Etymological knowledge - identifying how words reflect their derivations


Building word recognition and spelling skills through improving etymological knowledge. Engaging students with how words and letter combinations are derived from other languages. Students will spell words with the same base word by understanding why the word is spelt as it is due to the original meaning of the base word. For example tele meaning far, is used in television, telephone, telegraph.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: word web

Write a word like tele in the centre of a graphic organiser to construct a word web. Explain that it was the Greek word for far. Ask students to think of words that come from tele.

Add to the word web as additional examples are experienced in reading and writing. Add to the environmental print around the room.

Word web with the word tele in the centre, with the words televise, telescope, telecast, television, telegraph and telephone surrounding it.
Image: Example of a word web.

This strategy is best used if the words chosen need to be used in a specific Key Learning Area, for example in Mathematics; Teach the Latin word centum meaning “one hundred”. Relate to cents in the dollar, centimetre, centilitre, centigrade, centipede, centenary; Science – hydro the Greek word meaning water is used in hydrate, dehydrate, hydrogen, hydraulic; aero, the Greek word for air; aeroplane, aerobics, aerodrome, aerosol, aerospace, aeronaut, aerofoil, aerodynamics.

(Please see Programming and Strategies Handbook (Secondary) NSW Department of Education and Communities 1999 pp 52-54 for a more comprehensive list).

The students teach...and I learn!

Example of a poster a student has created with the title 'why the word for number 2 'two' has a silent w in it'. The second posters title reads 'How do the words get to the dictionaries?'
Image: Example of student's work of the students teach and I learn.

Online resources


Australian curriculum

ACELA1539: Understand how to use spelling rules and word origins, for example Greek and Latin roots, base words, suffixes, prefixes, spelling patterns and generalisations to learn new words and how to spell them

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts.

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