Curriculum Review: Dynamic Literacy’s WordBuild

Reviewed by Janice Campbell.

I love the study of words. Words are the building blocks of communication, and the more of them you know, the more likely it is that you will be a good writer and speaker. In addition, words are just plain fascinating!

For many years, I used and recommended vocabulary programs based in Latin and Greek roots, and I still like those programs. I realize that roots-based programs seem inaccessible to some people, so I’ve found an alternate program that’s amazingly user-friendly, highly effective, and fun. It’s WordBuild: A Better Way to Teach Vocabulary, and the entire program is contained in two comprehensive levels. WordBuild is “based on morphology, the study of the units of meaning in words. Just as phonology is the study of the sounds that make up words, morphology is the study of the meaningful pieces of words. A mastery of phonics helps students “sound out” unfamiliar words; a mastery of morphics helps students “mean out” unfamiliar words.”

The first series, Foundations, contains two levels and is designed to be used anytime after phonics have been taught. This level focuses on building words by adding prefixes and suffixes to words the student already knows. The second series, Elements, contains three levels and moves into the teaching and manipulation of Greek and Latin root words. After five years of study, the student should have not only a vast vocabulary, but also the tools to decipher virtually any word they encounter in the future.

Each week the learner is presented with a morpheme (word piece) such as “mob,” which means “to move.” There is a page of Word Fun Facts and a 15-minute activity for each day of the week to help the student learn and retain all the variations of the word. The very helpful teacher’s guide provides objectives and examples, as well as talking points, suggested dialog, and extended learning activities.

On Day 1, the student is presented with a Root Square, which provides more morphemes and challenges the student to combine two or more word parts to make as many words as possible. In the “mob” square, choices include four other forms of the root, plus “ive,” “auto,” “ize,” “com,” “im,” “ion,” “re,” and “ile.” If you play with those for a few minutes, you’ll get an idea of how many possibilities there are.

On Day 2, the student breaks apart words and matches them with their definitions, placing the number of the answer in the corresponding square of the Magic Box. When the box is correctly filled, the sum of the numbers is the same both across and down.

On Day 3, the student will use another visual aid, the Stair Steps to fill in words they discover from provided definitions.

On Day 4, the focus is on using newly acquired vocabulary in context. Students use an optional Comprehension Booster worksheet to choose the correct word to fill the blank in a sentence.

On Day 5, there is a 10-question multiple-choice assessment. I’m not usually a fan of multiple choice, as it’s just too easy, but when all the possible answers are based on the same morpheme, it boosts the challenge level. For example, one question asks the student to choose “Which word means to cause to be able to move?” The answer choices include “mobilize, mobile, or motile.” It’s clear that the student will need to have a good understanding of the morphemes in order to satisfactorily complete the questions.

The Foundations level would work very well in the elementary years, while Elements (from which the “mob” example was excerpted) would work well for middle and/or high school students. Students who complete the five years of WordBuild study early may wish to move into a root-based program for further study, or simply take Latin or another foreign language along with a solid literature program such as Excellence in Literature to build vocabulary naturally.

Each level of WordBuild comes with

  • Individual softbound Student Activity Books covering a full year’s curriculum
  • Complete Teacher’s Manual with Answer Keys (written so that it can be used in classroom, co-op, or homeschool)
  • Customizable software to quickly create additional exercises
  • Access to online printable exercises

In addition, the Elements levels come with a free CD of WordBuild The Game®. This CD-based game installed easily on my computer and was an entertaining way to practice word building. There are several choices of accompanying music, from Vivaldi to techno, or the music can be turned off entirely while playing. The CD is compatible with both Mac and Windows.

Overall, this is a sound, comprehensive program that will provide a good vocabulary foundation. The Teacher’s Manual is an integral part of the program and makes teaching the units absolutely simple. The short daily lessons are compatible with Charlotte Mason’s belief that short lessons result in better retention of knowledge. WordBuild is well-done and visually appealing, and is a great option for vocabulary study.

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About the Author: Janice Campbell, author of Get a Jump Start on College! A Practical Guide for Teens, Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler’s Guide to High School Paperwork, and the Excellence in Literature series, has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980’s. She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, using the principles she now shares in her books, blog, workshops, and her free e-newsletter. Sign up for it today.

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