It's All Greek and Latin to Me!

Give your pupils a skill they can use for life by introducing the use and comprehension of Latin and Greek root words.

By Dawn Dodson



A primary key to unlocking a world of vocabulary is through studying Greek and Latin root words. Each year, I am amazed at how students are able to apply their newly acquired knowledge of these roots to other content areas. They discover new vocabulary over the course of the school year, and they also begin to point out and keep track of the roots they recognize in independent reading and other school assignments. Learning Greek and Latin roots not only improves immediate word knowledge, but it also equips learners with a tool they can use throughout their lives. By using word maps, games, and a culminating project, your class can learn these roots and then apply their learning to other disciplines.

Roots, Roots, Roots

As an introduction to Greek and Latin root words, the class is given lists of root words and their definitions. After discussing what each root means, I often ask for examples of words that they already know that contain the various roots. Using examples helps to visually demonstrate the functions of the roots and their meanings. I often use these examples to model how to infer the meaning of an unknown word using root and affix knowledge. Following class discussion, I provide them with a word map that contains the root in the center of the map. Next, they use online dictionaries and/or thesauruses to discover word examples containing individual roots. I also offer opportunities to share completed work with one another so that they can view as many examples as possible.

Bring On the Games!

Once everyone is familiar with root word meanings and examples, the class plays a game where they think of as many examples as they can in two minutes. To play, I divide the class into groups of four or five, and have each group sit in a circle. Each group is given one plastic plate and a permanent marker. I draw a card from a paper bag and announce a root word.  The goal is to pass the plate to each group member and take turns writing words that contain the announced root. The group who has the most word examples wins the round. Another game that reinforces roots is a memory game. This is a simple game that can be played alone or with a partner. Each person takes the responsibility to create root flashcards and word examples. Then they match the root to the word that contains the specific root. These activities provide yet another opportunity to practice working with word roots.

Greek and Latin Root-Word Encyclopedia Project

In addition to word maps and games, I also like my class to manipulate the meanings of the words and explore different contexts in which they may encounter the various roots. To accomplish this objective, I assign them a Greek and Latin Root Word encyclopedia project. In this project, they are required to select at least five Greek and Latin root words to place into encyclopedia articles. To introduce the idea, I show them an encyclopedia and have them identify significant features of the entries and information they include. Next, they choose roots to focus their research and study (alphabetized), and create their volume. This is a great visual representation of the definitions, word examples, and content areas each root is found.

Studying Greek and Latin root words allow students’ vocabulary skills to continue to grow. Through word sorts, games, and related activities, they can learn not only specific word meanings, but skills to allow them to discover meanings of unknown words in different content areas. The following are more lesson ideas to teach Greek and Latin root words.

Greek and Latin Root-Word Lessons:

Creature Feature

Use Greek and Latin root word knowledge to secretly describe and identify a teacher-created creature. This lesson encompasses both science and writing skills.

It’s Greek to Me!

This teaches common Greek roots and how to decipher meanings of unknown words by using basic root word meanings. Learning is reinforced through the completion of a well-organized handout.

Superhero Comic Strips

This writing lesson teaches both Latin and Greek root words. After creating a superhero, using Greek/Latin roots as their description, pupils create a comic strip of their hero. The comic strip focuses on the superhero fighting evil using his/her special powers.

BINGO with Greek and Latin Roots

Here is a great way to introduce and review roots and affixes. Players receive a blank BINGO sheet, and the teacher will pull a letter from a container and ask them to spell a word using a root that begins with the chosen letter.        

Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson