Expanding Vocabulary Knowledge

How to Help Your Child or Student Expand Their Vocabulary



Overview of Vocabulary Development:


As can be expected, vocabulary knowledge is critical to reading development. Vocabulary is beyond correct decoding. Vocabulary is understanding the meaning of the word.  Expanding the student’s knowledge bank of vocabulary words is important to comprehension. The greater the student’s vocabulary the easier it is to make sense of and understand text.  Vocabulary is generally related to understanding individual words where comprehension generally refers to understanding larger parts of the text. Vocabulary and overall comprehension are closely related.


Vocabulary knowledge is distinct from the skill of decoding print. A student can fully understand words that he is not able to read. For example a five year old has a much larger speaking and understanding vocabulary than a printed reading vocabulary. He may not be able to read the printed words ‘gorilla’, ‘vacation’ or ‘chocolate’ but knows exactly what the words mean. He has the necessary vocabulary knowledge even though he can’t read the print. In contrast a student may be able to correctly decode a word perfectly and still now know what it means. This would be a vocabulary knowledge issue. Of course for comprehension, the student needs to both accurately decode the word and know what the word means.


Expanding a student’s vocabulary knowledge is important to reading development.  Vocabulary instruction leads to gains in comprehension (noted by the National Reading Panel). A comprehensive reading program needs to include vocabulary development. The student can learn vocabulary both incidentally and through direct instruction.   Various techniques designed to directly build vocabulary are effective in expanding vocabulary knowledge and improving reading comprehension.   Optimal learning occurs when vocabulary instruction involves a combination of different techniques.


Specific Actions You CAN Use To Help Students Develop Vocabulary:


Vocabulary is enhanced by both direct instruction and incidental exposure. Techniques you can use to help your student expand their vocabulary knowledge include:












Lists of root words are readily available through internet searches for ‘common root words’.  Many sources can be found on organization (.org) and education (.edu) websites.  In addition, complete structured root word programs such as “English from the Roots Up” by Joegil Lundquist are also available.  


A partial list of common Greek and Latin root words:   


Greek Roots:


astron - star (astronaut, astronomy, astrology, astronomical)

auto - self (automobile, automatic, autobiography, autograph, automate, autonomy)

biblio - book (bibliography, Bible, bibliomania)

bio - life  (biology, biodegradable, biography, biosphere, antibiotic)

chron - time  (chronology, chronic, synchronize, chronological)

demos - people (democracy, demography, democratic)

dia - across or through (diameter, diagonal, diagnosis, diagram, dialect)

geo - earth (geology, geometric, geography, geopolitical, )

graph - to write or draw (graph, telegraph, graphic, autograph, homograph)

hemi - half (hemisphere)

homo - same (homograph, homogeny, homonym, homophone)

hydro - water (hydrant, hydrate, hydroelectric, hydrology)

logos  - word study  (logic,  -ology = the study of biology, geology)

mega - large or great (megaphone, megapod)

meter - measure (thermometer, barometer, diameter, optometry, altimeter)

micro - small (microscope, microbe, micron, microfilm)

mono - single (monorail, monologue, monarch, monopoly)

para - beside (parallel, parable, parenthesis, paragraph, parachute)

pathos - feeling (pathetic, apathy, sympathy)

philia - love friendship (Philadelphia= city of brotherly love, philosophy, philanthropist)

phobia  - fear  (claustrophobia, hydrophobia)

phone - sound (phonics, telephone, symphony, microphone, phonological, homophone)

photo - light (photograph, phototropic, photocopy, photosynthesis)

poly - many (polygon, polymer, polynomial, polygamy, polyhedron)

psych - mind, soul (psychology, psychic, physics, psyche)

scope - to look at inspect (scope, microscope, telescope, periscope)

sphere - ball (hemisphere, sphere, spherical, atmosphere)

syn/sym -together or with (synonym, symphony, synchronize, synthesis, symmetry)

techne - skill or art (technology, technical, technician)

tele - distant, far away (telephone, telegraph, telescope, television)

therm - heat (thermometer, thermostat, thermodynamics, thermos)

thesis - place position (thesis, theme, synthesis)

tropic -turning  (tropics, phototropic)


Latin Roots:

annus  - year (annual, anniversary, perennial, annuity)

aqua - water (aquarium, aquifer, aqueduct)

audio - hear (audible, auditory, audience, auditorium)

bene - well, good (beneficial, benefit)

bi - two (bisect, bicycle, bipartisan, biped, binary, binocular bicentennial, bifocal)

capitis - head (capital, captain, cabbage, capitalism)

centum - hundred (centimeter, cent, percent, century, centipede)

circum - around (circumvent, circumference, circulate)

contra - against (contrary, contradict, contraband, contrast)

dict/dictum- say or speak (dictate, dictionary, contradict, dictation, predict, verdict)

duct  - lead  (conduct, aqueduct, conductor)

duo - two (dual, duet, duel, duplex)

equi - equal (equitable, equator, equal)

finis - end (finish, final, finite, infinite)

fix - fix or attach (fix, affix, prefix, suffix)

fract - break (fracture, fraction, infraction, refract)

ignis -fire (ignite, igneous)

ject - throw (reject, interject, object, project)

junct or join - join or connect (join, joint, junction, rejoin)

manus - hand (manuscript, manufacture, manual, manipulate, manicure)

migrat - move (migrate, migrant, migratory)

ped - foot (pedal, pedestrian, pedestal, centipede)

populus - people (people, popular, population, republic, publish)

port - carry (portable, porter, deport, transport, import, airport, portage)

pre - before (predict, prepare, predawn, preset, preamble)

quartus/quad - fourth (quart, quadrant, quarter, quadrilateral)

scribe/script - write (script, transcribe, prescribe, scribble, inscribe, describe, manuscript)

spect - look (inspect, speculate, spectacle, perspective, introspect)

struct - build (construct, structure, destruction, instruction)

tempor - time (temporary, contemporary, temporal, tempo)

trans - across (transfer, transcript, transplant, transparent, transaction, transmit)

verb - word (verb, verbiage, proverb, verbal, verbose)

vid/vis - see (video, visible, evident, visual, visit, visitor)



Vocabulary knowledge is just one skill necessary for proficient reading. Link to the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website for additional information, articles and resources on teaching students to read proficiently.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at www.righttrackreading.com   ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen ~