WordBuild Review

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Developing a strong vocabulary is an important part of language arts learning, yet working with and learning endless word lists is not every student’s proverbial cup of tea. 

As a vocabulary program, WordBuild can make things a lot easier on students by providing them with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to decode the meaning of the words they come across without the need for lots of drill or rote memorization.

And with its short lessons, engaging activities and discussions it can do so in a way that they’ll actually enjoy.

What We Like

Compact, not a lot of materials to buy and keep track of
Short, easy to digest lessons
Research-backed approach to vocabulary development
Fun activities in each lesson
Good variety of activities over the course of a lesson
Open and go curriculum
Online and offline methods of study available
Lots of review opportunities

But watch out for

Offline version can be parent-intensive
Teacher’s Guide is written for classroom setting

What Is WordBuild?

Created by Dynamic Literacy, the WordBuild Vocabulary Development System (or WordBuild for short) is a morphology-based supplemental vocabulary program designed to help students develop and expand their vocabulary without the need for a lot of drill or rote memorization.

Through a series of short lessons students study prefixes, suffixes, and word roots, as well as their relevant grammar and spelling rules, so that they can build the skills they need to decode the meaning of any new words they might encounter.

What Ages Or Grades Is WordBuild Intended For?

WordBuild is designed to be used by students from about grade 2 to 12.

There are two series in the program, Foundations and Elements, each of which is designed to target a different range of grades. 

Foundations is largely aimed at grades 2-5 (or the elementary school level) and has two levels to it (Foundations I&II) .

Elements, which builds upon the learning in Foundations and touches on more advanced topics such as word roots, is aimed at students in grades 5-12 (or middle and high school), and has three levels to it (Elements I, II, & III). 

That said, there is no real hard and fast rule when it comes to grade levels in this program and it can be started by homeschooling students at any age provided their language and comprehension skills are up to it.

There is nothing stopping a precocious grade 1 student from starting the series and working through it ahead of schedule, for instance, or for a struggling language student to go back and brush up on their prefix/suffix learning.

In fact, because the books make no real obvious reference to grade level, they can be a lot easier to use in remediation as they should cause no real embarrassment to older students. 

Parents should note, however, that the books are sequential and the material they introduce is built upon in later books, so students moving into the program really need to start at the beginning of each series (Foundations I/Elements I).

Unfortunately, there are no placement tests for WordBuild as of writing. 

Although the division between Foundations (elementary) and Elements (middle school/high school) does provide a rough guideline, parents will ultimately need to go through the scope and sequence of each level and make their own judgment call based on the current readiness, abilities and knowledge of their student in language, reading and comprehension.

While not exactly uncommon with language arts programs, it can be a little more challenging and take a little more time for new homeschooling families to find their place.

What Is Required To Teach The Program?

WordBuild is a fairly compact program and doesn’t require too much to teach it. 

Essentially, there are two components at any given level – a Student Activity Book and a Teacher’s Edition.

Student Activity Books

The WordBuild Student Activity Books are where students do most of their work.

As might be inferred by the name, these Student Activity Books contain the various activities that students will complete as part of their lessons, such as:

  • Magic Squares
  • Word searches
  • Affix Adders
  • Prefix Squares
  • Root Squares
  • And more

The books are black and white and consumable, providing a fair deal of space for students to write in their responses. 

While not particularly stunning to look at, the Student Activity Books are pretty straightforward and easy to use.

With each lesson’s activity located on its own page, it isn’t likely that students will get lost while working.

picture of wordbuild student activity page showing layout

While the student books do provide instructions for completing each activity, there isn’t a lot in the way of vocabulary instruction in these student books. 

WordBuild is a teacher-led program, rather than a self-study one, and so requires the use of the teacher’s edition during lessons.

Teacher’s Edition

The Teacher’s Edition of each level of WordBuild contains everything a parent needs to teach the material and guide students through their studies. 

The Teacher’s Editions break each lesson down into a convenient 5-day activity schedule and each page is centered around a reproduction of the relevant Student Activity Book page, with the instructional material, activity instructions, tips for teaching and discussion topics surrounding it, as can be seen in the example below.

picture of wordbuild teacher's edition page showing layout

The Teacher’s Editions follow a pretty straightforward “Teach – Complete -Discuss” format, carefully guiding parents from concept instruction and direct instruction through the lesson activity and to a deeper discussion of student responses and thought process.

screenshot of teaching component in teacher's edition of wordbuild

They even provide a suggested script that parents can use to teach, as well as suggested solutions for the activities (which are largely open ended and dependent on what a student can come up with) and some ready ideas to kick off discussions.

example of teaching tips for parents in wordbuild teacher's edition

This scripting can be quite helpful to new homeschoolers and parents with rustier language arts skills as it gives them a teaching dialogue they can fall back on if they need it. 

