Edith Hope Fine
|California Language Arts Content Standards|
|Standards Addressed in this Unit|
Teacher Background Reading
- Explore activities for numerous specific roots at "Word Parts" - the roots of vocabulary
- A listing of Greek and Latin roots (here called cells) and English derivatives by Mike Thompson, Davis School District are at Ninth Grade Word "Cells"
- Peruse Buncha Roots: A selection of Latin and Greek Roots, their importance, and ways to study. There is also an extensive list of resources on roots and affixes. This is copyrighted material - information for you to check out online. If you opt to dig deeper into Greek and Latin roots and affixes, pay the small educator's fee and download the materials. (Don't be put off by the word "homeschool" in the URL. The material applies to all students. N.B.: Some religious advertisements are posted at this site.)
- If you have interest in teaching Latin, a beginning book with cartoon illustrations is Minimus by British author and teacher Barbara Bell.
IntroductionThis unit focuses on word derivation based on knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Unit activities and suggested follow-up activities support students in the acquisition of a store of word parts derived from Greek and Latin.
Studies show that the more Greek and Latin roots students know, the stronger their word attack skills. Since over 60% of English words and over 90% of words with three or more syllables come from Greek and Latin, students with a knowledge of roots and affixes do far better on the vocabulary sections of the PSATs and SATs than those who haven't been exposed to language or etymological studies. Being able to identify roots and affixes in English words helps students understand word meanings and accurately use words derived from Greek and Latin.
In beginning a study of Greek and Latin roots, be sure that students understand that in the world of Classical Greece and Rome, people spoke Greek and Latin. Latin spread widely as the Roman Empire extended its reach as far as Roman Britain. Some religions still use Latin today and in Greece, people speak modern Greek, which is based on ancient Greek but has evolved.
In the course of the unit, students can use technology skills for research and a project, as well as practicing speaking skills during presentations.
Getting to the Roots of WordsGetting clues from roots gives insight into word meanings and helps students' skills in finding and applying etymological information. Many dictionaries offer information on the origins of words, usually found at the end of a dictionary entry. Provide comprehensive hard copy or online dictionaries rather than slim paperback or abridged versions that seldom include etymologies.
Students should also know about etymological dictionaries, such as Robert K. Barnhart's The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words. Such dictionaries focus on etymology (word origin), rather than definition(s).
Tip: Students should be able to read the etymological information for word entries in hard copy and/or online dictionaries.
Here is an example from Merriam-Webster online
Main Entry: pachy•derm
Etymology: French pachyderme, from Greek pachydermos thick-skinned, from pachys thick + derma skin
To help students understand the word "etymology," show how the word is formed with the Greek etumon, meaning "the true sense of a word" and –ology (from the Greek log = word), meaning "the study of." So etymologists study the origin and development of words. In English, an etymon is an earlier form of a word (in the same language or in an older language).
Show dictionary or etymological entries from other sources so students can compare listings. Not all dictionaries are equal. Author and logophile Charles Harrington Elster recommends The Random House Webster's College Dictionary, Webster's New World Dictionary, third college edition, and The American Heritage Dictionary (he recommends the third edition but a fourth edition is now available).
TEACHING AND LEARNING ACTIVITIESSelect and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:
Digging InIn this introductory activity, students first compile a list of familiar English words that relate to a common root. After that, students do research to add to the list.
word strips or cards with Greek and Latin rootsPrepare the word strips. Use strips of tagboard/card stock or 5 x 8 inch index cards cut in half lengthwise. Write roots and their meanings on the cards, using green for Greek and red for Latin.
watch or timer
(N.B. On this chart, and throughout this unit, green = Greek; red = Latin.)
To emphasize how many English words have Greek and Latin roots, group students in pairs or groups of four. Give a root word, marker, and paper to each group.
Allow three minutes for students to compile a list on chart paper of as many English words as they can think of that contain their root.
Next, switch word cards between groups. Have students use dictionaries to add more words to the chart paper lists, using dictionaries or online sources to create more comprehensive lists.
Post the lists and discuss this word collection that springs from Greek and Latin, noting the different lengths of the lists, the varying complexities of the words, and, if possible, adding more words to the list.
These lists form the core of an online or hard copy classroom etymology that students can use for reference. They can add new roots and related English words during the study of this unit and throughout the semester.
Presentations of Illustrated EtymologiesDemonstrate how knowing Greek and Latin roots can help students make discoveries and leaps in understanding.
Start with the familiar word unicorn.
unicorn = uni- (one) + cornu (horn)Add rhinoceros.
rhinoceros = rhino- (nose) + cero (horn)Those two words supply students with two roots for horn, one Latin and one Greek. Show students how they can find other words such as cornu in cornucopia (horn of plenty) and triceratops (a dinosaur with three horns on the face-ops).
