Root Out the Meaning of Words

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Updated on May 22, 2014

Knowing how words are created can give your child the key to figuring out the meaning of new words. When you put together the meaning of a root with the meaning of a prefix or suffix, unlocking the definitions of words is a snap! Here's a fun activity to show your child how to use prefixes and root words to “root out” the meaning of a word.

What You Need:

  • Pencil or pen
  • Chart or graph paper

What You Do:

  1. The root is the only part of the word that can stand alone. Many roots are real words in their own right: graph (a diagram) and term (a fixed time or date), are good examples of this. In most cases, roots need to be combined with other word elements, like prefixes, suffixes, or even other roots to make sense. A prefix (before the root) is added to a root to change its meaning. The suffix (after the root) is added to a root to define its part of speech (noun, verb, and adverb).
  2. Starting with the list of root (prefix) words below, have your child make his own chart of root words, definitions, and examples. Have him try to think of as many examples for each root word as he can. Using chart paper and listing the words per prefix root helps for referencing and allows your child to add more later.
  3. Once he gets a hearty list of examples going for each root prefix, have your child write a sentence for each one. For example: Root: hydra. Example: hydrant. Sentence: The firefighters turned on the hydrant to hook up the hoses.
  4. Encourage your child to investigate more root words, their meanings, and the connections he can make to other words by simply knowing the root. It's amazing the logic you will notice behind words and how we communicate!
  5. Have your child display his chart for a few days or weeks, either on the fridge or in another prominent position. After they hang around for a while, can your child add more to the existing list?

Some Examples:  



Hydration, hydrofoil


Thermometer, thermostat
Graphics, biography
Dictionary, dictation
Geology, geography
Apathy, sympathy
Vitamin, vitalize


Alicia Danyali, BS Elementary Education, taught primary-level students for four years at the International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The last four years of her teaching career, she taught at the Washington International School in Washington, D.C. She recently completed writing a series of children's picture books and is a mother of one young son.