That said, the Teacher’s Editions do tend to leave enough room in their lessons, at least in our opinion, for more experienced parents to take over and converse naturally with their students and generally put their own touch on things, which is always nice.

One thing homeschooling parents should be aware of is that the Teacher’s Editions are written for a classroom setting with multiple students. 

picture of wordbuild teacher's edition showing its classroom orientation

Although the books should work just fine in a homeschool setting with a single student, it can mean that parents may need to adjust some of the dialogue and discussion ideas to fit.

WordBuild’s Approach To Teaching Vocabulary

WordBuild is a morphology-based vocabulary program. 

This means that rather than relying on word lists and memorization to teach students new words, students instead learn different prefixes, suffixes and Latin/Greek root words, as well as the relevant spelling and grammar rules for their use. 

In this way, students learn to construct, deconstruct and ultimately decode the words they encounter in order to get a better understanding of their meaning, a skill known as morphemic awareness. 

In other words, instead of spoon-feeding students an ever expanding list of seemingly unrelated words, the ultimate goal of the program is to give students the skills and knowledge they’ll need to analyze and derive the meaning of unfamiliar words they come across in the rest of their language arts studies (and in life). 

While perhaps a bit different than more typical, word list based homeschool vocabulary programs that parents might be familiar with, such as Wordly Wise 3000, language development through morphemics is a recognized method of approaching vocabulary development and there is a fair amount of research that demonstrates its effectiveness in this regard.

It’s also a more analytical approach that tends to eschew a lot of word memorization in favor of more critical thinking and creativity on the part of students (who are challenged to decode and/or come up with their own words), something that can be very helpful for students who hate drill or who have a hard time with rote memorization.

It is also an approach that can easily be added as a supplement to existing language arts programs.

The ability to derive the meaning of a new word from its classical roots or by its prefixes or suffixes can be a helpful and useful skill that can be added to many language arts programs, from classical to literature-based curricula, without too much of a challenge to their underlying philosophy.  

That said, it can be a very different approach to vocabulary development that parents may be unfamiliar with themselves, and may have a bit of a learning curve at first when it comes to teaching. 

How it Works

As mentioned previously, WordBuild is split into two series, Foundations (aimed at elementary) and Elements (aimed at middle to high school students).

Each of these series are further split into several sequential levels, Foundations I & II and Elements 1-3. 

Each level is made up of between 28-36 units or lessons, each center around a particular prefix, suffix or root word, such that each level can be used to help teach a full year’s worth of vocabulary.

Lessons in WordBuild are split into a recommended 5 day schedule, with each day centered around a particular activity in the Student Activity Book, and the background information, activity guidance and discussion material located in the Teacher’s Edition. 

picture showing teaching style of wordbuild

Lessons are kept pretty short in WordBuild, with each day’s learning designed to take not much more than about 15 minutes to complete. 

Aside from helping WordBuild fit more easily into an existing language arts program (and/or a busy homeschool schedule), these short lessons can be a distinct pls for students whose attention tends to wander or who get intimidated by long language arts lessons. 

Foundations I & II

Designed for students in grades 2-5, Foundations focuses on introducing students to important prefixes and suffixes, as well as important spelling and grammar rules that teach students how to properly add them to words. 

Each lesson in the series is based around a different affix, such as: 

Un- -ing

These lessons are then split across 5 days of learning covering five different practical activities that allow students to get familiar and work with each affix. 

Day 1: Affix Square

With the Affix Square activity, students are given a 3×3 block of squares with the relevant prefix or suffix in the middle and 8 words surrounding it. 

example of affix square in wordbuild

Students combine the affix and word to build new words and then write them down, along with their definitions, in the space provided.

Day 2: Affix Adder

In the Affix Adder activity, students are challenged to come up with new words using the lesson’s prefix or suffix and then create their own sentences with them.

picture of affix adder in wordbuild foundations lesson

Day 3: Magic Square

Day 3 involves a magic square-type puzzle where students are given an alphabetically-linked list of affixed words and a numbered list of definitions. 

picture of wordbuild foundations magic  square activity

Students need to connect the words to their relevant definition and place the definition’s number in the relevant lettered box. 

Done properly, all sides should add up to the same number…the magic number of the magic square. 

Day 4: Word Search

On day 4, students are given a word jumble where they must find and circle words containing the affix in diffrent directions.

picture of word search puzzle in wordbuild foudnations

Day 5: Comprehension Booster

On day 5 students are given a list of sentences with certain words missing and must find and insert the appropriate ones from a list, testing their understanding in context. 

