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Using roots to build vocabulary


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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin

This activity demonstrates how some complex words are derived by combining root words (morphemes). An activity like this one may encourage learners to break unknown words into parts to determine their meanings, a key strategy for building vocabulary and decoding.

This particular example uses Greek and Latin root words and is set in a horticultural context. The activity could, however, be adapted to any context with technical vocabulary.

Horticulture, Latin and Greek roots activity

In this activity participants learn the meanings of some Latin and Greek roots used in scientific naming.

Learners will draw pictures of fictitious plants based on the meanings of their names.

1. Give one scientific name out to each learner or group of learners from the list below:

Fictitious scientific names

Aegidivitis dulcicarpus
Meandrvitis cirrhocaulis
Pseudorhops euthycarpus
Oblatgranum crispiramus
Xerosisymbrium chaemeradix
Ephydrovitis rotundsentis
Lygivitis lachnoradix
Astrapegranum pensilacantha
Bathyparilla ianthinstipes

2. Give each learner, or group, the list of Latin and Greek words and meanings:

acantha-thorn or spine (Greek) meandr - winding, zigzag (Greek)
aegidi-shield (Latin) muta - change (Latin)
astrape - lightning (Greek) negro - black (Greek)
bathy - deep, high (Greek) oblat - spread out (Latin) parilla - a little vine (Latin)
carpus - fruit (Greek) pensil - hang, hanging (Latin)
caulis - stalk or stem (Latin) pseudo - false (Greek)
chaeme - on the ground, low (Greek) radix - root (Latin)
cirrho - tawny, orange-coloured (Greek)
ramus - a branch (Latin)
crispi - curled (Latin) rhops - bushes, brush (Greek)
dulci - sweet (Latin) rotund - round (Latin)
ephydro - living on water (Greek) sentis - a thorn (Latin)
euthy - straight (Greek) sisymbrium - a sweet-smelling plant (Greek)
granum - grass (Latin) stipes - a stalk, stem (Latin)
ianthin - violet-coloured (Greek) vitis - vine (Latin)
lachno - woolly (Greek) xero - dry (Greek)
lygi - twilight (Greek)  

3. Each student, or group, will illustrate a plant (described by its fictitious name) and their drawing must include:

  • Characteristics representing each of the four segments of the scientific name (two segments for the genus and two for the species).
  • A common name for the plant.

Note that although the genus and species names are fictitious, the roots, prefixes, and suffixes are real Latin or Greek terms.

Definition of genus and species

When scientists discover a new organism, they give it a Latin name that consists of two parts: genus and species.

All living things are classified according to their characteristics. A genus is one level of classification depicting common characteristics of all members. The next level down from genus is species. A species is the most detailed level of classification and says exactly who/what that individual living thing is.

e.g. Think of eucalyptus trees. Within the Genus Eucalyptus there are more than700 species! When you grow each individual species e.g. Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) they are all identical. There is only ONE member in each species.

e.g. Humans species = Homo sapiens . Homo is the genus; and when coupled with sapiens (Homo sapiens) states the species. Neanderthals were other species of Homo (but humans are the only surviving species).

Your turn:

Using this activity as a model perhaps you can develop an activity of your own which is related to your context.

Key literacy outcomes

An activity like this one may encourage learners to break unknown words into parts to determine their meanings, a key strategy for building vocabulary and decoding.

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