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Greek and Latin Root Words

Grade Levels
5th, 6th, 7th, 8th
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Objective: The purpose of this book is to help students improve their vocabulary by learning more than fifty Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and root words.

Students will accomplish this objective by directly learning more than fifty root words, prefixes, and suffixes. With this knowledge, students will learn to identify these root words and use context clues to identify the meaning of thousands of words that contain these roots. Students will be given a mix of direct instruction learning root words and practical application using the root words. This two-part approach will give the students the best opportunity to make learning and using root words a regular part of their lives.


Every year I tell my students a story about an experience I had while in college regarding learning the word “somnambulism.” A newspaper headline read “Dodgers Suffer from Somnambulism!” Not knowing what the word meant, I began to break the word into parts. I write the parts of the word on the board: “Somn” is found in “insomnia”. “In” means “not”. Since insomnia means “un able to sleep”, somn must mean “sleep.” Next, there is “amble” which I know means “to walk”. Finally, there is “ism” which can refer to “a condition of”. Put them together, and what do you get? Somn – Sleep / Amble – Walk. Oh, the Dodgers must have been sleepwalking through their game.

I was so proud of myself for figuring out the definition on my own. The process that I had just used is the process that my students are about to practice. By learning just a few dozen Greek and Latin affixes, students will be able to decipher thousands of words that they would normally need to look up in the dictionary. This can only help lead to a much broader vocabulary for students using this book.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core’s College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard #4 states:

Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

The fourth standard of each grade level in the CCSS typically requires students to “use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word.” This is the focus of every activity on every worksheet in this book. The Greek and Latin words in this book were pulled from examples listed on the CCSS website for grades 4, 5, 6, and 7 as well as many of the most common roots used.

How to Teach These Worksheets

Some of the units in this book are meant to be taught as a whole. The students will work through the unit from beginning to end and take a test when they finish. However, other sections are left for the teacher to decide how much time she wishes to spend on the task. For example, in the first section, students will be breaking words into sections and analyzing how the prefixes and suffixes fit together. There are about sixty words, which would take hours for the students to complete. Obviously, the students are not going to do this all at once. The teacher can choose to give five words a day in class and five for homework and complete the activities over the coarse of a week or two. In other units, teachers may decide to add two or three root words to the students’ spelling list and have the students complete the tasks along with their spelling work.

Unit 1 – Greek and Latin Prefixes and Suffixes

The purpose of this section is to show students the difference between prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes change the meaning of words while suffixes change the word’s part of speech. Take the word “happy”. Adding the prefix “un-” changes the meaning of the word to “not happy”. Adding the suffix “ness”, making “happiness”, keeps the meaning, but changes the word from an adjective to a noun. Knowing this difference is an important step in developing an instinct for using root words on a regular basis.

Within this section, students will be given dozens of prefixes and suffixes to learn. They will break words into parts and analyze how the pieces come together. They will practice making educated guesses of definitions to high level vocabulary words and use a dictionary (Internet or hard cover) to confirm the accuracy of their answers. Next, they will practice seeing these high level words in context, and finally, use these words themselves in their writing.

Unit 2 – Greek and Latin Root Words

In this section, the students are given a list of twenty-four Greek and Latin root words. Each root word has three English words that use each particular root. The teacher can choose to have the students learn them all at once and test them at the end, or she can assign a few each week and learn them over the course of the year.

For each of the sets of root words, the students can use the worksheets to help them practice learning the words. The students will write the words and definitions, then draw a study picture to help them internalize the words. This will be referred to as a Picture Dictionary. With the Picture Dictionary, the students will draw two parts for each word:

Part I – The students will draw a word that sounds like the word. For example, for the word “graphite”, the students can draw two graphs fighting.

Part II – Next, the students think of a way to add the definition to the picture. For example, “graphite” is black carbon used in pencils. Therefore, the students can draw the two graphs sword fighting with pencils. By connecting a familiar picture that sounds like the word to the definition of the word, the students will have a trick that will help them remember the words for a long time.

Note: Many of the words in this section are already familiar to the students. For words such as “thermometer”, rather than making a study picture to memorize the definition, have them draw a picture of the actual object. Next, they can label the picture with the root words showing how they relate to the word. For “thermometer”, the students can label “therm” with a line pointing to the red (representing heat) on the picture. They can add “meter” to label where the red ends which shows the “measurement” of the heat. This gives them more practice looking at how root words function within a word.

Unit 3 – Greek Root Words (4 Week Unit)

Each week, students are given three sets of words. Each set contains a root word and five English words that use those root words. There is also a spelling routine that gives the students activities to practice each day to become familiar with the words. These activities actually take about two weeks to finish if they are done 10 – 15 minutes a day. Therefore, at the end of the first week, the students take a spelling test. Next, the students use the second week to complete vocabulary activities until they are ready for the vocabulary test at the end. You can also choose to give the spelling and vocabulary test together at the end of the second week.

Within this section, the students will be making Picture Dictionaries again. If the teacher has already taught Unit 2, then the students will already know what to do. If not, the teacher can review the procedure for completing Picture Dictionaries with the class.

Obviously, if you spend two weeks on each set of words, this is actually an eight-week unit. You are free to pace the lessons however you like. At the end of each “Week”, there is a test for the students that you may give whenever you feel the students are ready.

Tip: Copy the list of words for each week. On the back of each set of worksheets, copy the Spelling / Vocabulary routine. This will help the students keep a handy reference of the activities at their fingertips.

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Greek and Latin Root Words
Greek and Latin Root Words
Greek and Latin Root Words
Greek and Latin Root Words