Vocabulary Resources

102 Top Pick for homeschool curriculumIndicates that the item was selected as one of Cathy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

ABeCeDarian levels C and D teach word study skills while levels A and B are a solid phonics/reading program. These levels are so different that I am reviewing them separately. Levels C and D can be used as a totally separate program, independent of the first two levels of ABeCeDarian.

Author Michael Bend describes the first two levels of ABeCeDarian as focused on the phoneme level of reading and spelling while levels C and D teach morphemes—prefixes, suffixes, and root words. In the lessons, morphemes are mixed and matched to create hundreds of different words. The idea is that if students know many morphemes, they automatically have the information to understand the meanings of many new words that they might not have previously encountered.

Unlike the first two levels, the same resources are used for both classroom and homeschool instruction. These two courses assume a classroom environment with a teacher presenting the lesson. Level C is recommended for students reading at third or fourth grade level while level D is for students at fifth or sixth grade reading level. Parents will need to work with students through both books, but students should be able to work through some of the activities on their own in D.

Level C presents both English and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and root words. There are ten units with from nine to thirteen activities per unit. Author Michael Bend recommends that 20 to 40 minutes be spent on each session, which generally will mean completing at least two or three activities per session. You might be able to complete C in as few as ten to twelve weeks depending upon the pace and frequency of your sessions.

There are a variety of activities in each unit, with most of the activities being repeated again with different groups of morphemes in the rest of the units.

I don’t have space to describe all of the activities, but they have students work with the morphemes in many different ways to develop skills in decoding, spelling, syllabication, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

While some other books that teach word roots gloss over changes in pronunciation even when words share similar elements such as the words  execute  and  executive, ABeCeDarian  teaches about syllables and accents as well as strategies for determining the correct pronunciation. One type of activity even uses multi-syllable nonsense words for practice. Some activities direct the teacher to mispronounce a word and have students correct the teacher’s error.

ABeCeDarian also addresses the various spellings of prefixes that change depending on the root that follows—prefixes such as “in” changing to “im” for import and “ex” changing to “e” for emerge.

In some activities, student workbooks have a chart with sets of prefixes, roots, and suffixes at the top from which they will construct a number of real words. Another type of exercise gives students partial sentences to complete, but they have to incorporate a vocabulary word in the second part of the sentence. Yet another activity has students sort words under their correct original prefix—e.g., sorting words such as suggest, suffer, and success under the prefix “sub” on page 89.

Some activities direct students to interact with each other and the teacher, but most of these can be adapted for use with a single student.

For level C there is a student workbook and a teacher manual. This teacher manual is even easier to use than those for levels A and B because it reproduces each student page on the right page with answers overprinted, and it also provides all of the instructional information including a script for lesson presentation on the left page

Level D continues with word study, although it presents words with Greek roots rather than Latin. Like level C, it has ten units with nine or ten activities per unit. A page near the beginning includes some helpful instruction on Greek spelling that helps students understand how English acquired words with a /k/ sound spelled “ch.”

Unlike level C, D is not scripted for the teacher. There is one book, and it has brief instructions included on student pages. Some activities required interaction with a teacher but many do not. Activities are very similar in style to those in level C, so students who have completed level C should find most of the exercises familiar. I think that homeschooling parents will generally do best starting with level C to become thoroughly familiar with the style of activities in these books where everything is fully explained. However, some explanation is provided at the beginning of level D for those who want to jump in at this level. Answers are at the back of the book.

These courses, especially level C, both require more teacher involvement than do other courses that are popular among homeschoolers that teach morphemes. However, the trade off is that the variety of activities; work on syllables, accents, and pronunciation; plus the helpful explanations are likely to produce higher levels of learning than takes place with other resources that students work through on their own.

Kevin Flanigan teaches vocabulary in this series of 36 video lectures, each of which runs about 30 minutes. The course should be great for teens and adults.

Flanigan teaches five key principles for learning vocabulary:

  1. Learn a clear definition
  2. Place the word in context–how does it sound in a sentence?
  3. Make connections to the word–think of familiar instances in which you might use the word
  4. Look at the word’s morphology–look into the word’s root or explore related words
  5. Organize words into categories or relationships, what he calls semantic chunking

The last principle is so important that Flanigan uses it to teach the vocabulary words in this course, grouping together words that are associated in some fashion.

