Digging Deep

One the gaps in my instruction has been the lack of a specific focus on Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes in my vocabulary program. I (mistakenly) figured by the time students reached high school they’d been hammered with roots/affixes in elementary and middle school, but a crunchy moment from the spring semester revealed my folly.

The uh-oh arrived in April, while discussing The Catcher in the Rye with my juniors. They were outraged by Mr. Antolini’s unwelcomed advances as Holden slept on the couch and desperately needed to debrief the end of chapter 24.

“Now, I know you think Antolini is a major creeper, but let’s take a pause,” I said. “Given all we know about Holden’s unreliable narration, is it not possible that Antolini is actually a benevolent force in Holden’s life, but that Holden’s just misreading the whole situation and overreacting?”


“Wait, what?” asked a girl in the front row. “A what force?”

“A benevolent force,” I replied. “That he means well, he wants good things for Holden. You know, bene, good, vol, will or wish.”

The class eyeballed me like I was speaking a foreign language. Which I was. It was Latin.

After debating whether Mr. Antolini was a child molester (we decided that he’s most likely not), I circled back for a quick mini-lecture on roots, talking about bene, vol, and mal.

“You mean like in Spanish, Ms. R.? Mal means evil.”

“Yes, just like that,” I nodded. “Muy mal. Like, if your friend has a tumor, you hope it’s benign, which is the good kind because benign, bene, means it’s not cancerous. Malignant, that’s the bad kind. That’s cancer.”

Lights of understanding pinged in a few students’ eyes and I realized the class needed some major root work. Now, I don’t have time to teach each and every root and about half of my students already knew a lot of the ones we ended up talking about in the last month of school, but I wanted to add reinforcement for those who already have a decent handle on roots/affixes and introduce the most common roots to those who missed this content in their earlier grades.

To that end, I designed five worksheets that build on students’ current word knowledge and develop creative, flexible thinking. Each worksheet presents common roots and affixes that are part of hundreds of English words. Once students know these word parts, they’ll be able to decode more of the higher-level vocabulary they encounter in challenging texts and standardized tests, such as the S.A.T. and A.C.T. I’ll also give them a reference handout with 125+ common roots, their meaning, and word examples, which they can use as standardized test prep.

Finally, dear reader, as a show of gratitude (grat = thankful, -itude = a state of) for reading a post on vocabulary instruction (b-o-r-i-n-g, I know – sorry about that), I hope you enjoy this blog-exclusive freebie! Click here for the first worksheet to print and use with your students. If you’d like the complete packet of all five worksheets and the reference handout, just click here.

Teach on, everyone!

1 thought on “Digging Deep

  1. i just found you via Pinterest. Thanks for sharing your ideas!! I look forward to future posts!

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