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Use Word Spokes within Word Study & Vocab Development

May 02, 2014

Use Word Spokes within Word Study & Vocab Development

Providing Greek and Latin root-word instruction is an essential component of vocabulary development and word study. (A root word is any word part that carries meaning. There are three types of root words: prefixes, suffixes, bases.)

If students apply the meaning of word parts to unfamiliar words they encounter in reading, they can determine the meaning of new content-area academic vocabulary. According to literacy expert Timothy Rasinski, this is known as the generative principle: one root can generate the meaning of 5-20 new words.

Demonstrate this generative principle through the Word-Spoke activity. Assign small groups a root word. Students write the root and meaning in the center circle. Then, they brainstorm words based on background knowledge and content-area vocabulary that utilize this root. Each word and its meaning is written inside a “spoke” of the oval. Students should discuss the meaning of the word, draw a pictorial representation, and write a sentence.

Wheel Spokes Example


  1. Teach students how to complete a Word Spoke during whole-class instruction. This could be done by projecting the PDF or Smart Board versions.
  2. When students are ready, provide small groups with their own handout. (NOTE: This activity is most effective when students can “put their heads together” and brainstorm with others in pairs or small groups.)
  3. A Word Spoke doesn’t need to be completed in one sitting. Students can add to it over days as they encounter or research new words that contain the same root.

Word Spokes allow students to witness the power of the generative principle. They observe how one root is present in multiple words. Rasinski reports that teaching 30 roots to your class throughout the school year can essentially result in practicing over 900 words in a year. Now that is some generative teaching!

For another root-word activity, check out Rootle.


Maureen Hoffman-Wehmeier sent in two examples of her Greenwood Middle School (Greenwood, IN) 7th grade students’ Word Spokes posters. In a recent tweet, Maureen noted: “Look at ‘procrastinator’ [in second example]. When I asked him why this was late, he told me he was busy smashing school records. #swim”

Hoffman-Wehmeier's Word Spoke Example
Hoffman-Wehmeier's Word Spoke Example
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