From the beginning, we want students to understand that words carry meaning, and morphology is a great way to help students deepen their understanding of language. We don't have to wait for this instruction to take place. Instead, we can embed morphology instruction into our lessons and help students with this right from the start.
Morphology instruction, the study of words and how they are formed and used, is one of the elements of structured literacy. When we look at language through the lens of units of meaning within words, that is part of morphology. Dr. Louisa Moats notes, "Knowing morphemes enhances reading, vocabulary, and spelling." (Moats, 2000).
When we work with morphemes, we work with the smallest unit of meaning that exists within our language. Morphemes can be single letters, or units of letters, that carry meaning and may or may not stand alone.
The English language is considered a deep orthography. Morphology includes prefixes, suffixes, free morphemes, bound morphemes, roots, and combining forms. The English writing system is morphophonemic or represents meaningful parts (morphemes) and speech sounds (phonemic).
There are a lot of terms associated with morphology. This image ⬆️ provides a quick reference for some of the terms. If you want a deeper look at these, you can read the blog post HERE for a breakdown of morphology examples in spelling dictation.
Research shows that students who received morphological awareness instruction "significantly increased comprehension and spelling of morphologically complex words in fourth-and-fifth grade children with dyslexia" (Arnbak & Elbro, 1996/2000).
There is so much to uncover with our students; it's fascinating! When working with my dyslexic learners, morphology is built into our scope and sequence, even at an early stage.
Early instruction with morphology can begin in the younger grades with inflectional suffixes. These suffixes, such as -ed, -s, -ing, -es, -er, and -est do not change the part of speech of the word when added. Morphology work connects to spelling conventions, meaning, and pronunciation, so we can't wait to introduce this concept!
Make it multisensory!
Multisensory instruction, where we engage more than one sense simultaneously, is a perfect way to work with morphology instruction.
Our morphology instruction looks at the smallest units of meaning, beginning with base words and common prefixes and suffixes (affixes), and builds from there. One of the easiest ways to teach morphology to students is to begin with the concept of a base word.
A base word, at the core, is the simplest form of an English word. We can add prefixes and suffixes (affixes) to the base word to change its meaning or usage. When any prefixes or suffixes are removed, the base word remains a word that can stand alone.
After explicit instruction in the prefix re-, the student read the base words on the page. Then the student created new words by adding the prefix to the base word. The sticky note was easily moved in front of the base word to manipulate the new word. In the photo👆, you can see that the student has added the prefix to make new words. So easy and effective!
All these multi-sensory strategies and scaffolds allow the student to:
I have found that breaking this down helps students understand the meaning and function of prefixes and suffixes. In addition, using a multisensory approach allows students to practice taught skills in a way that engages two or more of the senses simultaneously - and it's fun!
Multisensory instruction doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to be effective. The magic is in the explicit and systematic instruction that builds upon skills and sets students up for success. What are some ways that you embed morphology instruction into your lessons?
Remember to help your students right from the start in understanding that words carry meaning. These multi-sensory strategies are an easy way to help students deepen their understanding of language.
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