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Morphology Instruction in Primary Grades

Morphology instruction is not just for older students!

Phonics word sort in front of colorful notebooks, markers, and scissors. A card says the word "singular" with a picture of a gray cat with pink ears. The words "map" and "list" are underneath.  Another card says  "plural" with two gray cats. The word "ships" is underneath.  To the left, word cards "lamps," "spots," and "traps" sit next to scissors and a glue stick.

Morphology is the study of the sequence and structure of meaningful units in words. Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units of language, and may be a whole word, a part of a word, or even a single phoneme. For example, the sound /t/ by itself does not hold meaning. But word parts like -y in rainy, or dis- in dislike are morphemes, because they have meanings attached. Prefixes, suffixes, and roots are all types of morphemes. Having morphological awareness means that one has the ability to identify and manipulate morphemes in words, and use morphemes to aid in reading, spelling, and comprehension.

Many young children may come to school with some awareness of morphemes (like prefixes and suffixes) through oral speech alone. They may know to say /s/ at the end of a word when they are talking about more than one; or know to attach an /ed/ sound at the end of some words. So while morphology and the study of word parts may often bring to mind complex “SAT” words, the development of morphological awareness can actually begin at the primary level.

Louisa Moats in “Speech to Print” says that direct instruction about base words, inflections, and compounds can begin in first grade, even as students continue to develop their phonics skills (2020). Moats provides a sample scope and sequence as well, recommending that teachers begin with morphemes that are the most common, and the least complex. As students progress, they can work with additional prefixes, suffixes, and spelling rules for adding suffixes. Take a look at the example chart, adapted from “Speech to Print” below:

Just as with other language areas in Structured Literacy, morphology instruction should be explicit and multisensory. Below are some basic activities you can try with primary students to begin developing morphological awareness.

1. Listening for affixes or base words

For example, the teacher might say “Raise your hand or put your thumb up if the word I say has suffix -s. Backpack, pens, pencil, teachers, writing.”

2. Breaking apart simple suffixes from base words

jumping = jump + ing

This activity can look several different ways. One way is to segment the base word and suffix orally, with hand gestures to support.

Students can also practice spelling words in a chart with 3 columns for the base word, suffix, and derivative. State the word aloud, students repeat, and orally segment the suffix and base word. They then spell in the appropriate columns.

Circling or boxing the suffix in a printed word is another way to encourage students to break apart morphemes.

3. Finding and reading words with suffixes in sentences

This type of activity can be helpful for distinguishing the difference between morphemes and letters that are part of the base word. For example, ring vs. playing, or mess vs. bats.

Morphological awareness is associated with improved outcomes in spelling, vocabulary, word identification, and reading comprehension. It can support decoding skills, because students have the ability to break off a morpheme to help sound out the word. Knowledge of morphemes can also improve vocabulary, because students can use the morphemes to determine word meaning, or generate more complex words with multiple morphemes.

There is a wealth of information about morphology in the books “Speech to Print” by Louisa Moats, as well as in “Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills” from Birsch & Carreker. If you are looking for a specific program to follow, we have used Morpheme Magic with our 3-6th grade students with a lot of success. The author, Deb Glaser, also just released “Morphemes for Little Ones” designed for grades kindergarten through 3rd. Check it out below!

Written by: Rachel Draper & Taryn Quaytman

Copyright © 2023 SparkEd LLC



Looking for resources to help teach morphology? Florida Center for Reading Research has a ton of FREE morphology resources on their website, organized by grade level. Click on your desired grade level, scroll down to "Phonics" and "Morpheme Structures" or "Vocabulary" and "Morphemic Elements". Linked below are some of our favorites!

Also, as mentioned above, here is the link to the Morphemes for Little Ones program, a K-3 adaption of Morpheme Magic!

Finally, if you're interested in the resource shown in the cover photo, you can find it in our TPT store, linked here! It is part of 3 days of lesson materials designed to introduce suffix -s.



Birsch, J.R. & Carreker, S. (2018). Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills (Fourth Edition). Paul H Brookes Publishing.

Moats, Louisa C. (2020) Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers (3rd Edition) MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.



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