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Understanding Roots Gives Shoots of Knowledge

Something we go over and over in class is the relationship between the words we use in Biology and their Latin and Greek roots. There is a massive vocabulary to use in Biology*, and if you learn to break down words into their components, you might get a better understanding of the meaning behind them.

It’s a code – and if you can crack it, you can even make a good guess at the meaning of many unknown words in exam papers, textbooks and articles. Language should not be a barrier to Biology students – even those who are ESL learners.

Revision tip for the semester exams: Build a vocab list for each subtopic and rather than just define the terms, break them into their components. Can you use the roots in another word or sentence?

Here is a nice SlideShare presentation on how Greek and Latin roots aid understanding:

More resources:

Basic Greek and Latin for understanding science and medicine, Tim Moors

Glossary of Greek and Latin Roots in Science, Exploring Science Site

Greek and Latin Roots in English, Wikipedia

A multitude of lesson plans for vocabulary, from

Interestingly, in modern science and media, some words are formed from compounds of Greek and Latin. Here is a classic quote from C.P. Snow: “Television. The word is half-Greek and half-Latin; no good can come of it.

*I heard a quote once that there was more vocab in HL Biology than in a Language B subject. It would be cool to find out how true that is. Can anyone estimate the number of vocabulary terms learned by a Biology student?

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