SummaryStudents learn how scientific terms are formed using Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes, and on that basis, learn to make an educated guess about the meaning of a word. Students are introduced to the role played by metaphor in language development.
Engineers often research so deep into a topic that their resulting textbooks and articles are full of technical words that are hard to understand. Just like in medicine, in science and engineering, recognizing Latin and Greek word origins can help with the understanding and communication of technical material. Even so, the well-educated engineer is skilled at explaining technical concepts to audiences of all backgrounds, and often uses metaphors to explain scientific and engineering concepts.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science,
technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN),
a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics;
within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
After this activity, students should be able to:
- Students incorporate source materials into their speaking and writing (for example, interviews, news articles, encyclopedia information).
- Write and speak in the content areas using the technical vocabulary of the subject accurately.
- Read, respond to and discuss literature that represents points-of-view from places, people, and events that are familiar and unfamiliar.
- Understand that well-educated engineers are skilled at explaining technical concepts to audiences of all backgrounds
Paper and pencils
Copies of the Weather Words Worksheet, 1 per student
Getting to the Root
Science and engineering textbooks and articles are full of technical words that are hard to understand — unless you know the secret. Many of the words are built from roots, prefixes and suffixes originating from the Latin and Greek languages. If you learn these parts of the words, you have an easier time guessing other words made from the same parts in different combinations. Take their word for it — the Romans and the Greeks!
In Air Pollution unit, Lesson 4, you learned some weather words, such as the word meteorology. You know it means "the science of weather" not "the science of meteors." That's because the Greek root "meteor" means "things in the air" in general, not just meteors. Weather is literally something that happens in the air. In fact, it happens in the layer of the atmosphere known as the troposphere. But, let's get back to our word of the moment, meteorology. The suffix "-ology" means a "branch of knowledge" or "science." It comes from the Greek root "logos" meaning "word" or "speech."
In Air Pollution unit, Lesson 4, you also learned the word barometer. It is made of the roots "baro-" and "-meter." "Baro" is from the Greek "baros" meaning "weight." "Meter" is from the Greek "metron" meaning "measure." (Notice the big difference between "meter" and "meteor" — just one letter for a completely different root.)
Think of all the words you know that end in the suffix "-meter." (Thermometer, centimeter, kilometer, etc.) They all mean something is being measured. (Heat, hundredths of a meter, a thousand meters, etc.)
This study of the root origins of words is called etymology. The root of the word "etymology" itself means "the study of the true sense of a word." Words are, in a sense, condensed history. Much like archaeological artifacts, they show how language has developed. The way people think is reflected in the history of word formation.
As you learn the etymologies of words, you begin to notice that many unfamiliar-sounding abstract words have very familiar physical concepts at their roots. Take the word humidity for example. You may already know that humidity means moisture or dampness in the air. In fact, it comes from a Latin word meaning "moisture." If you also know that the suffix –ify means "to make," you can probably guess (correctly) that humidify means "to make moist." Even further, you can probably guess that a humidifier makes the air moist in a dry climate.
For fun, look up the etymology of the word "daisy" in a good dictionary, one that includes word etymologies. The American Heritage® College Dictionary, Fourth Edition is an excellent dictionary that provides etymologies along with basic definitions of words.
As you can see, "daisy" comes from "day's eye" and refers to a variety of the plant that opens in the morning to reveal a yellow disk, like the sun, and closes again at night. The sun is like the "eye of the day" in the sense that it allows us to see. The daisy is like the "eye of the day" because its yellow disk resembles the sun. This is a good example of a word that developed from a metaphor. Remember that a metaphor is a word that compares one thing to another because of a similarity or likeness between the two things. The daisy looks like the sun because it is a yellow disk surrounded by petals that resemble "rays."
Metaphors like this are called figures of speech because they enable you to see pictures in your mind's eye. They help you visualize the meaning of a word and enrich your understanding of language. When you use metaphors such as these, you are speaking figuratively.
Now let's have some more fun with words. You will build your vocabulary in the process, and science and engineering terms will not seem so hard to decipher.
Abstract: Not concrete or practical; theoretical. Difficult to understand: an abstract concept.
Artifact: An object produced or shaped by human craft, especially a tool, weapon or ornament of archaeological or historical interest.
Barometer: An instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure, used especially in weather forecasting; something that registers or responds to changes. An indicator: Opinion polls serve as a barometer of the public mood. (A metaphorical usage.)
Decipher: To read or interpret; solve; decode.
Derive: To trace the origin or development of (a word).
Etymology: The origin and historical development of a word or other element of language determining its basic components and changes in form and meaning; the study of etymology.
Figurative: Based on or making use of figures of speech. Metaphorical: figurative language.
Literal: Using the exact or primary meaning of a word or words. Word for word: a literal translation. Avoiding exaggeration or metaphor, factual: a literal description. Unimaginative: a literal mind.
Metaphor: A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily refers to one thing is used to refer to another, thus making an implied comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).
Meteorology: The science that deals with the phenomena of the atmosphere, especially weather and weather conditions.
Prefix: An element added to the beginning of a word that affects its meaning.
Rebus: A representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle.
