I made this unit in 2012 for struggling and emerging readers in a summer school class. The class was made up of students with a wide range of reading levels. Most tested at around the 6th grade level, although some were lower and two had a 10th grade reading level. My goal was to create a unit that would be helpful and relevant no matter what their reading level, and fun for them and me. I’ve used it ever since then with students at a variety of reading levels, from 4-11. Many of my students are English learners (EL) and several are not big fans of reading. They all enjoy this lesson, if for no other reason than all the colorful and interesting images I put in the PowerPoint flash cards.
Grade Level Recommendations
Based on my experience using the unit, what other teachers who use it have told me, and the Common Core Standards, I recommend using this unit with mainstream, at-level, 4th – 8th grade students, or in high school classes with emerging/struggling readers. Specific thoughts on each grade follow.
At the 3rd grade level, Greek and Latin roots are part of the Reading: Foundational Skills Strand and Language Strand. Reading: Foundational Skills 3.3.A and 3.3.B ask students to “identify and know the meaning of the most common prefixes and derivational suffixes” and “decode words with common Latin suffixes.” This unit would be overkill for these standards because it focuses on roots, not prefixes and suffixes.
However, the third grade standard Language: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use 3.4.C expects students to “use a known root word as a clue to the meaning of an unknown word with the same root.” The examples it gives are company and companion, which contain the Latin root com, meaning “together.” Com is one of the eighty four roots in this unit.
Still, some of the words in this unit might be intimidatingly long to 3rd graders – depends on their reading level and confidence.
At fourth grade, ELA standard 4.3.A says students should be able to use …”morphology (e.g., roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.” This standard is in the Reading: Foundational Skills domain.
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use 4.4.B is similar to 3.3.C, but more specific in that it refers to students using “common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word.” The examples given are telegraph, photograph, and autograph, all of which are words that are made entirely of four Greek roots you will find in this unit.
The fifth grade standard Reading: Foundational Skills, Phonics and Word Recognition 5.3.A is identical to the 4th grade version. Again students are expected to be able to use …”morphology to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.”
The fifth grade Language standard (5.4.B) matches it’s 4th grade counterpart word for word. “Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word.”
Actual 5th grade teacher feedback on the unit says, “I teach a 5th grade high ability class, and this was a perfect match for what I needed!” and “Wonderful work! Thanks for sharing! Works with 5th grade!”
6th, 7th and 8th Grades
Unlike in grades three through five, there’s no Reading: Foundational Skills strand in sixth, seventh, or eighth grades. The 6th, 7th and 8th Grade Language strand is very similar to 5th grade, with the standards (6.4.B, 7.4.B, and 8.4.B ) again expecting students to be able to use “common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word.”
A sixth grade teacher who uses the unit has told me “my 6th graders absolutely LOVE this unit! I have tried many ways of teaching Greek Roots over the past 5 years and this is the most success I have ever had.”
A seventh grade teacher has reported that he uses it for studying roots in a class of Reading for seventh graders.
9th – 12th Grades
The ELA standards for 9-12th grades don’t specifically mention Greek and Latin roots. However, the Language standards do expect students to be able to “Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level,” and “demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.” (L.9-10.6 and L.11-12.6)
Additionally, the high school standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects call for students to be able to figure out the meaning of domain-specific words as they are used in a scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 and 11-12 texts and topics.
I myself have used this unit with mainstream high school students, EL students, and students with learning disabilities. An eleventh grade teacher has told me, “My 11th graders loved doing it, even though I thought it was a little “young” for them. I think it will really help them remember the words, and I’m surprised at what they came up with.”
About the Updates
Since April, I’ve been working on big updates to this unit. I added 42 of the most common Latin roots to it, doubling the size of it to 84 roots overall. I also improved the look of all various parts, focusing on getting a consistent, fun but academic look to it. I increased the price a wee bit, but anyone who purchased in the past before the updates gets the updated version for free.
You may notice that some of the roots in this unit are not, technically speaking, roots. Some of them are prefixes and suffixes, such as “pre-,” “re-” and “-ology.” First of all, let me say to you purists this: email me sometime! It would be great to meet you. There’s not enough of us root-o-philes (morphologists?) around, if you ask me. But seriously, I included these few prefixes and suffixes because they are so common that the unit would seem incomplete without them. The unit doesn’t differentiate them from roots because I wanted to keep it simple and teachable without introducing more topics than necessary, such as the difference between affixes and roots. Distinctions like that often don’t even stick to their own rules and they may confuse the students. I wanted to focus on the memorization of the roots. So for the purposes of this unit, “roots” are broadly defined as “word parts that have meaning.”
I love the topic of roots, stems, combining forms, morphology. It’s fascinating that so many of our words are really quite ancient. English is a hodgepodge of other languages. Knowledge of roots helps make it a lot easier to figure out the meaning of words.
For an interesting article on struggling readers and stragtegies to help them, consider having a look at this blog post I stumbled across recently. It’s by Beth, a sixth grade teacher from Long Prairie, MN. She does a great job of classifying the types of readers we have in our classrooms and suggesting strategies for helping them learn to decode like pros!