Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Word Morphology as A Strategy for Vocabulary Instruction

Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Word Morphology as A Strategy for Vocabulary Instruction

Article excerpt


For many years, reading researchers have been cognizant of vocabulary instruction as a critical component in the teaching of reading and the comprehension of text (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2004; Fountas & Pinnell, 2001; Stahl, 1986, 2003). Although many studies have been done on a variety of vocabulary teaching methods, the National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that there is little evidence to support one instructional method over another. In fact, the Panel strongly suggested that dependence on a single method would not result in optimum vocabulary learning.

Direct instruction is the most frequently used method to teach new vocabulary, but it is not the only answer. Each year, from fifth grade on, the average student encounters 10,000 new words-words they have never encountered before (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). The entire instructional day would have to be spent on these 10,000 new vocabulary words when, in reality, many of those words may only be encountered once. Each child needs many tools with which to examine new words, apply what he/she knows about them, activate his/her schema, and be able to make logical conclusions about the possible meanings. These tools need to provide crosscurricular connections, be easily instructed, and readily reinforced on a daily basis.

One answer to providing children with instructional tools for the comprehension of new vocabulary lies in the morphology of wordsthe ability to examine the form and structure of words in a language. Eighteen years ago, White, Sowell, & Yanighara (1989) determined that a significant impact could be made on children's word learning if a small list of prefixes and suffixes was taught in third grade. The teaching of affixes provides children with skills for not only analyzing the meanings of newly-encountered vocabulary, but for creating new words with the application of these learned parts.

Nagy & Anderson (1984) estimated that approximately 60% of English words can be predicted from the meanings of their word parts; English words give useful, but incomplete, information for another 10%. As early as 1947, Brown noted that of all English words that come to us from other languages, 80% are from Latin and Greek origins (as cited in Henry, 1993, p. 231). He concluded that twelve Latin and two Greek roots combined with twenty of the most frequently used prefixes would generate an estimated 100,000 words. What teachers would give to teach their students over 100,000 words! And yet, it can be done as simply as teaching the basics of word morphology.

In the Academic Content Standards for Language Arts, the importance of vocabulary instruction is recognized (2001). However, little is suggested for the methodology of this instruction. The standards suggest the préfixes un-, re, and pre- be taught at second grade. At fourth grade, the standards state that children should have knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and roots (bases). However, the "knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to understand vocabulary" (Ohio Department of Education, 2001, p. 220) is not mentioned until the seventh grade. The implication that children are not able to comprehend these word parts until the seventh grade ignores a simple tool that can empower young readers.

Using the instructional strategies included in this article, children who briefly play with a Latin root create schema to decode additional words, not only the ones in their reading texts, but words they encounter in their content -area texts as well. If children have prior schema for the root graph, they can use the instructional strategies suggested in this article to decode important words like biography, geography, telegraph, graphic, and photograph, by making connections to a previously-known application of the root and its affixes. At first, children may not always make the transition to the complete and correct meaning of a new word, but by activating prior knowledge that helps them relate the new word to its Latin root "family," they begin to use that root- -and they learn a new word recognition strategy as well. …

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