Picture of comprehension booster exercise in wordbuild

At the conclusion of each day’s activity, there is an opportunity for parents and students to discuss their work and answers, which is nice as it provides students with an opportunity to more critically assess what they are learning and further explore the affixes and their logic.

It can also be a good opportunity for deeper engagement and review and to help parents get a better idea of their student’s thinking process and learning. 

As we mentioned previously, these are written for a class setting, with multiple students working together and sharing responses, so parents might need to do some quick thinking to adapt it to a single student.

Finally, after every six lessons or so, there is an assessment that tests what students have learned so far in their lessons, providing more opportunity for review and revision that can be helpful for students who are a little more prone to forgetting things over time.  

Elements I, II, & III

Intended for older students, i.e. those in middle to high school, WordBuild Elements follows a similar format to Foundations on the whole. 

Diving a little deeper into morphology, Elements largely picks up where Foundations leaves off, introducing Greek and Latin root words that form that core of many English words and that students will learn to build off of and work with, such as: 

  • ARCH
  • PHON
  • SUM
  • FORM
  • And so on

It’s important to note that the first few lessons in Elements reviews the essential prefixes and suffixes covered in the Foundations course, which is good for older students starting out at this level who may not have been taught affixes formally, and acts as a good general review for those moving up in the program, as well. 

Similar to Foundations, Element follows a teach-activity-discussion format, although lessons are based on 4 activities, rather than 5. 

Day 1: Root Squares

Like the affix square in Foundations, with the root squares activity students are given a 3×3 square with the root word in the center and word elements (such as prefixes and suffixes) surrounding it. 

Students are expected to combine the word parts with the root to make new words, writing them and their definitions down in the provided space.

Day 2: Magic Square

With the magic square, students are given various words and a list of their definitions and are challenged to match them, placing the number of the definition into an appropriate box to make a square where each row (up, down and sideways) adds up to the same number.

Day 3: Stair Step

With the stair step exercise, students are given a stair shape of boxes with the root word already filled in. 

example of stair step puzzle in wordbuild elements lesson

They are given several definitions at the bottom of the page and must fill in letters to create a word that matches them.

example of filled in stair step puzzle

Day 4: Fill In The Blanks

In the fill in the blanks exercise, students are given sentences with missing words and must select the ones that best fit the meaning of the sentence from a word bank at the bottom of the page. 

As in Foundations, at the end of each day there is an opportunity to discuss student responses and explore the logic of their responses a little more. 

There is also typically a section called “extend the lesson,” where students and their parents can explore a derived root word in a little more detail. 

Interestingly, in Elements parents are encouraged to have students build a “Word Wall” over the course of a lesson, which is like a poster with the root word surrounded by prefixes, affixes, synonyms, antonyms and more. 

Finally, at the end of each lesson, parents have the option of administering a multiple choice test to review and assess the learning.

picture of quiz in wordbuild elements

Our Thoughts

Overall, we feel that WordBuild is a pretty straightforward and interesting program, even if it can be a little different than other vocabulary curricula and supplements out there.

We found its more analytic, decoding approach quite interesting. Rather than forcing students to memorize endless lists, it gets them to understand how words are constructed, allowing them to logically work things out for themselves and build/deconstruct the words they come across using their critical thinking skills.

Further, by using activity-based learning, rather than memorization, we feel that WordBuild can be a lot less stressful and enjoyable for students, particularly for those who hate drill-based exercises.

We also liked the fact that there are a variety and diversity of activities included over the course of a week’s work, which should go a long way in preventing students from getting too bored with their work.

We also liked the fact that, although scripted, lessons in the Teacher’s Edition do leave enough room for parents to speak more naturally to their students and add their own spin to the teaching. 

On the downside, while there is a good variety of activities in each lesson, they are the same 4-5 activities in each lesson which may get a little stale for some students over the course of several years. 

Parents should also note that WordBuild is a very parent intensive program, even at the upper levels. 

While older students should be able to do most of the activities on their own, instruction is done from the Teacher’s Edition and parents are required to initiate and guide discussions throughout, which can be a bit much for busier homeschools and may not be as ideal for those interested in promoting independent learning skills. 

How Easy is WordBuild to Teach

WordBuild is a bit different from other vocabulary supplements and programs out there, being morpheme-based, and as such may require a bit of getting used to.

Parents may need to spend a couple hours at first looking through lessons and getting familiar with the program’s particular method of teaching. 

Once they are familiar with the morphology-based approach, however, WordBuild is pretty open and go.

