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Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees

Many English words come from Latin roots, so becoming familiar with these roots will naturally make reading and spelling easier. But studying word roots is really boring, right?

No! At least, it doesn’t have to be. And Word Trees are my favorite way to teach words derived from Latin roots—and make it engaging to boot!

Check out this 30-second Word Tree demo.

Download your free Word Trees and list of Latin Roots, and then read on for some tips for using them.

Why Is It Helpful to Know Latin Roots?

Think about the Latin root scrib/script, which means to write. When you add prefixes and suffixes to the root, you can create many new words that all have something to do with writing, such as subscriber, scripture, inscribed, description, postscript, prescription, scribbling, and unscripted.

It’s like an 8-for-1 deal: you learn one Latin root, and you get eight words in return. And when you come across a less familiar word like scriptorium, you can recognize the root script, which in turn gives you a head start on understanding the word’s meaning and spelling.

(In case you are wondering, a scriptorium is a room set aside for writing. That makes sense, given that script means to write and -orium is a suffix meaning a place for.)

So it’s probably easy for you to see why I’m such a huge fan of learning Latin roots!

Is Your Child Ready for Word Trees?

If you can answer yes to these three questions, your child is at the right stage to benefit from Word Tree activities:

  1. Does your child know how to spell closed syllables? Closed syllables are syllables that end in a consonant, such as sub, tract, con, and rupt. A closed syllable generally contains a short vowel, and it is the first syllable type that most children learn to spell.
  2. Does your child know how to spell open syllables? Open syllables are syllables that end in a vowel, such as me, be, and di. The vowel in an open syllable is generally long.
  3. Does your child know how to spell common prefixes and suffixes such as -tion, -tive, ab-, and -able?

While Word Trees can be interesting for younger children, they are most effective with children who have already mastered these three spelling skills.

Here’s How to Use the Word Trees

Download for Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees

The free download contains five prepared Word Trees, plus one blank one.

  1. Decide which root word you want to work with. If you are using a blank Word Tree, write the root word in the box at the base of the tree.
  2. Think of as many words originating from that root as possible, and write those words on the branches.
  3. Store completed Word Trees in a binder or folder for future reference.

If you can only think of a few words at first, keep the Word Tree available and add to it over the next few days. Perhaps family members, a neighbor, or a friend can think of words to add, or maybe your child will run across more words in his private reading time.

Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees - All About Learning Press

In the photo above, Jimmy created twelve words with the root port, including export, supportive, and reporter. How many words can you come up with?

Which Root Words Should You Teach?

There are hundreds of possible root words to choose from, but two guidelines will make it easy for you to choose effective root words for beginners.

  • First, work with root words that occur frequently, as shown in the chart below.
  • Second, work with root words whose meaning is easier for your child to understand and that relate to words he already knows. For example, auto (self) and spect (to look) should be studied before fer (to carry).
Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees - from All About Learning Press

How Do We Teach Latin Roots in All About Spelling?

All About Reading Activity Download

Experience a sample Latin roots lesson from All About Spelling Level 7.
Download this Lesson plan for Level 7, Lesson 17.

In the lesson, we start out using letter tiles to demonstrate how prefixes and suffixes can be added to Latin roots.

Then we move on to building four Word Trees. Ten words are assigned for further study, including supportive, distraction, contractor, and inspector.

Next, students write several sentences from dictation, including “Those gnus in the living room are a real distraction!” Finally, students randomly choose four slips of paper from the Writing Station to generate an interesting writing prompt, and they write several unique sentences using at least one of the new Latin-derived spelling words.

Some Final Tips for Teaching Latin Roots

It’s important to keep in mind that we can’t take the meanings of Latin root words too literally. In many cases, the meaning of the root is just a clue to the meaning of the word. For example, the word introspection comes from the prefix intro (meaning inward) and the root spect (meaning to look). We can’t literally translate the word to inward look, but we can get the gist of the real meaning, which is an examination of thoughts and feelings.

Also, for this particular activity, your student doesn’t need to memorize the meaning of the root words or recite them back. As long as he becomes familiar with the meanings, he will be able to recognize the root in other words, and spelling will become easier.

My hope is that as your child actively explores words in this unusual way, he will develop a positive attitude and curiosity about the words around him … and hopefully increase his motivation to learn more!

Would you like step-by-step lessons that help you teach spelling in a hands-on way? All About Spelling was written for parents and teachers like you!

All About Spelling - take the struggle out of spelling

Do you think your child would like the Word Trees approach?

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Gail

says:

Thank you for the resource, I’m looking forward to trying the word tree.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Gail.

Mary Ann Barnett

says:

I meant to say how much I appreciate all the free Downloads….so very helpful! Thank you!!

Mary Ann Barnett

says:

My oldest granddaughter loves spelling yet she struggles with many words. She’s going into the 5th grade. I think she’d benefit from this. I learned some Latin in singing great compositions at a young age. It stirred within me an interest in languages. My grandmother knew all the original Latin words for plants as she studied to become a botanist. She was always talking about the root meaning. My youngest granddaughter is doing well with Level 1 Reading, yet she’s so wiggly I have to release her to jump or run many times during the lessons. She does love all the activities. We play a form of Old Maid with all the words for each lesson. I’ve written them on 3X5 cards. She not only asks for a certain card, but has to read it as well. I love your method!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Mary Ann. And I understand wiggly learners!