The course draws heavily upon Greek and Latin roots since they underlie a large majority of words in the English language. For example Lecture 7, titled “Wicked Words,” teaches words that share the Latin root malus which means bad, badly, or evil. Among words studied are malediction, malcontent, malaise, maladroit, malefactor, malfeasance, and malinger. Along the way, students learn the word malfunction as a key word that can help them unlock the meanings of other words. They also learn the word benediction as an antonym to malediction as well as other bonus words that share the mal- prefix: malignant, malevolent, malice, and malware. In each lesson, words do not always share the same root, but they will be related to one another in some way to make it easier to learn them.

Flanigan’s goal is to help students expand their usable vocabulary. To that end, he explains the relationships between the words, their etymologies, and other fascinating information that helps students become familiar with them.

Here is an example from Lecture 12, “Humble Words and Prideful Words.” One of the words he introduces is bombast. He first explains its 16th century origin when bombast was used to describe cotton padding, cheap material that was used to stuff cushions or pillows. He then explains the modern-day meaning: “words that are used to fill empty speeches or writing to make up for a lack of substance” (p. 78). He next discusses the adjectival form of bombast which is bombastic. Since the word is most commonly used in its adjectival form, he provides a number of synonyms for bombastic: turgid, orotund, verbose, prolix, florid, flowery, and pretentious. At least a few of these synonyms are likely to be unfamiliar to students, so Flanigan provides a brief explanation of each of these words. For example, this is what he has to say about orotund: “Orotund comes from the Latin phrase ore rotundo, meaning “with rounded mouth,” and somewhat paradoxically, has either a positive or a negative connotation, depending on how it’s used. Orotund can be positive when referring to a resonant, booming voice and negative when referring to bombastic speech or writing” (p.78).

Perhaps this seems like following rabbit trails, but I think most students will find it an interesting way to learn vocabulary.

The 291-page guidebook for this course reads fairly close to the script as Flanigan presents it, although there are minor differences. In the guidebook there are from four to eleven review questions at the end of each lesson. Answers are at the back of the book along with a glossary of the words taught in the course and a bibliography.

Flanigan encourages students to create a vocabulary notebook whether handwritten or on a computer. He explains how to arrange the notebook in the second lecture. Students will write out words, definitions, and other pertinent information in their notebook. They might also draw graphic organizers or illustrations as memory devices.

I have only one complaint about this course. Flanigan moves up and down oddly while he lectures--enough that I find his movements distracting. While this is annoying, it is not a major issue.

Overall, this course is really outstanding. The principles Flanigan teaches are excellent. While we could apply these principles on our own, the research required would be a lot of work. So I appreciate that Flanigan has done the research for us. His lectures make the course both fascinating and extremely helpful for building a stronger vocabulary. Some students might like this approach to vocabulary so much that they will investigate words on their own.

In English From the Roots Up, Greek and Latin words are the foundation for vocabulary study in the broader sense of word derivations. Children are unlikely to find the majority of the vocabulary words they learn here in their everyday reading, but they will be well prepared for new vocabulary they’ll encounter in high school and college. Even more important than the actual vocabulary words they learn is the skill children develop in analyzing new words they encounter and being able to figure out their meanings.

Each lesson begins with one Greek or Latin word, teaches its meaning, then gives children a list of from three to ten English words derived from the root word. For example, lesson ten introduces the Greek word kinesis meaning movement. The lesson then teaches five words derived from kinesis: kinetic, kinesiology, kinescope, cinema, and cinematographer. The words photos (light) and graph (write or draw) were introduced in the first two lessons, so children are connecting the last word to two Greek words they have already learned. This can create a picture in students’ minds of someone who can “draw” with “moving light,” making it easier for children to understand that a big word like cinematographer refers to the person who decides how to compose the scenes that he wants a movie camera to capture. Children each need a set of 100 cards, one for each lesson. Each card has the Greek or Latin word with a border of green for Greek words and red for Latin words. On the reverse are the derived words and their meanings. You can purchase sets of pre-made cards or make them along with your students.

