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How to Memorize Greek and Latin Word Parts

Teachers know that teaching the most common Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes makes sense to help students build academic language. After all, about 50% of the words in any unabridged dictionary include at least one Greek or Latin affix or root.

The question is how can students most efficiently learn these word parts? Rote memorization has a role; however, tapping into the students’ transferable, long-term memories is more effective.

One way to connect to the long-term memory is through association. Associating multiple word parts helps students remember each word part better than through individual memorization. For example, auto means “self,” bio means “life,” graph means “write” and y means “the process or result of.” Learning the whole word, autobiography, is a great way to memorize by association.

Years ago I created a list of 15 Power Words with these types of associations for the most common Greek and Latin affixes and roots. The word parts associated in this list comprise word parts found in over 15,000 words. Well worth teaching your students, I would say.

Get the 15 Power Words FREE Resource:

My Grades 4−8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits pair prefixes, roots, and suffixes to maximize learning. Each grade-level curriculum includes some great interactive games.

For example, here’s a game that will help students practice their own Greek and Latin word part associations.

Have students create and spread out vocabulary word part cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups on their desks. Business card size works best. The object of the Put-Togethers game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

  • 1 point for each prefix—root combination
  • 1 point for each root—suffix combination
  • 2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has
  • 2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has
  • 3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination
  • 5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

Another great game this time of year is Word Part Monsters. Teach numerical prefixes, some body part roots, and some descriptive suffixes and students use these to name and draw their own monsters. A pyrcapunipod comes to mind… translation? a fire-headed, one-footed monster! Students guess the translations of their classmates’ monsters.

The Grades 4−8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits are “slices” of the comprehensive  Grammar, Usage,

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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Why Vocabulary Word Lists Don’t Work

Most of us would agree with reading researchers that vocabulary development is critically important to improving reading comprehension (e.g., Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Baumann, Kame‘enui, & Ash, 2003). However, not all vocabulary instruction is effective or efficient.

The Weekly Vocabulary Word List

In many classrooms the predominant means of vocabulary instruction is weekly vocabulary word list. Pass it out on Monday; have students look up and write down definitions, make game cards, do a crossword puzzle, do a word sort, write context clue sentences, etc. Then test on Friday. The problem is that this approach does not work. It’s ineffective and inefficient.

It’s ineffective.

Students memorize the list for the Friday test and forget half of them by the next week. “Rote memorization of words and definitions is the least effective instructional method resulting in little long-term effect (Kameenui, Dixon, Carine 1987).”

It’s inefficient.

Even if students were to remember all of the, say 20 words, on the weekly vocabulary word list for the entire school year, they would only have mastered 600 words. But, the American lexicon is over 800,000 words. The SAT® word bank is over 30,000. 600 words won’t make a dent in those numbers.

According to reading research, students need to learn 3,000 new words per year just to make year-to-year grade level progress (Honig 1983). So learning only 600 words is a very small drop in a very big bucket. But it is a bucket we desperately need to fill-especially for educationally disadvantaged students, whose “word poverty” (Louisa C. Moats) dooms them to the “Matthew Effect” (Keith Stanovich) in which the poorer tend to get poorer.

To teach students 3,000 words a year, students would have to learn 17 words each school day (3,000 words over 178 school days). However, classroom intervention studies suggest that only 8 to 10 words can be retained through direct instruction in one week (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). That works out to about 300 words per year-hardly enough.

So, if vocabulary word lists are ineffective and inefficient. What does work to teach those 3,000 words per year?

Three Effective and Efficient Methods of Vocabulary Instruction

1. Independent Reading

Let’s use Luis as our example. Reading 30 minutes per day for homework at a rate of 200 words per minute, for a total of 132 days (4 days per week in a typical school year), means that Luis would be exposed to 792,000 words (30 x 200 x 132). If Luis reads text at the recommended 5% unknown words* level of word recognition recommended by reading researchers (Stahl, 1999), this means that he would be exposed to 39,600 unfamiliar words per year (792,000 x .05). Because students learn between 5 and 10 percent of previously unknown words in a single reading (Stahl, 1999), Luis will have learned between 1,980 and 3,960 new words at home! Not to mention reading in class.

*That 5% unknown words level is critically important. If students read texts below their current reading levels, even lots of reading won’t result in measurable vocabulary growth (Carver, 1994).

2. Greek and Latin Word Parts

Reading researchers suggest that learning Greek and Latin word parts is an effective and efficient method for acquiring vocabulary (e.g., Anglin, 1993; Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). Over 50% of all academic vocabulary contains one or more Greek or Latin prefix, root, or suffix. Unlike memorizing vocabulary word lists, memorizing word parts produces enormous pay-offs because one prefix, root, or suffix may be a component of hundreds of words. Learning these word families provides significant utility for the reader, especially those word parts with the highest utility.

Just 9 prefixes constitute 75% of words with prefixes (White, Sowell, & Yanigihara, 1989). Comprehensive frequency studies have not been completed on roots; however, there is general consensus as to utility of a few hundred roots. There is less agreement on the value of teaching suffixes. Suffixes can often have vague meanings such as “the state of”; suffixes are often merely inflectional forms; they also tend to vary spellings. However, some study of suffixes that have specific meanings is certainly warranted. Check out a great list of Greek and Latin word parts for instruction here.

