Make Meaning with Morphemes

Using Word Parts to Improve Reading Comprehension

What is a morpheme?

It probably helps to start with the basics of knowing what a morpheme is. "In language and reading, morphology refers to the study of the structure of words, particularly the smallest units of meaning in words: morphemes" (Kieffer & Lesaux, 2007, p. 137). That means prefixes, root words, and suffixes are all morphemes.

Why should we teach morphemes?

Essentially, teachers should teach students to use morphemes to understand words because research shows that students with a greater understanding of morphemes are more successful at learning new vocabulary and in understanding text (Kieffer & Lexaux, 2007).

Furthermore, the texts read by students "contain large numbers of morphologically complex words, but it is impossible for teachers to directly teach the meanings of all these words" (Larsen & Nippold, 2007, p. 202).

In addition to vocabulary knowledge, teaching morphemes also builds reading comprehension. One study even found that in fourth and especially fifth grades, the understanding of morphemes was a better predictor of reading comprehension than student vocabulary level (Kieffer & Lesaux, 2007, p. 138).

However, the implications of teaching students to use morphemes to understand both the words as a part and the text as a whole reaches a wide audience. Teachers of English Language Learners can use this idea. Content area teachers can as well. This really is a strategy that can help any teacher.

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Tips for Teaching Morphemes

10-Learn more

Researchers have noticed that teachers are less knowledgeable when it comes to morphological awareness than phonological awareness (Tong et al., 2011, p. 531). Of course, one way to remedy that is to find out more with a little self-directed professional development.

Tip: Use the related reading section and the webliography to find out more about using morphemes in the classroom to benefit all of your students.

Parent Tips

There are lots of ways you can help your child understand word parts and their meanings.

  1. Homework help: When your child struggles with a word, see if you can connect it to another word to help foster connections and build comprehension.

  2. There's an app for that: There are lots of apps to help students with word parts. Check out the Roots to Words app at

  3. Play games: When you are driving in the car, look for words on signs that start with a certain prefix or end with a certain suffix.

  4. Flash cards: Prefixes, suffixes and root words can all be practiced using flashcards. The traditional method of index cards is just fine, but for a digital tool, try

  5. Talk it out: Think of a word that uses a certain root word (like use). Have your child think of as many other words as he can that have the same root (like reuse or useful). Try using each new word in a sentence.

Unlock Meaning with Morphemes


Sound Literacy

This app brings manipulatives into the digital age. This app is not made for independent student use. Instead, it is for teachers to use in small groups to have a tactile way to work with word parts.

Florida Center for Reading Research

The Florida Center for Reading Research offers a variety of activities that are ready for teachers to use. This particular section focuses on word parts with several sorting, matching, and other activities. These are ready to print and use.

Mrs. Warner's 4th Grade Classroom

Mrs. Warner has collected videos, PowerPoints, games and activities about word parts. This is a great place to find what you need to start teaching morphemes.

Learning Games for Kids

This site offers an interactive graphic organizer where students can fill in the prefix, root and suffix for any word they choose. By allowing students to complete this task digitally, you can increase student engagement.

William & Mary School of Education

This site includes information about teaching morphemes, as well as several ideas and strategies, including games, activities and foldables.


Related Readings

  • Ebbers, S. M. (2004). Vocabulary through morphemes: Suffixes, prefixes, and roots for intermediate grades. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

    This book offers 90 lessons perfect for both whole-class and small group instruction. Each lesson is approximately 20 minutes long and teaches students the "how" of using word parts to understand meaning. Additionally, the resource includes reading passages for teaching students to understand these words in context. It also includes formative and summative assessments.

  • Teng, Q., & Trainin, G. (2015). Learning Vocabulary with Apps: From Theory to Practice. The Nebraska Educator: A Student-Led Journal. Retrieved from

    While this article appears complex, it really is just focusing on apps that can be used in word study. There is information on dictionary use, phonological analysis and cultural analysis in addition to morphological awareness. Of course, that section is best suited for learning what apps are available to help students learn to use word parts to discover meaning. It also includes information, however, about the importance of teaching students to learn morphemes.

  • Zorfass, J. (2014). Word Analysis to Expand Vocabulary Development. Retrieved from This article provides a brief introduction into teaching morphemes as part of word analysis or word study. It includes suggestions for incorporating this type of word study into class. There are also links to other resources and video examples included. The information is gleaned from, so there are additional resources to be found there as well.

  • Goodwin, A., Lipsky, M., & Ahn, S. (2012). Word detectives: Using units of meaning to support literacy. The Reading Teacher, 65(7), 461-470.

    In this article, several research studies are analyzed and synthesized to offer teachers both support for and ideas in teaching morphemes. Five strategies are provided to help teachers structure lessons in the best possible ways for students to learn morphemes and be able to use them in reading. These strategies include segmenting and building with morphemes, using affix and root meanings, using morphemes to improve spelling, making compound words, and identifying cognates to help ELLs. Examples are given for each strategy to help teachers implement the ideas easily.

  • Key Literacy Component: Morphology. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2016, from

    This article from the National Institute of Literacy gives teachers some basic information about morphology. Then, it answers the questions of why students struggle with morphology and how instruction can meet those challenges. The ideas given are basic guidelines for the types of morphemes that should be taught and some ways to go about teaching these types.

Christy M. Johnson

Teacher-McNiel Junior High, Wichita Falls, TX

Student-The University of Texas at Arlington


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