Teaching Game Review: Rummy Roots

h1>Teaching Game Review: Rummy Roots

by Yvonna Graham, M.Ed.


In 15 years as a reading tutor, there is one tool that stands out above all the others I have used for building strong reading vocabulary: Rummy Roots. It’s not fancy — just six decks of cards; the first three come together as Rummy Roots and the second three are sold as More Roots. The package comes with instructions for several games, some complex and challenging enough for college students. But I ignore all that and just use the cards for one simple game, Go Fish. The object is to make pairs, matching a black English word card with its green Greek or red Latin card. For example, the black card “write” pairs with the green card “gram/graph.” Think about how much more fun it is to learn these important word roots as a game, instead of filling out worksheets! Students actually beg to play this game over and over, thus getting the repetition needed to send those words to long term memory. A round takes about 5 minutes, so it can be worked in at the beginning or end of another lesson. I use it with almost every student I teach, from those just learning to read, right up through high school. The level of support needed changes for different students, but the game allows students of different abilities, reading levels, and ages to play together. When I am teaching a student to play, which takes less than five minutes, I provide a typed list of all the words in the deck with the meanings. My list is alphabetized, as a way of introducing how useful alphabetical order can be. I’d like to see Rummy Roots provide this list with the game, but so far the game comes with the words printed in super-tiny font on a teensy paper, too small even for young student eyes, so I type my own. I let students use the list as long as they want. When they don’t need the list any more, it’s time to ask if they would like to play the next set of cards. By the time a student has mastered all six sets, he or she has an excellent understanding of the Greek and Latin word roots that inform scientific and mathematical vocabulary.


My dyslexic students LOVE this game. They can excel at it using their pattern recognition strengths. It lets them learn advanced vocabulary with words on separate cards, so they don’t get them tangled up. The color coding helps, too. Since dyslexic students are often working at a reading level far below their intellectual level, this game lets me ramp it up for them, by casually inserting information about the super-cool words you can make with these roots, like microphotography — a word built from micro (small), photo (light), and graph (writing). One day, a student I’d been playing with for a few sessions, came in after school and reported, “Today the science teacher put a new vocabulary word on the board, and asked if anyone could figure out what it meant. I was the only one in class who could do it!” An experience like that for a dyslexic student is literally game-changing!


Once students know how to play, they can do it themselves in small groups in the classroom. A tutor can use it one-on-one with a student; the best way for a student to learn and build confidence. If students are allowed to use their word list as long as they want it, there’s no shaming or embarrassment tied to the words for students who need awhile to master the list. It puts everyone on an even footing, whether dyslexic or not. Teachers know that material learned while having fun is remembered, while material learned when bored, angry or frustrated tends to be forgotten, while only the negative emotion is remembered. So fun games are always the best choice for memory material, and this one is a treasure!