3. Tier One, Two, and Three Words (Beck et al., 2002)

Some words do not need to be taught. Tier One Words are high utility words that will become part of a student’s lexicon incidentally through oral language or reading. Tier Two Words are common words used in cross-curricular academic discussions and reading. Tier Three Words are the specific-to-the-subject words that can sometimes be learned through effective application of context clues, but more often than not require vocabulary instruction in depth.

For example, examine this sentence: The happy child was fortunate to have such a sunny disposition.

Tier One Words: happy, child, sunny

Tier Two Word: fortunate

Tier Three Word: disposition

Check out the Academic Word List to see the most frequently used Tier Two Words for in-depth, non-list vocabulary instruction.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules

Syllable Rules

The 20 Syllable Rules

Teachers should take a look at the importance of direct instruction in syllabication. The syllable rules provide helpful guides to proper pronunciation, spelling, and reading. Check out How to Teach Syllabication once you’ve skimmed the following syllable rules. The Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules are critical to accurate pronunciation, decoding, and spelling. Knowing the patterns of affixes and roots will also facilitate vocabulary acquisition.

Syllable Rule #1: Every syllable has a vowel. The common vowels are a, e, i, o, and u.

Syllable Rule #2: When the vowel is not at the end of a syllable, it has a short sound. The Vowel-Consonant (VC) and Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) patterns are called closed syllables. For example, bas-ket is a CVC-CVC word with the short vowels ă and ě.

Syllable Rule #3: When the vowel is at the end of a syllable, it has a long sound. The Consonant-Vowel (CV) and Consonant-Consonant-Vowel (CCV) patterns are called open syllables. For example, be-low is a VC-VC word with the long vowels ā and ō.

Syllable Rule #4: Vowel digraphs are paired vowels that have only one vowel sound. Usually the first vowel indicates the sound of the vowel digraph. For example, in the word boat, the vowel digraph is “oa” and the sound is /ō/. Usually keep vowel digraphs in the same syllable.

Syllable Rule #5: Base words are roots that form complete words. A root is the meaning-based syllable that may or may not connect to prefixes or suffixes. Usually keep the original spelling of the base word when connecting to prefixes and suffixes. For example, kick in kicking.

Syllable Rule #6: Compound words consist of two or three base words (roots that form complete words). Usually keep the original spellings of the base words in compound words. The spelling rules do not change the spelling of the base words. For example, bridesmaid.

Syllable Rule #7: An incomplete root is the meaning-based syllable that connects to prefixes and/or suffixes. Unlike a base word, the incomplete root is not a complete word. Both ending vowels and consonants can change when connecting to other roots and suffixes. Sometimes a vowel or consonant is either added or dropped. For example, vis in visible.

Syllable Rule #8: Keep the silent final “e” and the vowel before in the same syllable. The silent final “e” makes the vowel before a long sound if there is only one consonant in between the vowel and the “e”. For example, basement.

Syllable Rule #9: Vowel diphthongs are paired vowels that have two vowel sounds. For example, “au” in sauces. Like vowel digraphs, they stay in the same syllable.

Syllable Rule #10: Prefixes are meaningful word parts attached to the beginnings of words. More than one prefix can begin a word. For example, mis and under in misunderstand.

Syllable Rule #11: Suffixes are word parts attached to the endings of words. They can add meaning to the word or indicate a part of speech. More than one suffix can end a word. For example, on and al in seasonal.

Syllable Rule #12: Consonant digraphs, such as sh, and consonant blends, such as str, stay in the same syllable. For example, shallow and straighten. The /sh/ consonant digraph frequently changes to another consonant sound between different grammatical forms of the same root. For example, /sh/ to /k/ in musician and magic.

Syllable Rule #13: Keep the r-controlled vowels (ar, er, ir, or, and ur) in the same syllable. For example, er-ror.

Syllable Rule #14: Divide syllables between doubled consonants, for example for-gét-ting, unless the doubled consonant is part of a syllable included in a base word, for example ful-fill-ment.

Syllable Rule #15: Some short vowel sounds change to the soft /uh/ schwa sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in cónduct and conductor the “o” changes from a short vowel to a schwa.

Syllable Rule #16: Some long vowel sounds change to the soft /uh/ schwa sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in repeat and repetition the “e” changes from a long vowel to a schwa.

Syllable Rule #17: Some long vowel sounds change to the short vowel sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in nation and national the “a” changes from a long vowel to a short vowel.

Syllable Rule #18: Some silent consonants are pronounced when connected to different grammatical forms of the same root. For example, numb and number.

Syllable Rule #19: Many Greek and Latin prefixes change their spellings to match the roots to which they attach in order to make pronunciation easier. For example, in and mobile becomes immobile. These “chameleons” can change either their consonant or vowel spellings. Check out How to Teach Greek and Latin Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots.

Syllable Rule #20: Many Greek and Latin suffixes are morphemes, which means that the word part is meaningful. For example, viewable. Other suffixes serve as inflections, which means that the suffix helps change the part of speech, but does not add meaning to the word. For example, started.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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