Building Vocabulary in Summer School

Building Vocabulary in Summer School



What to Teach in Summer?

Summer is on its way, and so is summer school. What to teach? Time is always limited for instruction and learning in the summer. The challenge is to how to get the most out of your instructional “buck” and effort, especially in helping students who may be most at risk. 


Summer School ClassroomThe teaching of word roots (morphemes) in the summer offers great opportunities to help students in a number of areas. A word root is a word segment or pattern that represents meaning. We often think of word families or rimes/phonograms as word segments that represent consistent language spellings and sounds found in many words (e.g., ank” is found in bank, blank, crank, clank, dank, drank, Hank, sank, tank, blanket, etc.). Word roots work in much the same way as word families except that in addition to representing consistent spellings and sounds in words, they also represent consistent meanings. For example, the prefix bi“ means two” and can be found in English words such as bicycle, biplane, biannual, biceps, bicuspids, biannual, bifurcate” etc.


Why Word Roots/Why Morphology?

We suggest that a brief but dedicated portion of time in the summer be spent on teaching word roots. Here’s why:

  • Teaching word roots expand students’ vocabularies for reading, writing, and speaking. The generative nature of word roots means that learning just 1 word root helps students learn the meaning (as well as the spelling and sounding) of 50 or more English words. That’s a pretty good payoff for learning a few word roots.

  • Upwards of 90% academic words in English are derived from Latin and Greek word roots. Thus, learning word roots has the potential for improving students’ learning in science, social studies, mathematics, and other disciplinary areas.

  • Longer, multisyllabic words are the ones that students struggle with in grades 3 and beyond. Over 50% of multisyllabic words in English are at least partially made up of word roots. Thus, learning word roots will help students learn to decode (and get the meaning to) many of these more challenging words. A student who knows the Latin root “struct” means “build” can decode and figure out the meaning of words like structure, construction, structure, reconstruction, deconstruct, obstruction and infrastructure.

  • At Home LearningWord roots derived from Latin, and to a lesser extent Greek, are not only found in English but in other “Romance” languages. Thus, learning word roots can help ELL/ESL students create linguistic bridges from, say, Spanish to English. Students who speak or study Spanish may recognize “struct” in many words, including estructura, constructivo, reconstruccion, infraestructura. 

  • SOR – Evidence based scientific research has shown that teaching word roots has positive effects on students’ literacy development (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2013).

“.. the manner in which students in the middle grades (4-8) can be supported in recognizing the meanings of multisyllabic words require attention. Studies of morphological interventions have shown positive effects” (Hiebert, 2022)

“Research indicates that morphology instruction fosters decoding, spelling, and vocabulary development… Teaching the meaning of affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and root words is a fairly widespread (and research-supported) practice, but morphology instruction goes well beyond this. Students need to be taught to decompose and compose words by morphemes, playing detective as they figure out how to figure out a word’s meaning or build a word with a particular meaning. Starting with compound words such as cupcake, skateboard, or railroad may be helpful. Over time, students can move to more sophisticated word composition and decomposition.” (Duke, 2017).

  • Teacher Endorsed

My favorite part of the day, vocabulary development will help them in so many ways!
–Jennifer Rosado, Palm Beach School District Teacher

I love how Building Vocabulary gives engaging practice using affixes and Greek and Latin roots. Morphological analysis is the only vocabulary strategy that the students can transfer independently yet it is difficult to find materials that are colorful, engaging, and rich instructionally. We are using Building Vocabulary for small groups to sharpen students' ability to use morphological analysis to construct meaning of unknown words, which we know will build their reading comprehension. Thank you for the creative variety of activities to engage all students! Love it!
–Virginia Taylor, Reading Coach, Hillsborough County, FL


Students doing a craft in classBut here’s the thing. Word roots instruction is generally not taught systematically in most classrooms during the regular school year. Thus, if word roots are not taught then, then when should it be taught? How about summer! 

To recap, building students’ knowledge of word meanings is essential to their success in reading, writing, and content area learning. Decades of research have found the value of morphology instruction in vocabulary development. This is why we have developed a groundbreaking program for teaching word roots in grades K–11 called Building Vocabulary from Word Roots. BV is a systematic structured approach to developing students’ general and academic vocabularies for the present and future. The Building Vocabulary program is structured around word patterns (rimes/phonograms for grades K-2 and word roots/morphemes for grades 3-11). We designed Building Vocabulary to fit within the scope of an academic year. Each level is organized to fit within 28 weeks, essentially a school year. However, with a few adjustments, the program can easily be made to work effectively in summer school settings as well. Below we offer a few approaches for making Building Vocabulary a key part of summer teaching and learning.


Building Vocabulary: Available for Grades K-8How to use Building Vocabulary for summer teaching and learning

Option 1: Work with one Building Vocabulary unit per week. This would allow you to complete one lesson each day, one unit each week, and an entire level in 5 weeks. This is a rapid pace, so your instructional goal might be more a quick introduction to many roots rather than an in-depth look at fewer roots.

