Teaching Word Roots plus a Freebie!

Krista and Julie from Reading Olympians have some wonderful information to share about why it is so important to teach word roots and how to do it.

Hi Everyone!  This is Julie and Krista from Reading Olympians, and we are incredibly honored to be guest bloggers for Rachel!

Over the past few years our vocabulary instruction has taken us on an interesting and exciting journey—we are VERY excited to share it with you! Teaching Greek and Latin roots and stems has become a passion (some may say an obsession) in our classroom and even our everyday life.  It is our hope that we can give insight into the world of word root instruction, as well alleviate some stress about how to approach word roots, since it is now in the Common Core Standards of Instruction K-8. Here’s how our journey began…
Before our district began to implement Common Core, we stumbled upon the concept of teaching roots when we decided to give up our “frequently used words” word wall for a “root wall.”  This was the best decision we EVER made!  We could tell from literally the first root we taught that we were on to something that was going to have a lifelong effect on our students’ vocabulary development.  Nothing in our combined careers has had such an instant impact on their vocabulary development and, in turn, their overall reading performance.  Roots have changed the face of reading for our struggling readers and deepened the reading experience for our stronger readers.


We all know our students are entering school – no matter the grade level – with lower language skills. Where once children read and shared time with parents learning nursery rhymes and listening to bedtime stories, many are now playing video games.  This shift has had a dramatic effect on their language skills, and in turn they enter school with decreased vocabulary skills.  Again, as we know, this lack of vocabulary throws a huge wrench in the reading machine – CRASH! – there goes comprehension and fluency!  Without that prior knowledge, without those words, they have nothing to draw upon to give text a deeper meaning.  We think of this prior knowledge as little bubbles filling their brains.



A child who has had many experiences and been read to since infancy has their brain bubbles filled. Now, when this child reads new text, she has all these wonderful little bubbles to draw upon to gain meaning from the text. There is a much greater chance this child’s comprehension and fluency is stronger due to that strong foundation of vocabulary.

This child’s little bubbles are not full of wonderful words.  As a result, when this child comes upon an unknown word, she is stuck.  She doesn’t have the arsenal of filled bubbles on which to draw.  Now, because she lacks that prior knowledge, the wrench has been tossed in her reading process.  How do we solve this?  How can a teacher – in nine short months – fill these bubbles? (DRUM ROLL PLEASE…) Teach roots! One tiny root can open the door to hundreds of words.

Here’s one of our favorite roots: mot = move

  • motivate
  • emotions
  • promote
  • demote
  • locomotion
  • motor
Amazing!  Not only do these wonderful little word roots help our struggling children, but they also tremendously enhance the vocabulary of our higher readers, as well.  We always tell our high readers that it’s not just about growing their reading up but growing it out, as well.  Roots provide that depth.


As we began to implement root word instruction, we experienced daily “ah-ha” moments in all content areas.  Math: Julie introduced her fraction unit to her students and was met with “Hey! Fract- means to break and -tion means process or action!”  WOW!  This was a math lesson, and there popped those word roots!  Their knowledge of roots provided another avenue of understanding the concept of fractions.


The more we have learned about roots, we have discovered roots are EVERYWHERE!  Take a trip to the store through the eyes of roots!  Duracell® batteries – dur = long-lasting!  Beneful® dog food – bene = good.  You will look at words through a whole new light, and so will your students!

This obsession led us to create an organized method of teaching roots.  We have developed Reading Olympians – our root instruction program.  We did not develop it with any thought of selling it.  We implemented Reading Olympians in our classrooms, and as we shared it with others, we started to see the potential of sharing the program with teachers through Teachers Pay Teachers.  We have grown from that first program and have branched into three additional programs, with more on the way.  Ultimately, Reading Olympians will be a vertically-aligned series K-8 meeting the requirements of the Common Core.
Feel free to check out our resources in our Teachers Pay Teachers store!


Thanks, again, to Rachel for allowing us to guest blog!


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