Lessons are clearly and consistently laid out and provide enough of a lesson script that parents can essentially dive into lessons and teach without much prep. 

Similarly, being taught primarily out of the Teacher’s Edition and Student Activity Book, there isn’t much in the way of materials that parents will have to buy, store and keep organized for each lesson.

WordBuild Online

One of the main issues that some parents might have with the paper-based version of WordBuild is the fact that it is quite parent intensive and can be a bit tricky for busier homeschools to use properly, even with its short lessons.

To help reduce the burden on parents and to give the program a bit more of a modern, digital touch, Dynamic Literacy has created an online version of the program known as WordBuild Online.

WordBuild Online takes the same general concept and lesson structure of the traditional WordBuild program but introduces a variety of interactive tools and videos to teach the material and guide students through its lessons, rather than relying on a parent.

WordBuild Online is, interestingly enough, built around an adaptive algorithm, so that the activities it displays can increase or decrease in difficulty in response to how students are performing, something we always appreciate in learning tech

Foundations Online

The online version of the WordBuild Foundations course is made up of 3 levels of 25 units each (as opposed to the 2 levels in the paper-based version). 

Students receive instruction via video lessons, which are hosted by a cute cartoon dog and introduce the suffixes and prefixes that make up the series. 

picture of cartoon dog host in wordbuild online

This cartoon host also guides students from section to section in the program, explaining the activities and generally making sure students don’t get too lost. 

By and large, students engage in the same activities as in the print version, including the affix square, affix adder, magic square and wordsearch, as well as a weekly multiple choice quiz that goes over and assesses the student’s learning.

Elements Online

Similar to the WordBuild Foundations courses and the paper-based version, Elements is made up of three levels with 36 units of study each. 

Students are introduced to concepts through videos and guided through lessons by the same adorable cartoon dog as Foundations.

They then complete four digital versions of the Elements activities, i.e. root squares, magic squares, stair steps and fill in the blank. 

The digital version of Elements also includes a fifth activity known as “In Other Words.”

This activity involves reading comprehension and presents students with a text to read.

example of in other words exercise in wordbuild online

Following this, students answer questions based on the text using words form a word bank, making it a pretty cool, multidisciplinary language arts activity that involves reading, reading comprehension and vocabulary development.

Regardless of which series students are using, WordBuild Online provides parents with progress tracking capabilities that report on student performance (time spent in program, lessons completed, responses and so on), which is always a benefit with digital self-study programs. 

Overall, when used correctly, WordBuild Online should go a long way in reducing the amount of time parents need to spend directly teaching.

On the downside, while it works smoothly and reliably, the program’s look and feel is a little old school and may not “wow” students raised on more high tech apps and games.

Similarly, all levels of the program involve the use of a cartoon dog to guide students through lessons and, although pretty cute in our opinion, older students may not appreciate its use quite as much as younger ones.

WordBuild Pros And Cons



A full year’s learning with WordBuild costs under $60, which can be a lot less than other vocabulary programs out there, while WordBuild Online comes in at just $30 or so per student per level. 

As a result,WordBuild can be considered an affordable vocabulary program that should fit into most homeschool budgets quite comfortably.  

Short Lessons

WordBuild deliberately keeps its daily lessons quite short. 

Centered around a single activity and discussion, they take around 15 minutes to complete, which makes them a lot less stressful for students and a lot easier to fit into a busy schedule than some other vocabulary-building programs. 

Research backed approach

The morphology-based approach that WordBuild uses, where students learn to construct and deconstruct the words they come across using prefixes, suffixes and root words, has been shown in several studies to have a strong positive effect on vocabulary development. 

Activity-based learning

Rather than just present students with a word lists to learn and define, WordBuild has them engage in a variety of activities, from magic squares to word jumbles, that can make learning a lot more engaging and fun for students. 

Offers several activities over the course of a week

Each day in WordBuild offers students the chance to work on a different kind of activity, which changes things up over the course of a week and keeps learning a little more interesting. 

Online and offline versions available

WordBuild is offered as both a parent/teacher-led, paper-based program and as more of a self-study digital version where students are guided through lessons via video and interactive content.

As a result it can suit both homeschools looking for a traditional, high-interaction curriculum and busier homeschools looking for a more independent learning option.

Easy to teach

Although its morpheme-based approach does take a little getting used to, there is very little prep work required with WordBuild, and the Teacher’s Editions are written in a way that is essentially open and go.

Lots of built-in review

With periodic assessments and frequent review, WordBuild can be an effective option for students who tend to lose their edge and/or develop knowledge gaps without frequent practice. 


