Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary programs’

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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Common Core Vocabulary

One quick glance at the Vocabulary Standards (see below) will convince most teachers that the traditional method of vocabulary instruction in our schools: pre-teaching a few challenging words before reading an article or story and handing out a vocabulary word list of Greek and Latin word parts, a few homonyms, the weekly spelling words, and a few hard words to be studied at home and tested on Friday is simply not the vocabulary instruction that the Common Core authors have in mind.

The Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development. Unlike some of the other ELA Standards, the vocabulary Standards are quite specific. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other gateways to vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit instruction. Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards and the key instructional strategies to teach each Standard:

  • 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)

Instructional Strategies

Multiple Meaning Words

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Greek and Latin Word Parts

Greek and Latin word parts appear in 50% of our Tier 2 academic words. In choosing which Greek and Latin word parts to teach, teachers should consider three criteria:

  1. Frequency research
  2. Utility for grade-level Tier 2 words
  3. Pairing:

Regarding #s 2 and 3, pairing word parts as Greek or Latin prefix-roots or root-suffix combinations enhances memorization and demonstrates utility of the Greek and Latin word parts. For example, pre (before) is paired with view (to see). Students use these combinations to make educated guesses about the meaning of the whole word. This word analysis is critical to teaching students how to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words.

Check out more on how to teach Greek and Latin word part vocabulary HERE and Greek and Latin word part games and a fantastic list of 15 Power Words which include the paired (and more) word parts HERE.

Language Resources

Students can 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. Students should divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Additionally, students can extend their learning by writing synonyms, antonyms, or inflected forms of the word, using either the dictionary or thesaurus (print or online). This activity helps students develop a more precise understanding of the word.

Figures of Speech

Students should learn a variety of figures of speech (non-literal expression used by a certain group of people). The Common Core Vocabulary Standards assign specific types of figures of speech to each grade level. For example, grade 4 students should learn idioms, similes, metaphors, imagery, adages, alliteration, proverbs, and onomatopoeia. Students should review each of these in grades 5−7 and learn personification, symbolism, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, and puns by grade 8. Complexity should increase grade to grade.

Word Relationships

Students must learn not only to recognize context clues to discover the meanings of unknown words in their reading, but also learn how to apply context clues strategies to show the meanings of unfamiliar words and technical terms in their own writing.

Students do so by learning the categories of word relationships. Again, vocabulary instructional programs should increase in complexity from grade to grade. For example, a grade 4 word relationship category of item to category with examples such as hurricane to weather makes sense, By grade 8, students should learn more challenging word relationship categories, such as problem to solution with examples like infection to diagnosis.

Connotations: Shades of Meaning

Students need to be exposed to new grade-level vocabulary words which have similar denotative meanings, but different connotative meanings. From the provided definitions, students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

Academic Language

The Common Core authors write a helpful explanation of why Tier 2 words (academic vocabulary) should be the focus of vocabulary instruction. Many of these words will be discovered and learned implicitly or explicitly in the context of challenging reading, using appropriately leveled independent reading, such as grade-level class novels and specific reading strategies, such as close reading with shorter, focused text. Establishing an instructional scope and sequence of these Tier 2 words with grade-level, below, and above teaching colleagues is critical to non-repetitive curricular mapping from grade to grade level.

Additionally, direct instruction of high utility and high frequency academic vocabulary is certainly worthwhile. Teachers may wish to check out the research-based Academic Word List. Students can use the four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) Frayer model to learn these words. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction.

If you are looking for a program to teach each of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards for your grade level, the author provides several program options. Each option includes vocabulary worksheets as described above to teach the grade-level Vocabulary Standards (L.4, 5, 6).

The Vocabulary Academic Literacy Center in available in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 program levels. For teachers, opting for a non-literacy center approach to vocabulary instruction, the same resources (and more) are included in the author’s grades 4–8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits and in the grades 4–8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.






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Academic Language: What Not to Teach and What to Teach

What Not to Teach and What to Teach with Academic Language

Academic Language

Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards way back in 2009… Has it been that long ago? the term Academic Language has remained as one of the longest-lasting educational buzzwords. As educators and publishers have unpacked that term in the years since, it has taken on various meanings; however, its original intent was to assert that the types of words that we teach do matter. Specifically, teaching Tier 2 words which have utility across subject areas makes a lot of sense. For plenty of examples and the research-based Academic Word List, I’d refer teachers HERE.

