Lesson Plans

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Body Language: Vocabulary Rooted in Latin Anatomy

Lesson Question:

How can students use Latin anatomy terms to help them understand the roots and meanings of some contemporary English vocabulary words?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, student groups use the Visual Thesaurus to investigate the connections between groups of English words and their roots in Latin anatomical terms. They then teach those words and their meanings in an engaging format that will help their classmates to remember them.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • learn the Latin words for some basic body parts
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to define groups of English words with Latin roots
  • plan and present groups of words with common origins in Latin anatomical terms


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • "Body Language: Words Rooted in Latin Anatomy" sheets (one per student) [click here to download]


Identifying the Latin roots of language, linguist, and linguini:

  • Write the following words on the board:


  • Explain that all three of these words can trace their roots back to the same word in Latin that stands for a part of the body. On the white board, display the Visual Thesaurus word map and definition for each word and ask students to guess which part of the body.

  • Students might guess "mouth" based on the definitions of language and linguist, but steer them to think about the flat, long shape of linguini pasta to establish that all three of these words share the Latin root lingua, meaning "tongue."


Defining words that are derived from Latin anatomical terms:

  • Emphasize that making a connection between a word's origin and its current meaning can sometimes help students remember that meaning more easily and can also give them help in trying to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words they encounter with the same root or base.

  • For example, if one knows that lingua means "tongue" in Latin, then one might infer other words with the lingua base most likely have a meaning related to language. You can demonstrate this line of thinking by typing lingu* into the Visual Thesaurus search box to see the range of words that begin with that Latin root.

caput words

corpus words

capital (as in city):








per capita:




digitus words

manus words













oculis words

pedes words













  • Direct groups to look up each of their three assigned words up on the Visual Thesaurus, record its definition, and to then discuss how the definitions of those three words relates back to its Latin root meaning as a body part.

  • Explain to groups that it will be their job to teach those three words and their meanings to the rest of the class. Beyond explaining to the class the words' definitions, how can they help students to remember their meanings by thinking about their Latin root? Can they think of a funny rhyme that might make the words and meanings memorable? Should they have the class repeat the words aloud while touching that body part? How can they make their presentation interactive?


Group teaching:

  • Invite each group to teach their set of words and meanings to the class.

  • Wrap up the lesson with a short discussion about which words more directly relate to their Latin origins (like pedal and pedes) and which words' meanings evolved more over time. For example, digitus (Latin for finger) relates to the meaning of a countable digit (as a number or as a finger) – which in turn expanded in meaning to include digital computation with the invention of the computer.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Have students investigate the Latin words for other body parts (e.g., auris, dentis, nasus, etc.) and how those roots have spawned other groups of English words.


  • As an assessment, you could quiz students to define the words presented in this lesson and, as a bonus, other words that are derived from the same roots.

Educational Standards:

Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy:

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 6-12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

a. Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
b. Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., audience, auditory, audible).
c. Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
d. Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level III (Grades 6-8)
2. Uses word origins and derivations to understand word meaning (e.g., Latin and Greek roots and affixes, meanings of foreign words frequently used in the English language, historical influences on English word meanings)
3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
2. Extends general and specialized reading vocabulary (e.g., interprets the meaning of codes, symbols, abbreviations, and acronyms; uses Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to infer meaning; understands subject-area terminology; understands word relationships, such as analogies or synonyms and antonyms; uses cognates; understands allusions to mythology and other literature; understands connotative and denotative meanings)

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)
6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

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