The goal is similar to that of Vocabulary from Classical Roots (also reviewed in this book) although the vocabulary words here are less commonly used than those in Vocabulary from Classical Roots. This program requires teacher presentation and interaction. Instead of a workbook, index cards (or purchased sets of cards), a file box, and a good dictionary are the primary learning tools.

The program might be used with students from middle elementary grades through college, but I think junior high through high school the best time to use it.

Actual teaching information provided is brief but loaded with activity suggestions. The teacher is on his or her own to implement the ideas.  Here are some examples of activity ideas: for the root graph, a number of related words are presented with accompanying ideas: “Telegraph—Let someone present a research report on Thomas Edison’s early days as a telegrapher. Let someone do a report on Morse code and give a demonstration of it.” “Lithograph—Discuss the process of lithography and talk about Currier and Ives. Their lithographs are still used every year as Christmas cards. Make potato or linoleum block prints.” These activity ideas could be turned into great unit studies. This resource is especially suited to the creative teacher who prefers general guidelines rather than detailed lesson plans.

A second volume is also available. It targets a slightly older audience, so it makes a good follow-up to the first volume. It teaches an additional 100 Greek and Latin root words with new activities and teaching notes.

Daily Skill Building: Vocabulary is available for grades one through seven, and Daily Skill Building: Spelling is available for grades three through seven. The vocabulary books can be used on their own at all levels, but starting in third grade, the two series are designed to be used together. Both series are available only as PDFs.

The books in each series follow the same format for all grade levels. Each book has lessons for 36 weeks.

Many words taught in these courses seem to be beyond those typical for each grade level. For example, while words taught in first grade include glad, safe, and flat, there are also challenging words such as applause, expensive, and jealous. Most of the words for fifth grade are challenging. For instance, the words for the first two weeks are emphasize, boisterous, magnificence, retaliate, extravagant, fashionable, perjury, and quench. These words will definitely challenge students’ vocabulary and spelling skills.

Daily Skill Building: Vocabulary

On the first four days of each week, students will work on one primary vocabulary word per day. For example, in Volume 1 (intended for first grade), the lesson for the first day teaches the word drowsy. Students have two lines on which to write a definition for drowsy. They can copy this from the glossary at the back of the book. Next, there are three lines for the student to use the word drowsy in a sentence.

Below these lines are two boxes where students will write three synonyms and three antonyms for drowsy. While they can quickly find lists of synonyms online, it might be a good idea to have students look those up in a printed dictionary or thesaurus for practice. Antonyms are not usually included in printed dictionaries, so it will probably be easiest to have students use online resources to find them. Students should be looking for lists that reflect the meaning of the word as defined in the glossary rather than a secondary meaning.

For example, the second definition for drowsy in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is “inducing or tending to induce sleep.” Synonyms for this meaning might include words like narcotic, opiate, and soporific. It would be better to guide students to the synonyms and antonyms for the first definition: “ready to fall asleep,” which is a better match for the glossary definition. Those synonyms are likely to include words more familiar to first graders such as sleepy and dozy. Likewise, the antonyms for the first definition should include familiar words such as alert, awake, and wakeful.

Students go through the same process for each word on the first four days. The fifth day of every week is used to review the four vocabulary words. Students will do a matching exercise using definitions and a word bank. Then they will write a sentence that uses at least two of the vocabulary words.

After every four weeks, a one-page unit review covers all of the words taught that month. This is the only activity that has variations for different levels. For all levels, the words are listed at the top of the page. First and second graders are told to write one or two sentences, using at least two vocabulary words, then draw a picture to illustrate it. Third graders are to write one paragraph using three of the words, then draw an illustration. For grades four through seven, students are instructed to write two paragraphs or more, using at least eight of their vocabulary words. As a side note, the weekly and monthly review writing assignments will inevitably help students become better creative writers as they figure out how to make use of the words.

Each book comes with a separate PDF for creating vocabulary cards in two formats. Both formats list each vocabulary word with the week and day that it is taught immediately under the word. The first format includes the definition at the bottom of the card. The second format has blank lines for the student to write the definition. You can choose whichever format you prefer.

