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September 24, 2010 Expanding Your Roots Through Greek and Latin Word Study By Angela Bunyi
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,, 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,



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