I love your Old Maid adaptation with the Word Cards! What do you use for the old maid card?

Erin

says:

Very helpful. Thank you so much for this and other free resource[s].

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Erin!

Abou-Arab Abou-Arab

says:

Thank you for your step by step approach and helpful resources.

Kelly

says:

This is such a great idea! I often talk through Latin roots with my kiddos, but this could help to remove the “glazed over” look in their eyes when I do. :)

Merry

says: Customer Service

LOL, I hope they enjoy it, Kelly!

Kristina

says:

Love this idea and thank you for the free download! We’ve tried studying roots with other curriculum and it was so boring! We quickly gave up. I think this visual with the tree will really help. I’m so happy that I chose this curriculum for reading and spelling. It works!

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kristina! Hopefully the Word Trees make roots more interesting for your kids. I’m glad they are enjoying All About Reading and All About Spelling!

Brenda Day

says:

This is amazing! My husband and I love tracing words back to their Latin roots casually as they come to our attention, I look forward to using these with my children.

Robert Nowlin

says:

The resources on affixes and roots on your site are helpful for getting students started on English word building exercises.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad these are helpful for you, Robert! If you ever need anything, just let me know.

Elnara

says:

Thanks a lot ! It is really helpful and keeps the understanding of words forming which improves spelling skills so much!
I have used it for my English lessons for russian speaking kids – they like it and was surprised how it is easy to make new words knowing the roots.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for your students, Elnara! 😊

Rhonda

says:

I had a college class on root words/word parts back in 2002 and now I can brush up my skills. I have forgotten some.

Annie

says:

There are many approaches to teaching Latin roots out there, but this one is the best way I have seen. The visual aspect is SO helpful for my kids, including my differently-wired son. And teaching Latin roots is an essential part of any Language Arts curriculum, no matter your approach to teaching reading and spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Annie. It was great to hear that these Latin word trees have been helpful for learning Latin roots!

Alison O

says:

Thank you so much! I just printed mine!

Jane

says:

I took Latin as my foreign language, and I find myself mentally creating word trees from Latin roots. Pretty cool that this is taught in your curriculum!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That’s so interesting, Jane! It’s a great way to organize word building, but I know I wouldn’t have thought of it myself.

Lindsey

says:

Isn’t the correct meaning of ‘tract’ supposed to be “drag or pull” not “draw or pull?”

Kathleen Freund

says:

Great source for vocabulary and spelling building. I am including a brief description and a link to your page, on a parents’ resource page which I am working on as part of a graduate class. Thank you for sharing your hard work.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing our page with parents!

Justine

says:

I have been looking for something like this! My kids have been asking why certain words are the way they are and I say it’s probably from the latin root word. I didn’t think there would be a resource to teach it! So glad I found this! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Justine!

If your kids ever have questions about words not covered in these, I recommend the website https://www.etymonline.com/. You can put a word into its search bar and get a description of how that word came to us and what it’s parts mean. I find it especially helpful for learning science vocabulary. Homeostasis makes more sense when you understand homeo means “similar to” and stasis means “standing still”.

Jennifer

says:

I love using this activity with my speech therapy students! Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Jennifer. Glad it is useful for your students.

Sara

says:

We just started AAS and are excited to continue and have been learning latin roots at co-op and are excited to get to this!

Juli

says:

Thank you! What a great resource.

Sally Chancellor

says:

Thank you so much, this was perfect timing for me! I have been considering how to best teach my oldest some Latin roots, and this is just right.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love it when a blog post is perfect timing for someone, Sally! 😊

Marilyn Fuqua

says:

This is so helpful

Loreen G

says:

We loved the word trees! They made spelling more fun and it was a great way to introduce Latin! Thank you for the awesome curriculum.

Sarah Brassard

says:

I love this! Latin was one of my favorite subjects in high school. I’m going to introduce word trees to my middle kids tomorrow!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’d love to hear how it goes, Sarah! I hope your kids enjoy Latin as much as you did.

Shawn Betchley

says:

Love this idea! My middle schooler will enjoy these as a supplement to his Latin course.

Jennifer

says:

Thanks. We’ve done some root study before and my children were unimpressed to say the least… perhaps the tree visual will get them more engaged.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
Most students respond well to these word trees. However, another idea for adding fun to root study is the game Rummy Roots. I found with my children that they were very enthusiastic to learn Latin and Greek roots when knowing them gave them a leg up on winning a game.

Heather Yoder

says:

Super cute way to learn Latin roots.

September

says:

Thank you!

Jodie Chandler

says:

Awesome.

KARLEIGH M SPEARS

says:

Would be awesome to win.

Deb

says:

I’ve always been interested in the origin of words and can’t wait to teach my children this when they are at that stage. Thank you for providing this.

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