For those who want more vocabulary exercises, there is a free, downloadable vocabulary resource pack with printable worksheets for vocabulary definition lists, sentence-building activities, graphic organizers, word maps, and more.

Daily Skill Building: Vocabulary PDF books can be used on their own without the spelling series, but read on to see how they work together.

Daily Skill Building: Spelling

Daily Skill Building: Spelling starts with third grade. The spelling books can be used apart from the vocabulary books, but I don’t think that makes much sense since you would have to construct your spelling lists from scratch each week. Still, the instructions at the beginning of each book explain how you might use one of these books as a stand-alone option. I’ll discuss the books as if they are being used with the vocabulary series.

You will need to start the spelling lessons one week after the vocabulary lessons because spelling lists are built from the previous week’s vocabulary list. Formatted pages are included for each day’s work. While many spelling programs have students take tests on their own lined paper, the formatted pages in this program include lines for the spelling tests.

The first day of each week is for building the spelling list. Parents and younger students can work together on this step. The page lists the four vocabulary words from the previous week. You need to choose one synonym and one antonym from each of the lists students made for the four primary vocabulary words. Either the parent or the student can add the four synonyms and the four antonyms to the week’s spelling list, writing them in the spaces next to the original four words. Parents are free to substitute other spelling words if they wish. Students will work on these 12 words during the week. The first day, they will say each word, spell it aloud, and then say it again.

On the second day, students write each spelling word twice. And on the third day, students copy the definitions for the four spelling words that were taken from the vocabulary book, then they write a sentence using each of the synonym and antonym spelling words. There is a pretest on the fourth day, and students will write the corrected spelling for any words they miss on the blank lines provided in their book. The fifth day is for the final spelling test.

In each book's appendix, there are extra worksheets to use for more practice with misspelled words. These worksheets include options for rewriting the words, drawing activities, story writing, and using words in sentences.

Parents need to be more involved with young students to help them create the spelling lists and write sentences, and parents need to evaluate student work at all levels. Answer keys would serve no purpose for these books since students are either copying what is in front of them or writing their own sentences.


Daily Skill Building: Vocabulary and Daily Skill Building: Spelling offer an unusual way to learn vocabulary and spelling. I think that children and parents who enjoy playing with words are likely to enjoy the format. On the other hand, children who dislike writing and dislike looking up synonyms and antonyms might not.

Jensen's Vocabulary combines what were originally three separate books: Latin I, Latin II and Greek. These are now three parts of the combined book that teaches vocabulary based on Latin and Greek roots.

In the first two parts, vocabulary lessons are based on Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Knowledge of those word elements enables students to define an enormous number of words beyond those with which they are already familiar. In some ways, it is like understanding the phonics code for knowing how to pronounce words; this is the vocabulary code that helps us decode meanings for a significant part of the English language that has been derived from Latin. The third part, Greek, follows the same format, but uses Greek roots, suffixes, and prefixes.

Jensen's Vocabulary was written by a Christian teacher and designed to work in either homeschool or regular school settings. It targets students in junior and senior high school levels.

The book is entirely self-contained—instructions, tests, and answer keys are all included as is appropriate in each case. It can be used as a consumable workbook, or students can write answers in notebooks to preserve the book for another student.

A chart in the front of each section lists the roots, suffixes, and prefixes to be covered within that section along with their meanings. Each lesson has four parts, one to be assigned for each day. All four parts work with the same group of words, but attacking them in a different manner each time so students absorb the meanings of the parts.

These lessons are challenging, requiring students to work from the list of meanings, while searching for shades and relations of meaning. However the books are designed so that students can do most of their work independently.

Teacher involvement is required for weekly testing and might be required if students find lessons too difficult to complete on their own. After completing each lesson, the teacher gives a quiz on the week's words as well as a few review words. A sample test (covering lessons 1-9) is included at the back of each section. An answer key at the end of each section will help with exercises, but the tests are up to us.

It is vital that parents first read through "Hints and Tips" and "Notes to the Teacher," then work through the first lesson (all four parts) with their student to make sure they understand how to do them.

Get a FREE subscription to Cathy's E-Newsletter

Note: Publishers, authors, and service providers never pay to be reviewed. They do provide free review copies or online access to programs for review purposes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."