Lesson Question:

How can the Visual Thesaurus help students discover the meanings of some ancient Greek and Latin roots?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, small groups of students will use the VT to assist them in an inquiry based approach to discovering the meanings of some common Latin and Greek roots. Then, each student will then teach a particular root and related vocabulary words to another group of students through a "jigsaw" exercise.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  1. learn the multiple meanings of "root"
  2. define multiple words containing a common ancient root
  3. infer the meanings of some common Greek and Latin roots
  4. synthesize their knowledge of word origins by creating original words using Greek and Latin roots


  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • six small slips of paper or index cards (each with a list of four words that contain a common root)
  • three hand-outs: "The Latin Root "bene," "Words Containing Ancient Greek or Latin Roots," and "The Ancient Root..."

Warm Up:

Examining the multiple meanings for "root":
  • Display the Visual Thesaurus word web for "root" on the white board and scroll through the noun "meanings" in the meaning list on the right-hand side of the screen.
  • Ask students to identify the meanings for "root" in the list that would apply to the usage of "root" in the following sentence: "Learning the roots of English can help strengthen your vocabulary."
  • Students will most likely first point to those meanings that are associated with linguistics (such as "the form of a word after all affixes are removed" or "a simple form inferred as the common basis from which related words in several languages can be derived"). However, push students to consider associated meanings of the word "root" that could also apply figuratively to the study of a language-such as the botanical, dental or mathematical meanings. How can the "roots" of a language be compared to these kinds of foundational "roots"?


Modeling an "inquiry approach" to discovering an ancient root's meaning:
  • Explain to students that today they will also be applying the meaning of "root" that refers to "the place where something begins" and will therefore be discovering some of the ancient Greek and Latin roots that long ago contributed to the formation of English words that they now encounter in their everyday lives.
  • Distribute a copy of the "bene" concept map to each student (see 'The Latin Root "bene"' page) [click here to download] and have partners or small groups of students (depending on the number of available computers in your room) find VT definitions for each of the words listed in the outer bubbles of the map (i.e., benefactor, benevolent, benediction, and benefit). Have students list VT definitions for these four words in their corresponding bubbles.
  • Draw a similar concept map for "bene" on the front board and elicit definitions for the four "bene" words in the outer bubbles. Copy those definitions on the board and ask students to speculate about bene's meaning based on any commonality they see among the four definitions.
  • Establish that the Latin root "bene" means "good or well" and that students could infer that meaning based on the definitions for benefactor, benevolent, benediction, and benefit that they found on the VT (i.e., a "benefactor" does good deeds; someone "benevolent" also does good deeds; a "benediction" is a good blessing; and "benefit" is something that promotes "well being").
*Note: If you have ESL students in your class that speak a Latin-based language, they can contribute to the discussion by offering related "bene" words from their home languages. Determining the meanings of some common Greek and Latin roots:
  • If possible, organize the class into small groups so that the number of students in each group matches the number of total groups. In other words, if you have 25 students total, create five groups of five students each; or if you have 36 students total, create six groups of six students each; etc.
  • Explain to the class that each group will receive a blank concept map (see the "Words Containing Ancient Greek and Latin Roots" page) [click here to download] and a list of four words that contain a common ancient Greek or Latin root. It will be each group's job to use the VT to find the definitions for their words and to then infer their root's meaning based on those definitions.
  • Distribute blank concept maps to each group and hand each group a slip of paper or index card with a list of four related words written on it (see the "The Ancient Root..." page). [click here to download].
  • As groups define their four words and attempt to infer their common roots' meanings, circulate around the room and make sure that each group has correctly identified its root's meaning.
Sharing knowledge of "roots" through a jigsaw approach:
  • Reconfigure the small groups in the class so that each new group is formed with an "expert" representative from each of the prior groups.
  • Direct students to each present his or her completed concept web for a Greek or Latin root from his or her previous group's work by displaying the concept web and describing the process by which the root's meaning was discovered or inferred.
  • While individual students are presenting their root meanings and word definitions, their new fellow group members should take notes on the presentations. By the end of the class period, the entire class should have mastered all the assigned root meanings and word definitions. At this point, you could distribute the "Words Containing Ancient Greek or Latin Roots" sheets and challenge students to complete the sections of the sheet that pertain to the roots originally assigned to the first set of groups.


Combining roots to create original words:
  • Have students look over all the words listed on the "Words Containing Ancient Greek or Latin Roots" sheet and identify any other ancient roots that were used in combination with the roots discussed in today's class. For example, a "microcosm" is a small world since the word is derived from "micros" (small) and "cosmos" (world). List these additional roots on the board.
  • Challenge students to create original words using some of the roots discussed in class in conjunction with one another or with another root they know or discover on-line (e.g., students could check out www.espindle.org/roots.html for a good list of ancient roots). For example, a student might come up with "microphobia" to express a fear of small things. Students should share their words with the class and then use the VT to verify if their words are truly original or if some other wordsmith beat them to the punch.
Extending the Lesson:
  • Another fun way to use the VT to further students' etymological knowledge would be to have them find some of their favorite words on the VT and to then research their etymological roots by consulting an online etymology dictionary (such as www.etymonline.com. Students could then compare the words' VT definitions with the meanings of their composite roots. For example, if students discover through the VT that a philanthropist is "someone who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being," then it will also make sense to learn that a philanthropist "loves mankind" (from the Greek roots: philos=love; anthropos=mankind).


  • Groups' analyses of ancient roots' meanings can be assessed on accuracy and their use of the VT to validate their analysis.
  • Students' understanding of specific roots presented in the jigsaw groupings could be easily assessed by giving the class a "roots quiz" to see how many roots they interpret correctly.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level II (Grades 3-5)

4. Uses phonetic and structural analysis techniques, syntactic structure, and semantic context to decode unknown words (e.g., vowel patterns, complex word families, syllabication, root words, affixes)
6. Uses word reference materials (e.g., glossary, dictionary, thesaurus) to determine the meaning, pronunciation, and derivations of unknown words


Level III (Grades 6-8)

2. Uses word origins and derivations to understand word meaning (e.g., Latin and Greek roots and affixes, meanings of foreign words frequently used in the English language, historical influences on English word meanings)
3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)


Level IV (Grades 9-12)

2. Extends general and specialized reading vocabulary (e.g., interprets the meaning of codes, symbols, abbreviations, and acronyms; uses Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to infer meaning; understands subject-area terminology; understands word relationships, such as analogies or synonyms and antonyms; uses cognates; understands allusions to mythology and other literature; understands connotative and denotative meanings)


Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level II (Grades 3-5)

7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information)
16. Understands that language reflects different regions and cultures (e.g., sayings; expressions; usage; oral traditions and customs; historical, geographical, and societal influences on language)


Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)
6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)


Level IV (Grades 9-12)

5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)