Morphology is the study of words and word parts—think roots, prefixes, and suffixes. It turns out that morphological awareness is essential for reading and spelling. That means including morphology activities in your classroom, in addition to explicit phonics instruction, can help students.
3 Things to know about teaching morphological awareness
Teaching morphology can help students build vocabulary, boost spelling skills, and improve reading comprehension.
1. Use morphology to build vocabulary.
Recognizing roots, prefixes and suffixes give students tools to decipher unfamiliar words. Even very young learners can start to recognize things like the s added to words to form plurals or the -ed added to make a past tense.
Have students do a word sort using words with different roots, prefixes, or suffixes. See what patterns students notice.
Introduce the meaning of a root, prefix, or suffix. For example, introduce the prefix re-. Demonstrate that it means “again.” For example, I read this book last year. I’m going to reread it, or read it again. Make a list of words that include re-. Ask students to say the meaning of the prefix and the word.
Then have students go on a word safari, looking for words with the word parts you’ve learned. When they find them, work through the process of understanding a word. Create a section in your vocabulary notebooks that brings those words with similar morphemes together.
Which prefixes and suffixes should you teach when?
Use the free phonics scope and sequence:
2. Use morphology for spelling support.
Students with poor morphological awareness also struggle with spelling. While phonics helps students spell using phonemes, sometimes that’s confusing. For example, jumped sounds more like it ends in /t/ than /d/. How does morphology apply? Students who know that the past tense is commonly formed by adding -ed can better understand the spelling even when the sound doesn’t match the letters.
Students will need to learn some rules about adding a suffix to a word that ends in an e or a y and other situations. For example, these are some ways suffixes can be added:
- Simply add –ed (when a short vowel is followed by two or more consonants), as in jumped, charmed, lasted.
- If a word has a split spelling of a vowel sound, drop the e: Instead of tapeed, we use taped. Instead of chaseed, we write chased.
- If a word has a short vowel sound followed by one consonant, you need to double the consonant, as in flipped and scanned. Write and say the words hoping and hopping and moping and mapping to help students see the difference between the words with the short vowel and a word with a long vowel with a split spelling.
Use suffix worksheets and morphology activities for additional practice.
3. Use morphology to improve reading comprehension.
Morphological awareness is a key tool in literacy, especially reading comprehension. This is particularly true for students who are reading to learn in various academic subjects. But morphological awareness can help students improve reading comprehension in all situations. Students with good morphological awareness can better understand the meaning of unfamiliar words accurately.
Demonstrate using morphology to find the meaning of words. You may want to start with a familiar word. For example, use the word unfixable. Ask students to find the different morphemes or parts of the word: un / fix / able.
Ask students if they know what un means. If they don’t, ask them to guess based on words they know. Un means not.
Ask students what fix means. Together come to the meaning “to repair or mend.”
Finally, ask students about the suffix -able. Either from this word or other words they know, see if students can come up with a meaning for this suffix: capable of, able to be.
Then put all the parts together to get the meaning of the word. Try it again with an unfamiliar word. Demonstrate reading a passage and using morphological awareness to understand new words so that you can understand the passage you are reading.
Use the scope and sequence to help you build morphology activities into your phonics curriculum:
And for tools you can use, including suffix and prefix worksheets and games, join the Top Notch Literacy Club. You’ll find done for you tools for teaching morphology, phonics, and other critical literacy skills. And we’re adding more all the time. Coming soon: prefix, suffix and root word lists, sorted according to the phonics knowledge to help you teach morphology and phonics together!