Root: The element that carries the main component of meaning in a word and provides the base for adding prefixes or suffixes.
Suffix: An element added to the end of a word that affects its meaning.
Troposphere: The lowest atmospheric layer, from 4 to 11 miles high (depending on latitude); the layer of the atmosphere at which weather occurs.
The point of this activity is simple: to have fun building vocabulary. The focus is on how science and engineering terms are formed from Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes; but the activity is more wide-ranging and includes lots of resources for general wordplay that spark a student's interest in words.
The basis of the activity is the concept that language is metaphorical. Many abstract terms, for example, are based on physical metaphors. As language develops, the physical concepts at the roots of words are largely forgotten. Once students learn that "humid" means "moist" in ancient Greek, they have a clue that "humidity," "humidify," "humidifier" and "humidistat" have something in common — moisture. When students learn that familiar physical concepts are at the heart of difficult abstract terms, the terms seem less forbidding. Thus, the process of vocabulary building accelerates.
For background on Latin and Greek word elements, see the WordWise, Fact Monster information at: http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0907017.html. The tables of Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes can be adapted for classroom use. For more on the metaphorical basis of language, see Word Origins by Wilfred Funk, Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn. All are highly readable. See the References section for more information.
Have the students conduct background reading and research: Use your dictionary and Fact Monster at http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0907017.html or an online etymology dictionary to complete the table in the Weather Words Worksheet (see Table 1). Fill in as many additional weather words derived from Latin and Greek roots — such as precipitation, temperature, cirrus, cumulus, stratus — as you can. Identify the roots, prefixes and suffixes. Try guessing the meanings of unfamiliar technical terms based on the roots, prefixes and suffixes you learn. Another good Internet source is the Online Etymology Dictionary at: http://www.etymonline.com/.
Know your roots! Your knowledge of the root meanings of terms in one area of science can be transferred to another area so you can understand the terms of that field. Take the field of medicine, for example. You may already know the word trauma means "injury." Now that you know the root meaning of "baros" as in barometer, what do you suppose the word barotrauma means? You probably won't find it in a regular dictionary; you would have to consult a specialized dictionary. But, even without that help, you could probably make a reasonable guess. (Answer: Barotrauma is injury caused by pressure.)
Thinking Figuratively: Below is a very famous and very simple poem by Carl Sandburg comparing, metaphorically, the way fog moves in like a stealthy cat.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Below is a more difficult poem by Emily Dickinson about another type of weather. She speaks about it figuratively, using metaphors, and never mentions it by name. Can you guess what type of weather the poem is describing? Which words gave you clues? (Although this is a more difficult poem than "The Fog," students are often able to figure out these riddles if they know the meanings of a few words. Sometimes they understand them more spontaneously than adults do! In guiding students through the poem, focus on the first stanza. "Powder" is an obvious clue. "Sieves" may be more difficult, but the image of flour being sifted through a sieve will be familiar once it is placed in that context. "Alabaster Wool" is even more difficult and is characteristic of Emily Dickinson's original use of language. The aspect to emphasize is that alabaster is typically white, like snow, and that snow can look very much like "white wool." Once the image of snow emerges from the first stanza, the rest of the poem should open up.)
It Sifts from Leaden Sieves
It sifts from Leaden Sieves—
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road—
It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain and of Plain—
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again—
It reaches to the Fence—
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces—
It deals Celestial Veil
To Stump and Stack—-and Stem—
A Summer's empty Room—
Acres of Joints where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them—
It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen—
Then stills its Artisans—like Ghosts,
Denying they have been—
Try composing your own poem about weather. You can also illustrate the poem with a drawing or watercolor. For inspiration, see the References section for links to poems on the theme of weather. Also, look at How Artists See the Weather: Sun, Wind, Snow, Rain by Colleen Carroll.
Conduct a vocabulary quiz to test knowledge of roots, prefixes and suffixes. As part of the quiz, have students divide the word into prefix/root/suffix and give the definition of the word. Some new words may be introduced that require students to guess the meaning of the word based on roots, prefixes and suffixes they already know.
Activity Embedded Assessment
The Thinking activity tests students' understanding of figurative language. After the poems are discussed, use other poems about weather (see the References section) to test the students' understanding of how figurative language works.
The students' poems may be graded or not, at the teacher's discretion.
The introductory graphic to this activity is a rebus, a picture puzzle that represents words. Can you solve it? Hint: Divide the block of letters to form words. What do these words have in common? (Answer: Weather words.)
An idiom is a common expression that cannot be taken literally, such as, "barking up the wrong tree." It is a figurative expression. Use the computer graphics program on your school or home computer to create a visual idiom puzzle. The fun thing about the puzzle is that it takes the idiom literally.
See Mrs. Oates Multiage Class at St. James All Grade, at: http://projects.sd3.k12.nf.ca/multiage/weather/teacher.html for lots more activity suggestions.
- Wordplay and analysis of words into their roots, suffixes and prefixes may be a team activity.
- Links to games, puzzles and poems for all levels of ability are provided in the References section.
ContributorsJane Evenson; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise Carlson
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Supporting ProgramIntegrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.