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Word origins

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.

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.

Word rootOriginMeaningExamples
novemLatinnineNovember (ninth month of Roman calendar)
centiLatinone hundredcentigrade
kiloGreekone thousandkilogram
milliLatinone thousandmillennium
Prefixes and suffixes
Word rootOriginMeaningExamples
anteLatinbeforeantenatal, ante meridian (a.m.)
aquaLatinwateraquarium, aqueduct
aviLatinbirdaviary, aviation
bibliGreeka book; paperbibliography, bible
bioGreeklifebiography, biology
chlorGreekgreenchlorophyll, chlorine
circumLatinaroundcircle, circumference
civicLatincitizencity, civilian
clausumLatinshutclose, include
dictLatinsay; pronouncedictate, dormitory
ectomyGreekcut outappendectomy, tonsillectomy
exoGreekoutside, without 

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

Activity 2

Exploring Etymologies, the Stories of our Words – Inquiry based Learning
By Alycia Zimmerman on October 30, 2012

Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8


The lesson sequence, to this inquiry based approach, is organised into eight scenes. The teacher guides the learning through the asking of strategic higher order questions to engage students in a quest for knowledge and hence learning. The teacher functions as co-learner leading the change in student knowledge from point A to the desired point B through using authentic learning experiences.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1539: Expressing and developing ideas: 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: Outcome 3: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts  (EN4-3B) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: 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 literacy continuum

VOCC13M1: Vocabulary knowledge, Cluster 13, Marker 1: Applies knowledge of root words and word origins to understand the meaning of new subject specific words.

Online resources

  • Online Etymology Dictionary
  • To explore the origins of some English words; To learn the meaning of the word 'etymology'; To understand the etymological function of a dictionary:
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