Learning Backwards

Activity Goals

  1. Identify the most common medical terms by defining them and using them in context.
  2. Demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


  • Rationale
    • At the beginning of a class, using words students already know limits the amount of necessary jargon
    • Learning backwards from the meaning of the whole to the meaning of parts helps with retention and comprehension
    • No need for a focus on spelling or pronunciation while learning about the ideas of word building and etymology
  • Activity Instructions
    • A prefix is placed at the beginning of a word thus changing the word’s meaning
      example: when the prefix un- is added to the word happy, it creates the word unhappy
    • Write down all the Tele-words and Auto-words you can think of
    • Draw a / between the prefix and root of each word – examples: tele/phone  auto/mobile
    • Now, work backwards from the known meaning of the complete words to figure out the meanings of the prefixes “Tele-” and “Auto-”
    • Bonus: if you finish with the prefixes, try to think of all the words that end in –ology (there are 394 listed on Wikipedia)
    • Reflection:
      • How does this activity help you to understand what a prefix is?
      • If you didn’t already know what tele- or auto- meant, were you able to “learn backwards?”
    • Resources:
      o The prefix “tele-” comes from Greek and means “far off,” “afar,” or “at a distance.”
      o The prefix “auto-” means “self.” In Greek, as a word-forming element, “auto-” had the sense of “self, one’s own, of oneself, independently, natural, native, or not made.”
      o The suffix “-ology” means a “branch of knowledge, science.” It is the usual form of “-logy” which comes from Greek “logia,” and meant “a speaking, discourse, treatise, doctrine, theory, or science.”
      – Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com
  • Additional Resources: Medical Terminology Unit Word Building
  • Unit: Word Building
  • Course: Medical Terminology

Developed by Kerry Bank, I-BEST Instructor
Santa Fe Community College

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