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Speech bubble with the centre word 'hear' and yellow and red background

What are we looking for when we 'look inside a word'?

Morphology is the study of parts of words that carry meaning and morphemes are the smallest units of meaning. For example, the morpheme ‘s’ on the end of ‘cats’ tells us that there is more than one cat. The prefix ‘un-‘ means ‘not’ so we know the word unhappy means not happy. If we understand morphemes and how they work, we can use this knowledge to work out the meanings of new words.

A key element that makes morphology such high-value in terms of increasing vocabulary, as well as spelling, is the idea that we can teach morphology using a limited number of words. But these generate knowledge about a much larger group of words.

Think back to the Academic Wordlist. These were organised by head word – approach, followed by words in the family – approaches, approaching, approached etc. In fact, here, morphemes have been added to the word ‘approach’.

Research (Bowers et al. 2010¹) shows that the teaching of morphemes improves reading through increasing vocabulary which has an effect on vocabulary and reading comprehension.

White, Sowell and Yanagihara (cited in Stahl and Shiel 1992²) found that 97% of the words with prefixes in English texts used in USA schools were based on only 20 prefixes. In fact, they hypothesized that if you just worked with the first 7 – 9 most commonly used prefixes, you would dramatically increase children’s understanding of words.

Many spelling curricula will involve the teaching of morphology. The current National Curriculum in England covers the most commonly used prefixes plus others in the spelling programmes of study³.

Interested in knowing more about teaching spelling? Sign up for a free trial of our interactive online Spelling resource. Designed for children to use in the classroom and at home!

What place does the teaching of morphology have in your curriculum?

Leave a comment reflecting on whether your current teaching of morphemes is based more on spelling or meaning or equally balanced?

  1. Peter N. Bowers, John R. Kirby, S. Hélène Deacon (June 1, 2010) The Effects of Morphological Instruction on Literacy Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature http://tinyurl.com/y2d9e3kk
  2. A. Stahl, Steven & Gerard Shiel, T. (1992). Teaching meaning vocabulary: Productive approaches for poor readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly. 8. 223-241. 10.1080/0748763920080206.
  3. England. Department for Education, (2013) National curriculum in England: English programmes of study: The statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for English at key stages 1 to 4. [online] (Accessed: 01/02/19) Available at https://tinyurl.com/mz2ha8b

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Teaching Vocabulary

Babcock Education