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How to Teach Longer, More Complex Words

After third grade students increasingly need to read, spell and understand longer, complex words.  Here is research-based guidelines for how to teach longer, more complex words:

1) Longer words (i.e., with three or more syllables) tend to have more regular letter-sound correspondences than do one- and two-syllable words, but students will need specific decoding and word-analysis skills to read, spell and understand them. (Venezky, 1999, p. 241)

2) Teaching how syllable structure relates to vowel pronunciation, as well as practice with syllable stress patterns can help students divide words in to syllables. However, Venezky (1999) cautions:  "Teaching formal rules for dividing words into syllables is of doubtful value." (p. 241)  Venezky advocates introducing common affixes (prefixes and suffixes), with the object being "...not to teach all possible affixes, but to sensitize the students to look for recurring prefixes and suffixes and to use this knowledge to decode longer words." (p. 241) 

3) Teaching the 20 most common prefixes and the 20 most common suffixes will introduce the student to more than 95% of the affixed words in printed school English.  (White et al., 1999)  See below for a list of the most common affixes and the Levels at which they are explicitly introduced in Lexercise. 

4) Bowers and Cooke (2012) advocate a "guided scientific approach" to teaching and learning word structure, identifying words' meaning elements (i.e., prefixes, bases, suffixes) following a formal approach called Structured Word Inquiry.  (Bowers & Cooke, 2012). 

 

REFERENCES:

Bowers, P. N. and Cooke, G. (2012). Morphology and the Common Core: Building Students' Understanding of the Written Word. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Vol.38 (4), 31-35.

Venezky, R.L. (1999). The American Way of Spelling: The Structure and Origins of American English Orthography.  New York: The Guilford Press.

White, T.G., Sowell, V., and Yanagihara, A. (1999). Teaching elementary students to use word-part clues. The Reading Teacher, 42. 303-308.

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PREFIXES

Rank (%)

PREFIX

MEANING

Example

LEXERCISE

LEVEL

1 – 26%

un-

not, opposite

 unsaddle

19

2-  14%

re-

again, back

repay

19

3- 11%

in, im, ir, ill

not , opposite

impolite

19

4- 7%

dis

not , opposite

discover

19

5- 4%

en, em

cause to

enjoy

20

6- 4%

non

not , opposite

nonfat

20

7- 4%

in, im

in, into

inside

20

8- 3%

over

too much, above

overdo

n/a

9- 3%

mis

wrongly

mistake

19

10 -3%

sub

under, lower

subtract

23

11- 3%

pre

before

prepare

31

12- 3%

inter

between, among

interrupt

30

13- 3%

fore

before

foretell

20

14- 2%

de

opposite of

descend

19

15- 2%

trans

across

transport

20

16- 1%

super

above, beyond

superman

21

17- 1%

semi

half

semicircle

21

18- 1%

anti

against

antiwar

21

19- 1%

mid

middle

midsection

21

20- 1%

under

too little, below

underdone

21

 

 

SUFFIXES

Rank - %

         SUFFIX

          MEANING

Example

LEXERCISE

LEVEL

1 – 31%

-s, -es

 plural (nouns)

cats

1 & 3

2-  20%

-ed

past tense (verbs)

batted

5

3-  14%

-ing

progressive ( verbs)

batting

5

4-  7%

-ly

characteristic

playing

21

5-  4%

-er, -or

person connected with

sailor

22

6-  4%

-ion

act, process

action

29

7-  2%

-ible, -able

can be done

likeable

25

8-  1%

-al, -ial

having characteristic of

final

n/a

9-  1%

-y

characterized by

funny

21

10- 1 %

-ness

state or condition of

happiness

30

11-  1%

-ity, -ty

state of

activity

21

12-  1%

-ment

action or process

enjoyment

18

13-  1%

-ic

having characteristic of

comic

23

14-  1%

-ous

possessing qualities of

joyous

22 & 29

15-  1%

-en

made of

wooden

22

16-  1%

-er

comparative

bigger

15

17-  1%

-ive

adjective form of noun

attractive

24

18-  1%

-ful

full of

healthful

18

19-  1%

-less

without

lifeless

18

20-  1%

-est

comparative

smallest

15

 

-s

3rd person agreement

 

3

 

-‘s

possessive

 

4

 

-s’

plural  possessive

 

10

 

-en

past participle

 

17

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