—by Evelyn Reiss:

Students with Specific Language Learning Disabilities need a systematic approach to teaching reading and spelling. Phonics-based Interventions have been found effective for remediation of decoding and encoding weaknesses. However, while phonics instruction may enable a student to pronounce and spell words in isolation, unlocking meaning is predicated on vocabulary knowledge in context and on interpretation of idiomatic, literal and figurative language. A wide vocabulary is a necessary pre-requisite for precise communication and interpretation of text; thus, any remedial program for students with language deficits should include both of these components: phonics and vocabulary instruction.
Teaching phonics involves pattern recognition of syllable types and sequences of sounds and letters bound by spelling rules and positional restraints. Morphology, on the other hand, involves pattern recognition of stable word parts that carry meaning. Students learn to analyze words, to find the source of meaning and determine how prefixes and suffixes modify or change that meaning. Examples of word usage are given in phrases, sentences and passages and instruction encompasses word usage in idioms, collocations and figurative and literal language.
Written expression involves sentences composed of a subject and predicate using verbs and nouns. In order to communicate effectively, these nouns and verbs need inflectional suffixes to be able to create the past tense, indicate noun plurals and third person actions in the present.

As early as Grade 2, students can be taught to recognize and spell inflectional morphemes, suffixes that indicate:

  1. number: cat cats and fish fishes
  2. possession: dad’s van and cat’s tail
  3. tense: Jan ran last week Jan runs on Sundays Jan is running now

While suffix pronunciation may vary or be pronounced with a neutral vowel sound (schwa), their spelling is stable and predictable. Teaching common and predictable suffixes can improve spelling. Consider the suffix –ed which is added to form past tense even if it pronounced in three different ways.

I called the dog. –ed /d/
I handed him a treat. –ed /ed/
The dog licked my hand. –ed /t/

Later students learn to add suffixes and create different parts of speech or recognize the meaning of the word even though the stem is attached to suffixes and prefixes.
For example,
health(noun) I wish you good health.
healthy (add an adjective suffix) This is a healthy meal.
unhealthy (add a prefix meaning “not”) This is an unhealthy meal.

Consider teaching the stem act. Teaching morphologically will involve teaching the meaning of the stem, and new word derivations with prefixes and suffixes. Word meanings are demonstrated in idioms and common phrases: act of God, act up, acts of kindness, take action, acted in good faith. out of action

Stems whether of Anglo-Saxon, Latin or Greek derivation are relatively stable and can be recognized in a “family” of words related in meaning even when attached to different prefixes and suffixes. In the example below, all words have the common root act from which their meaning is derived.

Stahl and Nagy (2006, p. 160) suggest that the teaching of “word parts” be included as an important component of a vocabulary instruction program, citing research that correlates reading ability with morphological awareness. Nunes and Bryant (2006) in a study exploring the outcome of morphology interventions on spelling in a group of 201 children averaging 91/2 years found that explicit morphology instruction improved the students ability to analyze and spell words. They found that students who were exposed to contrasting patterns learned more than by being taught each pattern separately (p. 173).

Knowledge of morphology helps students acquire meaning of derived and inflected words, which in turn promotes reading comprehension. In teaching morphemes the student is made aware of semantic connections between words and consistent spellings in word families. English orthography will appear much less arbitrary when students are shown the repetitive patterns that are common within groups of words sharing the same affix and root. Learning about word origins and word structure can be a motivating experience, which promotes word-awareness and learning (Bowers & Kirby, 2009). Teaching vocabulary using morphemic analysis can enhance vocabulary, comprehension and spelling.


Bowers, P. & Kirby, J. (2009)  Effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary acquisition. Retrieved from: DOI 10.1007/s11145-009-9172-z
Nunes, T., & Bryant P. (2006)  Improving literacy by teaching morphemes. New York: Routledge.
Stahl, S. A., & Nagy, W. E. (2006)  Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.