Offline version can be parent intensive

WordBuild’s Student Activity Books and Teacher’s Editions are designed to work together as a teacher or parent-led program. 

With ample instruction and discussion in each lesson, it can be a bit much for some busier parents to use. 

Lesson instruction is written for a classroom setting

Although it is a popular homeschool option, WordBuild is written for a classroom setting with multiple students engaging in discussions and sharing the words, definitions and sentences they’ve come up with. 

As a result, parents using the books at home may need to do some tweaking on the fly to keep certain elements relevant. 

Who Is WordBuild Ideal For?

Parents and students who do best with frequent, short lessons

Lessons in WordBuild are kept short, to a maximum of about 15 minutes, which makes it ideal for students whose attention tends to wander or who get intimidated, overwhelmed or frustrated by longer language arts/vocabulary lessons.

Students who hate memorizing word lists

Rather than providing students with endless word lists that they’ll have to memorize and work with, WordBuild teaches students affixes and root words, as well as key usage rules, so that they can decode and learn the meaning of words they come across in their studies and in life.

Parents looking for a vocabulary building approach that is a little more analytical

WordBuild’s morphological approach is quite analytical and encourages students to use their critical thinking skills and logic to build and analyze words from their prefixes, suffixes and root words, as well as to help put them into proper context. 

By getting students to act as something of a word detective, it is therefore a bit of a departure from a more spoon-fed, word-list approach that can be commonly found in such programs.

Homeschools that enjoy activity-based learning

The daily activities in WordBuild are centered around different puzzles and activities that students work with to build and work with different words. 

This activity-based approach can be more engaging and fun for students compared to the usual spelling, copywork and sentence construction exercises. 

Homeschools looking for a skill-building supplement they can add to an existing program

The morphemic skills developed in WordBuild can help students decode the new words they come across in just about any language arts curriculum, making it a very useful and integratable supplement. 

Who Is It Not Ideal For?

Those looking for an all-in-one language arts curriculum 

While an excellent vocabulary  supplement, WordBuild is not itself a full language arts curriculum and does not really cover phonics, reading, comprehension, spelling, grammar and grammar mechanics or writing. 

Homeschools looking for a more incidental vocabulary building program

Although the morphemic decoding skills it teaches can be used across a variety of homeschool language arts programs, at the end of the day WordBuild is a very intentional vocabulary building program, directly and explicitly teaching strategies that students can use on their own. 

As a result, it may not be an ideal option for those who prefer to develop vocabulary through indirect, natural exposure such as by reading or dialogue.

Students who really learn best through hands-on learning

Although it does involve a variety of engaging activities, WordBuild is essentially a reading and writing based program and there isn’t much in the way of get up and go or hands-on/tactile learning involved. 


Note: Prices correct as of writing. All Prices in USD.

There are a couple components to the WordBuild program that homeschooling families will have to buy at each level, a consumable Student Activity Book and a Teacher’s Guide that contains the relevant teaching material and overall lesson structure.

These items can be purchased on their own or as a bundled set.

In addition, WordBuild offers a digital course that helps turn the program into more of an independent learning course, WordBuild Online, and is priced per student per level.

Individual Books

Foundations Level 1 Student Activity Book -$19.99

All Other WordBuild Activity Books – $16.99

Teacher’s Editions – $39.99


Foundations Level 1 – $52.99

All other levels – $49.99

WordBuild Online

WordBuildOnLine (per student per level) – $30

As always, parents should make sure to check the current pricing for the WordBuild program, as well as any discounts or sales that may apply.



Is It Worth The Price?

Overall, we think that WordBuild can provide a lot of value to the right homeschool.

The program uses a proven and analytic approach that provides students from elementary to high school with the tools they’ll need to decode the meaning of words they come across in their studies without the need to memorize long word lists. 

To do so it uses a series of interesting activities that allow students to construct and deconstruct various words, as well as place them into context, as well as post-lesson discussions between parent and student that can get kids more engaged and thinking more critically about language.

Finally, WordBuild keeps lessons short, typically under 15 minutes, which makes it simple to integrate into an existing language arts curriculum as a supplement, and keeps things easy on students and parents alike.

Bottom Line

Developing a strong vocabulary is an important part of language arts learning, yet working with and learning endless word lists is not every student’s proverbial cup of tea. 

As a vocabulary program, WordBuild can make things a lot easier on students by providing them with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to decode the meaning of the words they come across without the need for lots of drill or rote memorization.

And with its short lessons, engaging activities and discussions it can do so in a way that they’ll actually enjoy.

Picture of our author and editor Anne Miller

About the Author

Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.