Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Introducing word roots in English discussion classes

Introducing word roots in English discussion classes
Kevin Demme
Canadian Content 18(3), 7-9 (2008)

1. Coupled with subsequent borrowings and newly created scientific terms, Hook (1975) estimated that over three fifths of Modern English vocabulary has its roots in Latin, Greek, or other Romance languages (p.293)

2. These roots are especially prevalent in words in academia.

3. In the University Word List, Corson (1997) noted that 144 of the list's 150 most common words had Latin or Greek roots (p.677)

Introduction of Latin roots introduced in the Harry Potter series. Nilsen and Nilsen (2006) felt that becoming familiar with these word roots enhanced the students' confidence and aided in their vocabulary retention (p.129)

5a. Adams and Henry (1997) felt that with "approximately 25 prefixes, 40 suffixes, 50 Latin roots, and 50 Greek roots creating many thousands of words, teaching these forms to all children makes excellent sense" (p.432).

5b. They noted that these morphemes were especially useful for American high school students preparing for university exams (Adams and Henry, 1997, p.431).

5c. By extension, the knowledge of Latin and Greek roots may be useful for ESL students planning to take the TOEIC or TOEFL tests.

6. A particularly useful characteristic of Latin and Greek morphemes is that their meanings remain constant regardless of the affix they are connected with (Adams and Henry, 1997, p.431).

7. Brown (1947) related "that 12 Latin and 2 Greek roots in combination with 20 of the most frequently used prefixe would generate an estimated 100,000 words" (as cited in Adams and Henry, 1997, p.431)

8. Nilsen and Nilsen (2006) noted that the roots and words the students learn "provide them with mental hooks on which to hang...new words" (p.129)

Past research:
1. In the 1970s and 80s in the US, Latin classes were introduced into some underperforming city schools. It was found that students who took a year of Latin "performed five months to a year ahead of control groups in reading comprehension and vocabulary" (Eskenazi, 2000, p.61)

2. Kail (2008), whose American high school implemented weekly instruction in Latin and Greek roots, found that her students acquired "an increased vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and a better command of word choice in their writing" (p.67)

1. In the Birmingham Corpus, a word list designed by Britain's University of Birmingham and Collins Publishers to teach ESL for everyday use, only 2 of the top 150 words were derived from Latin and Greek roots (Corson, 1997, p.677). Therefore, these morphemes may be more useful for intermediate or advanced learners.

2. It is often hard to find roots or morphemes that neatly fit all situations.

3. The original meanings of words often change over time (e.g., dec-: decide, decade, decimate, December)

4. Often times even having a knowledge of word roots can only give a suggestion, or at best, a general idea about what a word might mean.

5. Becoming adept at recognizing word roots can take time, effort, and frequent exposure

6. Many Latin and Greek roots in English vocabulary are not transparent, and are difficult for even native speakers to distinguish (Corson, 1997, p.696)

7. It takes conscious effort to recognize word roots, and that identification of them was never automatic (Adams, 1990, as cited in Adams and Henry, 1997, p.430)

Suggested class activities:
1. discuss common roots in names of class subjects > show how these roots can be combined and used in other words > discussion activity (unrelated)

2. word roots in numbers > samples of words formed with these roots

3. definitions game = write word on board > students write definition > cards shuffled > groups choose correct answer

4. 'Dictionary Bluff' = groups create false choices > other groups choose correct answer from choices

5. students given pictures > talk about picture > predict what is happening and what will happen next

1. In doing research, it is sometimes inevitable to have control and treatment groups. However, the age long question remains: Is it unethical to give preferential treatment to the treatment group? Additionally, it is only natural for the treatment group to perform better because they are receiving something extra on top of similar instruction.

Possible Research Opportunities:
1. treatment and control group in TOEIC class; teach one class Latin and Greek word roots and something else with the other?

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