The ability of these Tier 2 (Beck, McKeown, Kucan) words to transfer across subject areas and reading genre helps developing readers access more complex text. This is why teaching academic language matters. The Tier 2 academic vocabulary words are not ends in themselves; they are gateways to more sophisticated reading. Academic language is all about access to text complexity.

As detailed in Appendix A of the Common Core document and the research described in the 2006 ACT, Inc., report titled Reading Between the Lines, reading comprehension scores have dropped over the last 20 years. Two reasons were cited for this decline: 1. decreasing text complexity and 2. lack of independent reading. We educators have got to make our word study more rigorous and require more challenging independent reading to enhance the academic language of our students.

How Not to Teach Academic Language

  1. Don’t spend excessive amounts of time reading entire novels out loud to your class. I agree with those who have argued against teachers reading complete novels out loud as spoon-feeding. Of course, reading out loud does have some benefits and re-reading a passage or portion of an article as a close reading does have merit, but not as the primary means of developing academic language and increasing reading comprehension.
  2. I also concur with those who have also argued against independent reading in the classroom as a “waste of instructional time.” Spending oodles of class time with free-choice independent reading does not build academic language. Independent reading is vitally important… but as homework. By the way, Accelerated Reader is not an academic vocabulary program. Teachers are clever enough to incentivize and hold students accountable for independent reading without an outside program.
  3. Don’t have students memorize long lists of academic language words. While memorization is certainly a part of effective word study, students retain more at the end of the year with a quality, not quantity approach to vocabulary study. Some in-depth vocabulary instruction is certainly valuable.
  4. Avoid spending excessive amounts of vocabulary instructional time on learning words in the context of teaching a short story, article, or novel. Pre-teaching a few essential words is unavoidable, but don’t let the reading drive your vocabulary instruction. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog.

How to Teach Academic Language

  1. Increase the amount of independent reading homework with proper incentives and accountability. But do teach students how to read independently and require students to read complex material at their individual instructional levels. Lexiles are a useful tool, but a much simpler and flexible approach to determine reading levels is word recognition. Assign limited choices for independent reading. Students don’t naturally gravitate toward text complexity. Like adults, students look for the easy reads. Don’t worry about taking away a students love of reading. Teachers won’t damage children for life by assigning challenging reading homework. Certainly, informed educators know what’s best for students.
  2. Teach a balanced approach to vocabulary development, using the Common Core Vocabulary Standards detailed in the Language Strand. Teach academic language in isolation and in the reading context. Don’t be a purist. Students may have to read a 1000 novels before being exposed to, say, an important figures of speech. Vocabulary acquisition is not a completely natural process. The Standards focus on teaching a balance of vocabulary skills: multiple meaning words (L.4.a.), words with Greek and Latin roots and affixes (L.4.a.), figures of speech (L.5.a.), words with special relationships (L.5.b.), words with connotative meanings (L.5.c.), and academic language words (L.6.0). Check out How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards.
  3. Plan. Insist upon grade level and department articulation to coordinate a year-to-year academic language instructional scope and sequence. We all too often wind up teaching, say, the same list of Greek and Latin prefixes year after year. We need a plan to move students from A to Z. Here’s a helpful instructional scope and sequence for grades 4-8 academic language. Yes, a multi-grade vocabulary program does make sense to unify instruction.
  4. Choose the right words to teach. Some academic language words more often than others. It makes sense to focus instruction on the high frequency Tier 2 words found in content area textbooks and in academic articles.Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:
    • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
    • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
    • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

    Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

    • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.”
    • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.”
    • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
    • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.”

    The Academic Word list has been ordered into lists by frequency of use. Why not teach the academic language words that appear most often in academic text?

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Standards

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Mark Pennington, an M.A. reading specialist, is the author of the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits–slices of the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling and Vocabulary programs. These full-year programs help students master the grade-level Anchor Standards for Language: Multiple meaning words and context clues; Greek and Latin word parts; language resources (dictionary and thesaurus); figures of speech; word relationships (homonyms) and connotations; and academic language (Frayer four square model using the leveled, high frequency Academic Word List).

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Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Two Week Test Drives