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Greek and Latin Roots in the Upper Elementary Classroom (and a Brief History of How Greek and Latin Influenced English)

Greek and Latin Roots in the Upper Elementary Classroom (and a Brief History of How Greek and Latin Influenced English)

Having the right tools is important when teaching Greek and Latin roots.

Having the right tools is important when teaching Greek and Latin roots.

Greek and Latin roots are a must in any middle school language arts classroom. Roots unlock so many more vocabulary words than weekly vocabulary lists. Plus, once you start learning roots, you see them everywhere, so learning is happening all the time.

But, why wait until middle school? 

Third, fourth, and fifth graders are perfectly capable of understanding how roots work. Plus, they are eager learners who will be thrilled to share new words with their classmates! 

I have used Greek and Latin roots with all of my classes from third grade to eighth grade. Even in science, maybe especially in science, I have found Greek and Latin roots an important part of my instruction.

Just in case you aren't familiar with Greek and Latin roots, let me give you some background...

The history of the English language is quite complex. This is a brief and oversimplified history to show why Greek and Latin roots are so helpful in learning English vocabulary.

Even though the Romans conquered the Greeks, Greek culture remained an important part of the Roman Empire.

Even though the Romans conquered the Greeks, Greek culture remained an important part of the Roman Empire.

Beginning around 800 B.C.E., the Greek and Roman civilizations coexisted along the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of years.  Rome, expanding its empire, defeated the powerful city-state of Corinth and make Greece a province of Rome in 146 B.C.E. Culturally, the Greeks maintained dominance in the arts and science while under Roman control.

At its height, Rome controlled most of Europe.

At its height, Rome controlled most of Europe.

As Rome continued to take over Europe and Asia, both Greek and Roman culture, including language, spread across the continents. Romans ruled Britain from about 43 B.C.E. to 410 A.D. This brought Latin and Greek directly to Britain.

When the Romans left Britain, the Saxons, tribes from Germany were able to successful invade the country. This brought German to Britain, another language that has heavily influenced the English language. While German is not derived from Latin, the two languages are thought to have originated from the same earlier language.

Mass was said in latin until 1962.

Mass was said in latin until 1962.

In 1000 C.E., the Normans from France came to Britain, bringing a version of French. French is derived from Latin.

As you can see, Latin was an important influence on English speakers in Europe for centuries. All cultured citizens of Britain (and Europe) would have learned to speak and read Latin and Greek. Science, art, and religion were all based in the languages. In fact, Catholic Mass was said in Latin until Vatican II in 1962.

If you have an extremely curious class, they might be interested in this history behind the words we use every day. It also explains why we see such a strong presence of Greek and Latin roots in scientific terms.

If you are interested in taking the plunge and trying Greek and Latin roots with your students there are tons of free resources online. Just do a search! You can work out how you want to teach and assess your students' understanding of these roots.

If you are looking to save time, I have several resources in my Teachers pay Teachers store. You can even try one week for free! Here is the link:

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