Have each student create illustrated etymology pages. Each page will include one English word, its roots, a short definition, and an illustration. Use one of two approaches:
- DIGITAL ETYMOLOGY Make PowerPoint slides for five roots using illustrations found online.
- HARD COPY ETYMOLOGY Make pages or posters for five roots illustrated with pictures students draw, illustrations from magazines, or photographs.
Here are examples: Digital Etymology.
Students briefly define their words, including how each example relates to the English word they have chosen. Words may have one or more Greek/Latin roots. See Digital Etymology examples.
Students write five to ten other English words with the same root or roots found in their original word and then define the words.
For rhinoceros, these could include:
- rhinoceros beetle
FOR EXAMPLE, keratin:
Keratin is a great example of how an English word relates to its root. Keratin is a protein that forms the outer layer of hair, nails, horns, and hoofs. Animal horns are tough. Keratin is tough. (Greek didn't have the letter c so cerat was kerat.)
Class Presentations Students demonstrate etymological knowledge of any one of their five English words, presenting them (and related English words) in ways that will help other students remember the roots and affixes. If students do PowerPoint slides, they can pool them into a PowerPoint slide show for these presentations.
If students prepare notebook pages or posters for their root explorations, display these after the presentations are complete. Put them into book form (arrange alphabetically by English words) or on a bulletin board.
Additonal Activies to Explore RootsEncourage students to explore words related to a common root.
Side TripsFor example, students studying pachyderms will know these roots:
pachy = thick and derm = skinView pachyderm photos from AmericaZoo.com.
Using online or hard copy dictionaries (unabridged, if possible), students may discover the pachycephalosaurus. pachy = thick and cephalo = head
To students who know these roots, it makes sense that this dinosaur had a dome on its forehead that thickened as the dinosaur aged.
Here's an artist's rendition of what the pachycephalosaurus may have looked like.
Roots Rule! ActivityAnother way to help make the connection between Greek and Latin roots and English words is to physically link them. Show students the example below so they get the idea of this hands-on project.
Some possibilities for "meso":
- Mesolithic Age
- Mesozoic Era
Other possible roots for the Roots Rule! project are chron and circum-:
chron = time
circum- = about, around
Make a bulletin board of Roots Rule! rulers.
Roots in the News
Follow the National Spelling Bee. Have students explore the clues provided by that crucial question, "What is the language of origin?"
The Study Aids provided by the National Spelling Bee include wonderful word lists.
Click here to learn more about Anurag Kashyap, the Poway, California student who won the National Spelling Bee in June 2005.
New Dinosaur DiscoveriesLook for new scientific discoveries. With a basic knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, students will have no problem with these two dinos, recently in the news.
Because of its long neck and tiny head, the dinocephalosaurus (dino = terrible; cephalo = head; saurus = lizard), terrible-headed lizard, looked benign to enemies. But coming along behind this predator's deceptively small head was a huge, powerful body.
From Alaska comes news that a college student discovered the footprint of a theropod (thero- = beast + pod = foot) in Denali National Park. The discovery of this "beast-footed" dinosaur print was unique in that it was the first evidence of dinosaur presence so far inland from the Alaskan coast.
In this Associated Press photo, a ruler shows this size of the three-toed footprint, thought to be some 70,000 years old.
You'll find wonderful theropod images at this site posted by the University of California at Berkeley.
Explore the roots of other Greek/Latin-related words found at that site, such as bipedal, carnivore, terrestrial, and ornithischian.
Students can find much more about the carnivorous theropods (suborder Theropoda) by searching for information online.
ASSESSMENT ACTIVITYClass presentation of illustrated etymologies
- You need a dictionary with etymological information, such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
- An etymological dictionary has more depth and may catch students' interest. Etymological dictionaries trace word origins; they do not provide definitions. Another example is The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words, Robert K. Barnhart, New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
- Designed for younger readers, CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids (Tricycle Press, 2004) can provide 9th and 10th graders with a quick overview of basic Greek and Latin roots/affixes. It's by Edith Hope Fine, the author of this unit. Back matter includes the Greek alphabet, two glossaries-English to Greek and Latin, Greek and Latin to English-plus some common suffixes, and Greek/Latin numbers. The CryptoKids Decoder Program provides 200 basic roots/affixes in a 34-week program. For more information and an educator's guide to the book, visit http://www.cryptokids.com.
ElectronicAs always with any online source, double-check the material.
- Greek and Latin Roots includes roots, prefixes, and suffixes. The lists of suffixes are divided into those that form nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.
- Online Latin dictionary
- See also Electronic Resources under Teacher Background Reading.