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Expanding Your Roots Through Greek and Latin Word Study

By Angela Bunyi on September 24, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5



For the past four years I have incorporated a Greek and Latin etymology study of five word stems a week. This has helped my students with understanding known and unknown words as well as spelling. Through these studies we developed mnemonic devices such as hand movements, drawings, slide shows, and a visual word wall to aid in really learning the words introduced. This year I am continuing with these plans but have some new resources for you to learn about and incorporate in your room. This includes a grade specific commercial program that has done all the work for you already.


Why Study Greek and Latin Words (and Old English, too)?

In Essentials of Elementary Reading, Michael Graves, Susan Watts-Taffe, and Bonnie Graves estimate that students learn between 3,000 and 4,000 new words each year, with the typical student knowing some 25,000 words by the end of elementary school. If your students read for thirty minutes a day, they will be exposed to an average of one million words by year's end. How many of those words will be new and how can we help them? It is obvious that five pre-selected vocabulary words from a basal textbook doesn't make the grade. Even if a new word is taught each day, in addition to five pre-selected vocabulary words for the week, that is still fewer than 400 words a year. So, how can we maximize vocabulary acquisition? One Greek word stem can open up vocabulary acquisition for hundreds of other words found while reading.

Word stem studies work when you combine them with ample time to read. According to Richard Allington, the time spent reading in class is critical to vocabulary acquisition. Consider these numbers, tied to achievement:

Achievement Percentile         Min. Read/Day                 Words/Year Exposure
90th                                             40.4                                  2,357,000
50th                                             12.9                                  601,000
10th                                             1.6                                    51,000
Adopted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, 1988.
So, 2,357,000 words. How many of those words will be new to your students? Will those 2,357,000 words be the same for your lowest reader and highest reader? Reading naturally exposes students to an individualized vocabulary plan of action, and etymology studies are naturally leveled as well. From bicycle to binomial, word study can work for each of your students. Here's how . . .
Incorporating Word Study in Your Classroom
Create a Visual Word Wall
Photo: Both the self-made and pre-made/purchased word stem cards go on our designated word stem word wall.
Although it is not common to see a word wall in an upper grade classroom, what we have is actually quite advanced. Our word wall will begin to fill with Greek, Latin, and Old English word stems as the year goes on; it's our reminder for spelling, figuring out unknown words, and even pronunciation. Also, unlike a traditional word wall, our version is color-coded. Latin words, for example, are coded yellow and Greek words are light purple. For your ELL and visual learners, this is a real benefit.
The Word Station: The Work Is Completed for You
That said, this year I made the decision to work with a company called the Word Station. I did this because the Word Station follows the same format I follow in class, including a word wall set by grade level and content area (English, science, math, etc.). The difference that sold me is that they offer the additional focus on etymology and research on utilizing ACT words. Here is an excerpt from the site:

Development of the Word Station Program

With SAT/ACT/TAKS scores needing improvement, The Word Station Team decided to get busy. The process began with compiling SAT/ACT/Testing materials and feeding the vocabulary words into spreadsheets (literally thousands of words). The spreadsheets were correlated and the words most commonly used became our word walls. Once the word wall words were identified, we broke the words into stems and those became our stem wall. The words were then broken into grade levels six through twelve. The easier words with the first hundred stems became our TWS 6th Grade Word Wall, the next hundred by degree of difficulty are the seventh grade, eighth grade and so on through the twelfth grade.

—The Word Wall, www.thewordstation.com, accessed 8/23/10.


