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How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts

Earlier in my teaching career I taught SAT/ACT preparation courses on the side. No, not the math. 

In checking out all of the SAT prep books I found page after page of Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes. As I began reviewing countless practice tests, I saw why. Academic vocabulary is loaded with Greek and Latin word parts. In fact, I discovered later that over 50% of the words in our dictionaries contain one or more Greek or Latin morphemes (the word parts which have meaning, not grammatical inflections).

Now, I never had a class in Latin in high school; it wasn’t offered and I wouldn’t have taken this dead language if it had been. However, having subsequently earned my MA as a reading specialist, having taught ELA at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels for twenty years, and having taken two years of Greek classes, I certainly see the value of learning both Greek and Latin to enhance one’s English vocabulary.

Memorizing high frequency Greek and Latin word parts is truly the most efficient short-cut to academic language acquisition.

I do wish to say that I have found little long-term retention of vocabulary learned through simple rote memorization. The keys to memorization involve deep learning, association, and continued practice. Students won’t benefit from these Greek and Latin short-cuts by simply learning a list of 20 per week with a quiz on Friday. Instead, a few well-chosen, high frequency Greek and Latin word parts learned well in the word analysis context, associated with each other to develop mental linking, and practiced in the four communicative contexts of listening, speaking, writing, and reading works so much better.

Let’s refresh our knowledge of the Common Core State Standards to see how learning Greek and Latin word parts fits into a balanced approach to vocabulary development:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

An Instructional Approach

Although many instructional techniques can be used to practice Greek and Latin vocabulary acquisition, I have never come across an effective instructional approach to introduce Greek and Latin word parts, so I had to invent my own. First, I had to select the right words. I used three criteria for doing so:

1. Frequency

I found high frequency research on prefixes, suffixes, and roots and examined the recent Academic Word List to verify that the Greek and Latin word parts I chose appeared in Tier 2 words (cross-curricular academic language) and not the domain-specific Tier 3 words (ones which each academic discipline has, yet is relatively exclusive to that discipline). Here’s a nice high frequency list.

2. Grade Level Utility

Frequency is important, but grade-level utility is an essential criterion as well. For example, the prefix em (meaning in) as used in emphatic is ranked #5 in the high frequency Greek and Latin prefixes; however, the prefix pre (meaning before) as used in preview is down the list at #13. No fourth grade teacher I know would argue that students should learn em before pre. You see the research studies don’t measure high frequency at reading grade levels. So, which words to teach can’t solely be based upon frequency.

3. Pairing

Lastly, I considered which words to teach in conjunction with which other words. First, I decided to avoid the conjugations. For example, if you were learning English, you would certainly need to learn the root, view, at some point. However, you would not have to memorize viewed, has viewed, had viewed, viewing, was viewing, will view, etc. This criterion cuts out a lot of memorization. Second, I chose word parts which link to other word parts by meaning, for example, em and en mean in and association, for example, pre dict. Again, the prefix pre (meaning before) associates with the root dict (meaning to say). Together they mean to say before. Highly memorable. Of course, precocious teachers are adding on the suffix ion (meaning process or result) to form prediction (the process or result of saying before). 

Now, besides the memorable association, this pairing also helps students problem-solve the meaning of the whole word. As you know, Greek and Latin word parts are usually, but not always helpful cues to the meanings of words. The pairing serves as an educated guess or predicted meaning.

I next required students to check their predictions. Students look up the Greek and Latin pairings as whole words in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the words.

Finally, I required students to divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Now, that’s how to introduce Greek and Latin word parts!


In addition to Greek and Latin word parts, the author’s programs include rigorous, grade-level instruction in each of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

The author provides three vocabulary programs for grades 4-8 students: Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Vocabulary Academic Literacy Centers |Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES. Each program includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test: a perfect test-drive to see if one of the author’s vocabulary programs will meet the needs of your students.

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:

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Research-Based Vocabulary Worksheets

The two most often-used methods of vocabulary instruction include passing out a vocabulary list to be memorized for the Friday quiz and pre-teaching a few vocabulary words prior to reading. Each method has its limitations. Retention of rote memorization without reinforced, deliberate practice is minimal. Exposure to a key word in a reading selection without context provides minimal understanding.

Whereas the Common Core State Standards have been widely criticized in some academic areas, I’ve never heard a parent, student, or teacher criticize the vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Whether states re-write, re-name, or simply re-number the Common Core State Standards, the essential components of vocabulary instruction are retained. As an MA reading specialist, both vocabulary acquisition and retention are the keys to the kingdom. But minds are not simply empty vessels to be filled with ACT/SAT vocabulary; minds are also to be trained to acquire and retain words on their own. The latter is not the natural process that some describe (or hope for). Surely the process of vocabulary growth can be made more efficient and accurate with training. That’s where good teaching comes in… and one important instructional strategy is the research-based vocabulary worksheet.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a vocabulary worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

Most of the Tier II academic (not content-specific) language is gained through widespread reading of challenging text, Reading lots of words matters, but reading at a word recognition level of about 5% unknown words, coupled with context clues instruction and practice maximizes the amount of vocabulary acquisition and retention. According the writers of the Common Core, text complexity really matters. Research-based vocabulary worksheets can help provide deliberate practice in how to independently grow vocabulary.

The second key to vocabulary development is deep instruction in the words themselves. Passing out the vocabulary list to memorize is not “deep instruction.” Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards to understand. Following are the eighth grade Standards. Highlights are my own to facilitate skimming and to provide your own vocabulary check-list of “Do that,” “Don’t do that, but need to” self-evaluation. After the Standards follows research-based vocabulary worksheets from my grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit (slices of the aforementioned programs) to see how each of the Language Strand Vocabulary Standards L.4, 5, and 6 are incorporated into weekly classroom practice. The examples are from the fifth grade program. Yes, flashcards and tests are included in each program. Each program follows a grades 4-8 instructional scope and sequence and includes the Tier II Academic Words List.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).
Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
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Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet and the research-based spelling patterns worksheets.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

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

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

The program 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 author’s program.

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:

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