Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the different strategies for improving students’ ability to acquire new vocabulary words. Teaching prefixes and suffixes (together known as affixes) is just one more strategy teachers can provide to students in order to help them infer the meaning of unknown words that are encountered as they read every day. While teaching affixes is a great morphemic clue to leverage (by that, I mean any meaningful part of the word), it is important to know that it is not the only one.   Other morphemic clues that students can leverage include:

  • Compound words
  • Derivational suffixes
  • Word parts

For today, however, we will focus on how you can teach students to use affix clues in a word, without spending a month having them memorize prefixes and suffixes which will undoubtedly impact the personal investment, consciousness, and enjoyment of words that is at the center of effective vocabulary instruction.

In order to leverage the “minds-on” type of engagement that students need to truly and deeply acquire vocabulary, you can follow the strategy below which combines explicit instruction with student ownership.

  1. When students come to a word they don’t know that may contain a prefix/suffix, STOP
  2. First remove the prefix/suffix from the rest of the word
  3. See if there is a real word left
  4. Have students collaboratively come to an understanding of what the prefix/suffix means on their own
  5. Combine the meaning of the prefix with the meaning of the remaining word
  6. Use the replacement strategy by putting the new meaning in the sentence to see if it makes sense

A few closing thoughts. This work is intended to extend throughout the span of the year. It is not a unit that you teach and lay to rest. Rather a strategy that students continue to refine and practice over longer periods of time with continuous feedback.   Part of that feedback can lie in how students transfer the knowledge gained from this work to other areas of the school day and life. For example, are you seeing the use of these prefixes and suffixes in their writing, when they encounter these similar word patterns in their Science books, when the same prefixes are attached to terms in Math? Finally, as with all areas of teaching, motivation and engagement is the key. Students need to see the value, personal success, and benefit of learning not only the strategies but investing in this level of mental rigor. To that end, continue to leverage the ideas offered in part 1, Word Consciousness, and part 2, Word Play.

If there are additional ways that you motivate and engage your students to invest in word learning, please comment below. Or you can email us at tajulearning@gmail.com.

***For a complete look at how to teach prefixes and suffixes, look at our resource titled, Inside Word Clues– A Common Core Aligned Unit for teaching affixes, compounds, derivational endings and more.