Vocabulary Resources

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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.

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.

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.

Marie’s Words: Picture Words—In a Flash!® is a set of 550 flash cards, each 2.5” x 3.5.” These cards were created by a high school junior preparing for the SAT® test to help study for the vocabulary portion. Words are selected from those commonly used in the SAT as well as those appearing frequently in literature. Marie's Words are ideal for junior and senior high students, but younger children might also use them.

Marie's Words: cards with full color illustrationsCards feature full-color illustrations on one side, then on the reverse are a phonetic pronunciation, definition and part of speech, the word used in a sentence, synonyms, and antonyms. Note that knowledge of synonyms and antonyms is extremely helpful for the SAT.

Cards arrive in alphabetical order and they are numbered so that you can more easily reorganize them if need be. Cards also have a hole punched in the top left corner so you can put a group on a ring for easier handling or portability.

The hand-drawn pictures on the cards are intended to illustrate the word in a way that helps the learner recall the meaning more easily. For example, the words abate begins large and gradually diminishes in size. Pervasive is illustrated by what looks like a map of the U.S. showing airline hubs and routes that cover the country. Scrupulous is illustrated by a man cleaning a toilet with brush the size of a toothbrush, and the word has a b inserted in small type in parentheses to help make the connection to scrubbing: SCRU(B)PULOUS.

Illustrations are often quite creative, some are silly, and some take a bit of imagination to figure out. The publisher’s website says that many of the illustrations “use historical, geographical, scientific, cultural and generational references as a mnemonic tool for easy learning.” So I might be missing some of the generational references! Whatever the case, for a visual learner, the illustrations should be a big help in mastering the meanings of these words.

A few more sample cards may be viewed on the publisher’s website. Cards may be purchased as a boxed set or as apps for the iPad, iPhone, or Android phones.

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