Etymology Lesson Plan

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Teaching students about the etymology of words will help them in your class as well as many others from science and math, to history and art. This lesson plan uses a video, partner work, a group activity and a dictionary activity to teach students about the subject of etymology and foreign words found in English.

Lesson Objectives:

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define the term 'etymology'
  • provide examples of foreign words that have been adopted into the English language.
  • recognize and define common Latin and Greek roots


1-1.5 hours

Curriculum Standards:


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.


Consult general and specialized 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, its part of speech, or its etymology.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


  • Envelopes
  • Slips of paper or cardstock with foreign words. (Do not include the language of origin on the paper.) Each student group will receive a complete set of words. Some examples are:
    • Armoire (French)
    • Ballet (French)
    • Depot (French)
    • Angst (German)
    • Fest (German)
    • Poltergeist (German)
    • Cilantro (Spanish)
    • Macho (Spanish)
    • Mosquito (Spanish)
  • Dictionaries
  • Lined paper
  • Pencils


  • Show students a list of common English words that have been adopted from other languages (such as 'bistro,' 'bouquet,' 'corral' and 'kaput.') Ask students to consider what the words have in common. Lead the discussion until the students note that each of these words are foreign words. Explain that in today's lesson they will be learning more about etymology, or the study of word origins.
  • Begin the video The Etymology of Words, pausing at 1:23. To check for understanding, ask students the following discussion questions:
    • What is 'etymology?'
    • What are other examples of newer words?
    • What are some examples of words whose meanings have changed over time? (Think of slang words such as 'cool.')
  • Return to the video, this time pausing at 3:46. Ask the following discussion questions:
    • What are language families?
    • Provide some examples of Latin languages.
    • What are examples of Germanic languages?
  • Continue with the video, this time watching it until the end. Ask your students the following the questions:
    • How could you use etymology to help you figure out the meaning of a word you don't know?
    • How can understanding word etymologies give you a better understanding of history?
  • To check for understanding, project the lesson quiz and complete it as a class.

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