting of roots from the unit along with their definitions, and several words that use these roots. Each group is to look up and write a definition of each word on the list. The students must define each word using vocabulary and language that students at least two levels below themselves could understand. After defining each word, the students are to identify the additional root/word that all the words in their list had in common and hypothesize a definition for it based on the information they have already collected. They are not to look up the meaning of this common root/word. When they are done, they must be prepared to share their conclusions with the class. Explain what information you will expect them to share (see below) and tell them you will post the criteria on the board while they are working.
  3. Divide the class into groups. You will need at least one group for each list. Ideally, groups should range from 2-4 students. It’s okay to have groups working on identical lists if necessary as long as each of the roots of this unit are represented on at least one list.
  4.  Group work time. Allow the students about ten to fifteen minutes to work. As the students begin working, post the instructions for what they are to do and what they are to report on the board.


Call the class back to order and instruct the students to listen as each group:

  1.  1. Reads to the class the roots and words from their list.
  2. 2. Reads to the class the definition of each word on their list.
  3. 3. Identifies the additional root/word from their list and their hypothesis regarding its meaning.
  4. 4. Explains how they reached their conclusion. (“We looked it up,” is not a valid answer.)


Because this is an exercise designed to facilitate learning, score it with a participation score. Do not mark down for right or wrong answers. Score only for participation and good faith effort.


What’s this Word? Reading Response Exercise #80


In order to complete this reading response, be sure you have a pen or pencil and paper handy.


Read for twenty to thirty minutes. When you come across a word whose meaning you are uncertain of jot it and page number where it occurs on your paper.


Choose a word from your list and fill in the blanks in the following statements:

A word I was not certain of was: ________________.

I found it in this sentence: ________________. (Copy out the complete sentence)

Based on what was happening in the novel and the sentence I found the word in I think it means: ________________.

I looked the word up and it means: ________________.

I think the author chose to use this word, and none of the others like it because this one: ________________.


Discuss your responses with your reading partners. Over the next few days, try using your newly learned words when talking to each other.

A Greek and Latin Roots Review Exercise—Roots for Early Dismissal Vocabulary Exercise

One of my students’ favorite ways to review their Greek and Latin roots was to play “Roots for Early Dismissal.”

  • What do you need to play?
  • The list of the week’s roots and review roots
  • Popsicle sticks or slips of paper with your students’ names on them
  • A container to hold the names

How do you play?

Give your students enough time to clean up and gather their stuff so you will have about 2-3 minutes before the bell rings. Do not start the play until everyone is sitting quietly in their seats with their things, ready to go.

Draw a name and say a root. If that student provides a definition for the root, she may leave. If she can’t, continue to draw names until someone finally defines it and leaves. Only allow students five-ten seconds to define the root before you move on to a new student.

Once one root has been defined, proceed to a new name and the next root on the list.

When you come to the end of the root list just go back to the beginning and keep playing until the bell rings.

My students loved the opportunity to get out of class early, even if it was only a few seconds, so they were all eager to participate in the game. And students who had not yet learned their roots benefited from hearing their classmates correctly define them.

The pace moved so fast there was not much time for any one student to be embarrassed if he missed a root, and students who needed the practice sometimes got a second chance to play and experience success–if they had been listening.

So give it a try. I’ll guarantee “Roots for Early Dismissal” will become a favorite in your classroom as it did in mine.

Introduction to Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling

When I earned my Master’s in Teaching, Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling  study was the rage in the middle schools of our district, and when I did my student teaching, I continued the program as laid out by my mentor teacher. By the end of the year, I was hooked. Why? Latin, after all, is a dead language.

But is it? Latin, as a spoken language may be extinct, but English (and French, and Spanish, and all kinds of other European languages are littered with its bones!) The same goes for Greek, even as it continues a living breathing language to this very day.

For students who have been doing the same old spelling drills for years, I found the vocabulary/spelling study of words using classical roots was a great way to provide a little variety, build their vocabularies and word deciphering skills, and continue to reinforce patterns of spelling that occur in longer and more complex words.

Not content (never content…but that’s another story) simply to use my mentor teacher’s program, I started doing research, building a list of roots and words of my own, and creating a Greek and Latin Root Vocabulary/Spelling program that I refined, year after year.

Today, I’ll just briefly introduce the basics of the program. It features:

  • A list of new roots, their definitions, and a sample word using each root presented every two weeks.
  • The use of a pretest, of just the spelling of the words, to determine who needs a simplified spelling list, who needs a challenge list, and who will find the general list just right for their level of development.
  • A review list of the roots and their definitions from the past two units.
  • Time—twice in class and once as homework—for the students to work with the roots and their meanings, and their words.
  • A test at the end of the two weeks. It is first administered like a spelling test for the words. Then, with roots provided either on the computer/overhead, whiteboard, or a preprinted sheet, the students are required to write in the meaning of each root from memory.

My goal this school year is to provide you with twelve lists of roots and words for your middle level students. (For older elementary-age kids you might consider using the simplified list, if you’re working with high school students, perhaps the challenge list.)

In later posts I will share a number of the methods I adopted and devised to help my students learn these roots and make them their own.

I hope you find this little jaunt into word history as intriguing as I did.

Watch, tomorrow, for your first list of Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling Words.