Mnemonic Hand Movements


I am confident that my students from last year can create the hand movements for most, if not all, of the 100 words we introduced last year. This is such a quick and easy resource for assisting your students in learning and remembering the meaning of the new word stems taught. Based on the photo above, you can have your students push their hand away for "dis," point a finger down for "de," cross two fingers for "com" and "con," and move a finger in a circle for "circum." It's really as simple as that and doesn't require any prep or resources.
~ Ask students for suggestions on introduced word stems. For example, "Class, how can we possibly remember that 'dis' means 'away'?" Some of the best ideas have come from my students.
~ Practicing can be relaxing and quiet. If you have a moment to fill in the hall, by the restroom, or while waiting for a visitor, reviewing word wall words can be done in silence and very quickly. You simply say the word part "dis" and wait to see if the hand movements are correct. After you quietly say the meaning, move on to the next word.
Graphic Organizers
I just typed in "graphic organizer" under Google images and a plethora of sample organizers appeared. I encourage you to take at least one day, even one warm-up, to help students apply and address their word parts. With the Word Station, all of the weekly organizers are included for you. Here are two activities that I really liked:
~ Selecting any graphic organizer, ask students to create a sentence border around the paper demonstrating word parts in use. Oddly enough, students seem to like this. I suspect asking them to create "x" number of sentences would not be welcomed.
~ Have students write out a few words that include your word stems, but ask them to write the word in a way that helps the reader figure out its meaning. For example, the word "omnivore" may have two carrots that make up the letter "v" and a chicken leg to make up the letter "r."
Slide Shows
Whether you use it to introduce the new word stems for the week or you project it on your board each morning as part of a review, a slide show can really assist students in learning and applying new word parts. If you link it to your school site, students have access to the slide shows at home as well.
Last year I didn't include any formal assessments, such as weekly tests. I felt students knew the words and at the 3rd grade level, it wasn't necessary. However, I really enjoy the format provided with the Word Station and use their assessment for a quick check-up each Friday. This includes matching word stems to their meaning, figuring out new words utilizing the word part knowledge, and writing sentences with new words learned.
Here is a quick snapshot of the informal assessments provided on my site:
Both assessments take fewer than ten minutes to complete.
Please use the comments section to add questions, or better yet, share some ideas on how you may have incorporated word study in your classroom this year.
Also, send me positive thoughts this Saturday as I continue my journey back into running! I entered my first race in four years, a 5K, and finished as one of the top five females overall, out of 900 total runners, and first in my age division. I came in top 12 in a recent 10K after having some hip problems and competing for a year's worth of free Chick-fil-A (some were really serious about that chicken: a 7:38 pace was not enough). I am running the Women's Half Marathon tomorrow, the Middle Half Marathon in October, and the Hunstville Marathon in December. Yes, that means I am having to really make some time in my schedule to run. Thirty plus miles of running a week, to be exact. In other words, I have to make time for myself. And that's not a bad thing. I also happen to love it. With a full-time job, a husband entering the world of education this year as a school counselor, a son in 2nd grade, and a grade change, I have never felt happier and more balanced!
Best to you,


Comments (33)

Please check your link under the free downloads. When pressed it sends you to a very, very inappropriate site. Thank goodness I was looking at this on my iPad instead of in the classroom! When you try to hit back it traps you in the site. Thanks.

Do you have a current link to the The Word Station? I cannot find it on the web. Thanks for your help!

I also can't pull up the slideshows, tests, or any other thing that has been attached. Please respond back and let me know how I can. Thanks!

scroll down to the 6/15/11 comment - she put links in a reply and they worked for me this evening

I am so excited to use this in my classroom, but I can't get the links to work on the lists, tests, and slideshows on either yours or heather's site. Any thoughts?

Thanks for all that you do,

Angela, and the other teachers that use these pages, thank you for being teachers. You guys are in such a prestigous field. As I read through these pages, I am getting a chance to build upon my teachers' teachings and see what you are discussing here. I appreciate you very much!

Hi Angela,

I am interested in looking at your word stems but it seems as though your site has stopped linking to the downloads. I would love to incorporate this type of word wall into my classroom!




Let me know if you need anything else. I'd be happy to answer your questions.



WOW! You are quick to respond. Thank you so much for your help. I hope I can do the program justice. It really excites me to implement it this year! Thanks again! Shiloh


Bummer. You are correct. Her links do not appear to be working. However, I do have all the weekly word part cards for you to copy below, as well as week 21-30 for sequencing of the words. Besides that, I highly recommend The Word Station. Everything is completed for you. The word part cards with color coding for etymology, the practice sheets, and the weekly testing. It is really well done.

List of words- Week 21-30 http://www.mrsbunyi.com/word_within_list.pdf

Cards- Part I http://www.mrsbunyi.com/word_study_part_one.pdf Part II http://www.mrsbunyi.com/word_study_part_two.pdf

I hope that helps!


I am very interested in utilizing your word study program. The word lists and slide shows you created are accessible on your website, but I was unable to open the lists created by Ms. Renz. I could not find them on her website either. Is there another way I can find them? Thank you for sharing your ideas and procedures. They motivate and inspire me to try new strategies with my students. Shiloh

I am currently using Caesar's English I and II by Michael Clay Thompson with my 4th and 5th graders. I love your idea of a visual word wall. I was wondering if you already have pictures for all of the stems or if that is something you and your students create as you go? Thanks for the great ideas!


I couldn't locate those original files. I lost several components with a laptop crash a while back. I don't have the back-up files to pull them up anymore. I am a little confused why it stopped working. Luckily, it doesn't take too much time to create a powerpoint if you open up another one and replace the words.

