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Morphology: Using Word Parts to Help Strengthen Reading Skills

There are many approaches to helping students strengthen their ability to sound out words and read fluently, a skill which is also called decoding.. Most reading programs designed to support students in decoding are called structured literacy (this is a topic we like to talk about OFTEN as it is one of our biggest passions at La Jolla Learning!) which means that word patterns and sounds are systematically taught so that the skills build upon one another and students are taught one or two rules at a time. One component that is featured in many structured literacy programs is word elements.

So, let’s talk word parts! This is a biggie because this can be a great place that can intrigue our slightly older learners who need support in reading. Word parts are referred to word elements within the Wilson Reading System (one of the main structured literacy programs designed to help struggling readers) and is also known as a morpheme (the smallest unit of meaning of a word). Morphemes are a focus of study in what is referred to as ‘morphology,’ which is the study of word elements. So let’s take a closer look at these particular parts of words..

  • Affix = is a prefix or suffix – think of it as the umbrella term that houses all of these word elements.
  • Prefix = an affix or word part that is attached to the beginning of word or base to modify its meaning.
  • Suffix = an affix or word part that is attached to the end of a word or base to modify its meaning or part of speech.

Why is morphology a defined part of structured literacy? As a quick summary – it helps our learners understand why we use certain verb tenses, allows them to read with meaning, and helps tremendously with reading and spelling. 

For example:

Say your child writes the sentence:”The dogz are big.” – – Once they understand that suffix -s can say /s/ or /z/ and that we use it to mean more than one, you will see that transfer in their spelling of plural words. You can instruct them to hear and spell the base word first (dog) and they will naturally put the suffix -s. 

There are many resources you can use to teach your child morphology, such as the Megawords books series and the Roots and Affixes exercises on IXL. This handout from Nikki Zeh also has more information about the reasoning behind teaching morphology, resources you can buy, and activity explanations for teaching your child morphology.

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