2 Decoding complicated compound words

Many scientific words in English have been created in a systematic way by the combination of Greek or Latin word roots or stems. For example, ‘chlorophyll’ consists of two parts: ‘chloro–’, which means green, and ‘–phyll’, which means leaf. So, a good guess at the meaning of the word would be something to do with green leaves.

This is a good strategy to use to help your students to decode words. If students can work out the meaning of a word for themselves, they are more likely to remember it in the future. It will help their recognition of similar words and help them to build links between different parts of the curriculum. For example, ‘photo–’ links ‘photosynthesis’ in biology and to ‘photon’ or ‘photodiode’ in physics.

Pause for thought

  • Have you ever tried decoding words in this way?
  • How do you think it might help your students?

Decoding scientific words can help students to learn how to spell them. It can also help them to guess the meaning, or at least something about what the word might mean, if the word is unfamiliar to them. There is a list of the more commonly used Latin and Greek word roots and stems in Resource 1. There are many websites that give more detailed lists.

1 Making sense of difficult words

Top tips for decoding