Best of luck to you,



Sorry for the delay in responding. Yes, I think you could use the 6th grade edition with little troubles. If you look at any word study lists geared for 3-6 grade, they are essentially the same 100. The difference would be applied words (ex- bi could be bicycle or bipolar). If anything, the sample words provided with the stems could be modified. Meanwhile, you might want to look at the lists and resources I have online. That was used when I taught 3rd and 4th grade.



I am really intrigued by the word stations but noticed that they are for grades 6-12. I teach fourth grade and wondered if they would work for my grade level. I agree that vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of reading.


I know you were in Hawaii the last time I e-mailed you about this. I was wondering if you have had a chance to look at your server yet. I think your website is a GREAT resource for the word study work we do in our classroom.

Thanks for the amazing resource! Julie #11


I am using a word wall for the very first time this year. Our word wall consists of commonly misspelled words and high frequency words for 4th graders. I decided to "bump it up" a bit by adding words my students are finding during read to self. Each student adds their words to their own word collector, but I was wondering how you engage the class in deciding if a word is "worthy" of the class word wall or if it should stay in their personal word collection. Does that make sense? Thanks for all of your great ideas!


Hello Michelle,

I taught 3rd grade last year using the lists and activities found on my website. I plan on using this again after completing The Word Station as a review. Oddly enough, I will say there is very little difference between the list I used for 3rd grade vs. 5th grade.



Hi, I like this idea but I was wondering where I can find appropriate word stems for 3rd graders? Thank you


Right on. My students have even noted that it can start to make you crazy because you never noticed the meanings behind so many words before. I've even had a few go, "Wow, I just realized that word has X base in it. That makes so much sense." Often, this is a science or math based word.

And Mitch, you might be interested in The Word Station. They have specific lists for grade/content areas.



Yes, I noticed that as well. My server, Dreamweaver, is odd like that sometimes (eg- the word wall cards suddenly stopped linking). I am currently in Hawaii for the week, so I don't have access to my home laptop. I'll check on it when I return next Sunday. :)



As a science educator, I always highlight Greek, Latin (and other) roots in the words we use. I also make sure that cognates (in English, Spanish, Arabic, and the many other languages my students speak) are noted and explored as they come up. Tyrannosaurus rex, Antarctica, and glossary are some examples of words that we have paused to enjoy in the past week alone. This is one of the important ways that literacy and science are so naturally compatible. Thanks for helping teachers to exploit such a powerful linguistic tool in their professional practice.


Thanks for the great ideas. Your website is a great resource as well. However, I noticed that when I clicked on the first and fourth sets of examples, the page was not found. Can you help? Hope I'm not a bother, but I appreciate your help!



Mystery solved! It took me a while for that one. It was if the entire file had just vanished, but I recovered it, saved it, and posted it for you to use. :)



Angela, I'm wondering if you were able to fix the study cards/word wall cards that couldn't be downloaded?


After comparing my list that I used for 3rd and 4th grade vs. The Word Station's 6th grade lists overlap heavily. I would not hesitate using it in 4th grade.

Hope that helps...


Would this work for/be developmentally appropriate for 4th grade? I took a look at the Word Station website and was disappointed to see that it begins with 6th grade.

Yes, we discuss the etymology...most words are Greek, Latin, and Old English. French is found in the advanced lists. It's actually extra credit when I assess their knowledge.

And I don't have any direct information posted on my site regarding The Word Station due to potential legal reasons. I do have 90% of a years worth of stuff posted on the link posted in the post.

And my plan is to use both. First, beginning with The Word Station and followed by my version. This will take the entire school year for us to complete. My set will include some repeats, which is just fine with me. :)

Great to hear my work has helped you out!


This is so useful! Do you go as far as to discuss with students whether each roots is Greek, Latin, Old English, etc?

Also, on the page you link are there elements of your old program (designed by you) and the new program from the Word Station? Do you use both, or are you using the new one exclusively. Is this the site you use with your class or is this an archive page with your cumulative collected brilliance?

Your work is so inspiring!!


You are correct. I am at school right now, and I use Dreamweaver for the site (on my home laptop). When I get home, I'll check out to see where the link went bad.


Mrs. Bunyi


I was very inspired by your post and tried to download the study cards/word wall cards but was unable to. It said that the file could not be found. :-( Please help. Thank you.


Thanks Julie...a label maker is a good friend of mine.

Happy Friday,


Fantastic job! Latin roots have never been so colorful and fun! This is what teaching is about. You are certainly organized! Keep up the great work. Texas Teacher Julie Long

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