Dynamic Literacy’s WordBuild: A Review

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.

Visit www.DynamicHomeschool.com for more information.

12 Responses

  1. Jeannie says:

    As a homeschooler do you think we really need the teachers’s guide. If you had a student going into high school would you do the foundations first? Don’t you think foundations would make elements more substantial?



    • Dear Jeannie,
      If you’re very good with language and enjoy working with it, you may be able to use the books without the teacher’s guide. However, the guide does have good material that makes it helpful, and frankly, it’s a lot faster and easier to have it on hand when you need to give an assignment or check work. If it fits in your budget, I feel it’s well worth it.

      If you have a student going into high school, I think you’d be fine with going directly into Elements. It never hurts to do a bit extra, so if you feel that your student needs the extra support in this area, Foundations may be a good choice. If your student is at grade level, though, I think you may as well start with Elements. You may want to talk with the authors of the curriculum for more expert advice, though!


  2. Kyla McAuliffe says:

    I have a 15 yo (going into 10th grade)daughter who just completed WordlyWise level 9, can’t stand Classical Roots Vocabulary, but really needs to have a knowledge of latin. I also have a daughter going into 7th, that has had no vocabulary but is an excellent above avg reader. I was going to get Elements level one, but wondered what your thoughts were on both doing this level (which Dynamic Learning recommends for every beginner regardless of age). I want something kind of fun, that will teach latin and/or greek roots, so my oldest will be prepared in 2 years for a science degree at college and so that my 7th grader will have good options if she also chooses that route. Thank you for your input.

    • Dear Kyla,

      I always liked having my students study the same material at the same time. They’re able to practice together, and use what they are learning with one another, which can help them retain all the unfamiliar words. If you find that your older daughter wants to move faster through the levels, I’d let her do so. Being able to move at your own pace keeps things interesting, so she may enjoy it more than other vocabulary programs. I hope that helps!


  3. Renee says:

    Is this spelling also or would I need something else for that? This year is our first HS year and I have a very bright language girl on my hands. She is 4th grade and we are using Spelling Workout and Wordly Wise 3000 this year. Foundations for her next year – 5th? I know it recommendes one lesson a week but would we be abel to do more to move quicker so she wouldn’t be bored with an easy level (if we find it is too easy at first)?? We are already almost finished with our Spelling for this year because we skip the dilly dally if she “knows the concept”. Suggestions?

  4. Hi, Renee-
    I’ve forwarded your question to the publisher of the program, and I know he’ll have a good answer for you. Whatever you choose to do, you’re probably right to stick with the flexible approach to avoid burning out a bright student. One of the nicest parts of homeschooling is being able to tailor the curriculum to the student, rather than trying to squash the student into a standard mold. Enjoy the process!

  5. Jerry Bailey says:

    Hi Renee – I’ve already answered your questions directly, but I will answer them again here for the benefit of anyone else in a similar situation. I would start a 5th grader in Foundations 2, especially if they are reading at or above grade level and don’t have learning issues. The prefixes and especially the suffixes are much more difficult in Level 2 than in Level 1, and a 5th grader has likely been exposed to most of those anyway. When you buy any set that include a teacher edition you get a free online account that gives you access to all of the content, so if you find there are some things you’d like to pick up form Level 1, simply log on and print them. To see samples and index pades form all of our products, go to http://www.dynamichomeschool.com/Program-Samples.php

  6. Diane says:

    I have two boys who will be going into 6th and 8th grades this fall. My 8th grader struggles with reading. Do you think it would be beneficial to start both boys at the beginning with Foundations? This looks like a great program and I think it would help my boys a lot.

    • Hi, Diane,
      You could definitely start them together in Foundations, and if you see that it isn’t challenging enough, just move him up. Check out the samples on the Dynamic Literacy site, and see how the boys do with them, and that should help you decide.
      I hope you enjoy it– it’s an excellent program!

  7. Roberts fam says:

    Hi Janice,

    How would we assign credit to this course? Would it be .5 English credit, or is it substantial enough to award a full credit?

    Just curious…..Thanks!

    • Hi, Robert,
      Since it doesn’t have a literary component, a half credit seems more appropriate, but you may want to double check that with the author of the course, Jerry Bailey (you’ll find a comment and link from him in the comments below).

  8. richoe says:

    Respected Janice Champell,
    immense thanks for guideline of teaching word build
    with strategic of foundation. Please touch me from time to time. if my student order ask me questions
    I shall answer them to touch yours dynamic literacy
    i am science teacher in tibetan refugee school in India. wish to learn more english yours policy for sphere of influence if excellent.
    yours sincerely, richoe concrete planned for developing good future citizens of X generation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.