A great deal has been written about how the CCSS encourages “rigor” in terms of having students confront challenging texts. But how are students to unpack the meaning of challenging texts if they haven’t acquired the tools necessary to unpack the meaning of the words that make up the text?
In this International Reading Association Paper, ‘Getting to the Root of Word Study:Teaching Latin and Greek Word Roots in Elementary and Middle Grades’ by Nancy Padak, Evangeline Newton, Timothy Rasinski, and Rick M. Newton the authors make a strong case for building the vocabulary of elementary students through the study of the Latin and Greek root words that students will encounter throughout their academic career.
The case is based the fact that Latin and Greek root words are overrepresented in the dense non-fiction that students will encounter, and that Latin and Greek root words give students a greater precision as they progress from communicating by speaking to communicating by writing.
Academic texts in general have a disproportionate number of words from Latin and Greek roots because words associated with scholarly, scientific, and technical advances are most often of Greek or Latin origin. Consequently, as students progress through school, they encounter more and more words of classical, rather than Anglo-Saxon, origin. Moreover new technologies have brought us new words that expand the presence of Greek and Latin roots in the English lexicon (e.g., Internet, megabyte). The context in which words are used provides another layer of complexity in “school” literacy.
We use oral vocabulary to listen and speak, print vocabulary to read and write. Speech is contextualized language; “precision of word choice is seldom crucial in everyday conversation” (Nagy & Scott, 2000, p. 279). Written texts, on the other hand, tend to be decontextualized, so precision of word choice “is the primary communicative tool of the writer” (p. 279). Decontextualized language contains “richer vocabulary” (p. 279) and more unfamiliar words than spoken language (Cunningham, 2005). In school, most of the new vocabulary words children meet will be in decontextualized written texts, much of it in content area textbooks”
If you'd like to bring Latin and Greek vocabulary study to your 4th-6th graders but don't know where to start, check our Growing Your Vocabulary: Learning from Latin and Greek Roots. We developed Growing Your Vocabulary to help bring the methods, which have proved to be so popular in our high school program Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots, to students in upper elementary grades. Click here to learn more about Growing Your Vocabulary.