To use this option, you will need to devote 60-90 minutes to vocabulary each day. Be sure to do “Meet the Root” and “Divide and Conquer” as outlined in the Teacher’s Guide. If you have Spanish-speaking students, take advantage of the “Cognate Connections” section of the Teacher’s Guide. Work information about cognates into discussions as you can. This will probably take an hour.

Then either select additional activities (or ask students to choose) to round out the time. Note that many of the activities in the “Read and Reason,” “Combine and Create,” and “Extend and Explore” portions of lessons can be completed independently or in pairs/ small groups. You could also ask students to complete a few items from an activity in school and the rest at home.


Option 2: Teach selected roots in greater depth. Choose two or three units for focus. If students have already completed the Building Vocabulary level previously, consult their former teachers to discover the units students found most challenging. Then focus attention on these units. The activities are engaging, and students have plenty of opportunities to interact with classmates, so this review is unlikely to be boring. Remember that there are also digital activities and games as well as differentiation suggestions for each lesson, so there are plenty of resources to support in-depth instruction of fewer roots.

If students are new to BV, you can do a quick pre-test to help you select units. (One is included in each level of Building Vocabulary. See Teacher’s Guide.) Find units that will challenge but not overwhelm students. Another option is to select a unit about prefixes and a unit about bases. The “Teacher Notes” for each lesson give examples of how suffixes affect words, so you may want to draw students’ attention to suffixes within the context of lessons about prefixes and bases instead of devoting an entire unit to them. Consult the “Definitions at a Glance” section in the Teacher’s Guide to find the roots that produce the largest number of words.

Having selected the units, you can plan as above. Spend about 8-12 days on each unit. Use the schedule presented above to plan instruction.


Other Planning Tips:

  • Consider assessment options. The Teacher’s Guide offers several ideas, but using them all in this context is probably inadvisable. You want to spend most of your time teaching, not assessing. Select an assessment idea that you believe will be effective for your students. Note that the informal Cloze assessments provided in each lesson can be used individually or as a whole group.

  • Mom working with child in kitchenThink about at-home activities. Each lesson contains several activities that could be completed at home. Send something home with students two or three days each week. Invite parents or caregivers to partner with students as they complete the activities. 

  • Plan to communicate with students’ future teachers. Tell teachers what roots you focused upon and, perhaps, a bit about students’ success.


How to get the most out of summer instruction is an essential question we need to be asking now. Vocabulary instruction around morphemes and that includes real reading may be one of the best ways to boost studentsreading and overall academic achievement and proficiency.


Building Vocabulary with Greek and Latin Roots: A Professional Guide to Word Knowledge and Vocabulary Development

P.S. For educators wanting to improve their own knowledge of morphology and word roots instruction we suggest a professional book titled Building Vocabulary with Greek and Latin Roots: A Professional Guide to Word Knowledge and Vocabulary Development (Rasinski, Padak, Newton, & Newton, 2020) now in its second edition. 





Bowers P., Kirby J., & Deacon S. (2010). The Effects of Morphological Instruction on Literacy Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Review of Educational Research. 80(2):144-179. doi:10.3102/0034654309359353


Duke, N. (2017, Nov 16). Three literacy practices that work. Edutopia.


Hiebert, E. (2022). When students perform at the below basic level on the NAEP: What does It mean and what can educators do? The Reading Teacher, 00, 1– 9.


Rasinski, T. V., Padak, N., Newton, R., & Newton, E. (2020). Building Vocabulary with Greek and Latin Roots (2nd ed). Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Educational Publishing.


Contributing Authors

Nancy Padak Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D.

Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D., is the author of numerous bestselling books, articles, and curriculum programs on literacy education. He holds the Tolle/Gorman Chair in Educational Leadership at Kent State University and is well-known for his research on reading fluency and word study.



Nancy Padak Nancy Padak, Ed.D.

Nancy Padak, Ed.D., is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Education at Kent State University. She has directed the KSU Reading and Writing Center and published books, articles, and curriculum programs on literacy education. Her research has received numerous national awards.



Rick M. Newton, Ph.D.,Rick M. Newton, Ph.D.

Rick M. Newton, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of Greek and Latin. As the recipient of the Kent State College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award, he created and taught a popular and long-running course on English words from classical elements.  



Evangeline Newton, Ph.D.Evangeline Newton, Ph.D.

Evangeline Newton, Ph.D., is a Professor Emerita of Literacy Education at the University of Akron, where she served as the first director of the Center for Literacy. She has taught a wide variety of literacy methods courses and professional development workshops to teachers.



Author bio

Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D., Nancy Padak, Ed.D., Rick M. Newton, Ph.D., and Evangeline Newton, Ph.D.

For more about these authors, read their bios above.