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Recipes for Effective Literacy Instruction

Root of the Week

While some schools use “The Word of the Day” to boost vocabulary, the words tend to be arbitrarily selected and unrelated to one another.  As a result, their meanings do not stick.  I recommend trying the “Root of the Week” approach. 

With “Root of the Week,” the idea is that the target root is repeated FIVE TIMES in five different words throughout the week.  The repetition reinforces the meaning of the root so that when students see it in other words, they are able to infer the meanings of words they haven’t seen before.  They build stronger root-attack and word-attack skills.  They start to notice roots in the same way that people who have just bought a new car suddenly notice everyone else driving the same model.  And they become more excited about words in general. 

Here is how this can work SCHOOLWIDE (e.g., during Morning Announcements): 

  • On Monday, someone (ideally a student) introduces the “Root of the Week” and explains its meaning.  Example: “cred,” which means “believe.”  Then the presenter offers a word that uses that root, e.g., “credit,” which is based on the belief that someone will pay you back.  The presenter gives a user-friendly definition and synonyms, as well as a sentence using the word in context.  On Tuesday, students are reminded of the same root and given a new word that uses the root (e.g., “incredible”).  Lather, rinse, repeat all week.  Next week: different root.

Another approach is to use “Root of the Week” IN YOUR INDIVIDUAL CLASSROOM. 

  • For the sake of efficiency, you can introduce all five words at one time and have students infer the meaning of the root based on how the words are used in context.
  • In the Download Zone is a Sample Root of the Week Hypothesis Sheet for “cede/ceed” developed by Jessica Majerus and Katy Wischow at Greater Newark Charter School.
  • Achievement First uses this "Morpheme of the Week" approach to teaching vocabulary.  Check out how they do it with this FREE sample, which appears in their sample 10th grade scope and sequence file.  For more resources from Achievement First (a network of high-performing charter schools), click HERE (Thanks to Justin Testerman of TN Charter School Incubator for this lead!).

Here are a few Websites that will make this idea easy to implement:

 IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for Root of the Week:


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