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Understanding structural patterns of words improves reading.

Once students are competent at using letter-sound relationships to decode words, they begin to recognize meaningful units of words, such as graphemic bases (-an, -ain), affixes (-ed, re-), or syllables (be•cause, to•geth•er). Structural elements of words follow predictable patterns. Able readers deduce these patterns without giving them much thought. They perceive common roots and affixes, divide words rapidly, and decode accurately. On the other hand, struggling readers are not adept at recognizing or utilizing structural cues, so they need formal instruction. All students, even those who read with ease, spell more accurately as cognizance of orthographic features advances.

Initially, students learn to recognize how affixes and root words are used as structural elements of words. This is the objective of our Prefix/Root/Suffix manipulatives. In the vocabulary section and materials, students learn to use the meaning of these word parts to expand vocabulary.

Step 1 - Teach students to identify prefixes/root words/suffixes
When introducing prefix/root word/suffix identification and usage to students, it is preferable to use roots that are English words after affixes are removed. Students grasp these concepts more readily when dealing with affixes on known words. The third example below contains a Latin root (voc, vok - to call), an example of root words to avoid in phonics exercises.

   Prefix    Root    Suffix
    dis       grace     ful
    re         turn       ing
    pro       vok        ed    (Latin root)

Step 2 - Teach or review common suffix usages
Suffixes are added to the end of words to modify usage. These are common suffix usages:
   •  -s or -es to form plurals or third-person-singular verbs
   •  -ed to form past tense verbs
   •  -ing to form present participle verbs
   •  -er to form comparative adjectives or -est to form superlative adjectives.
In addition, suffixes are used to change words from one part of speech to another (act -> actor, verb -> noun). As students are learning about orthographic characteristics of words, it is suffix recognition that is the goal. Complexities of usage can be learned once they read proficiently.

Step 3 - Teach how prefixes are used to change word meaning
Prefixes are placed at the beginning of words to change meaning. "Pre" in "prefix" is a prefix meaning "before" or "in front of." The study of prefixes and their affect on meaning is a valuable strategy for expanding word knowledge and is covered in the vocabulary section. As a word analysis strategy, prefix recognition and general usage concepts are the objectives. Students need to be able to recognize and remove prefixes when breaking down words.

Download Affixes & Roots Tips
Download Prefixes & Suffixes Resource List

Suffix Spelling Changes
An increased awareness of phonetic and structural patterns in words develops spelling consciousness, thereby leading to improved encoding accuracy. Visual learners tend to be better spellers since they remember how words look. Therefore, visual learners are more apt to spell words with suffixes correctly. Patterns become imbedded in visual memory as a reader sees them repeatedly over a period of time. Auditory or kinesthetic learners are more dependent on rules and instruction. They can become good spellers, but it takes more effort.

Rules are worth teaching if the generalization applies to many words and there are few exceptions. At the top of the list of rules meeting these criteria are the suffix spelling change rules. Data supports that these are among the most consistent English spelling patterns.

These rules should be taught one at a time in the order listed. Download the suffix spelling changes rule charts and post each as the rule is introduced. Then provide students with ample drill applying the concepts. Drill cards (Suffix Spelling Changes) or assignments may be tedious, but they are effective. Like multiplication tables, these rules must be memorized, and it is application practice that leads to mastery.

  1. Words ending with s, x, z, ch, or sh, add –es
    dress  dresses       box   boxes       buzz   buzzes       church  churches       wish  wishes
  2. Words ending in y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i if suffix begins with e
    baby  babies       try  tries  tried  trying       key  keys       play  plays  played  playing
  3. Words ending with a silent e, drop the e if suffix begins with a vowel
    nice  nicer  nicest  nicely       scare  scares  scared  scaring  scary
  4. Words ending in one vowel followed by one consonant, double the final consonant if suffix begins with a vowel       chat  chats  chatted  chatting  chatter  chatty

By teaching these rules to your students, you set expectations for spelling accuracy. Since young students are tuned in to phonetic elements of words, these rules can be taught as early as second grade. With older students, some phonics review may be needed.

One of the best ways to ensure that students remember and apply the rules is to add suffixes to spelling words. Do this on practice exercises and on spelling tests. When students get careless making spelling changes, repeating a card jogs their memories and gets them to be more careful.

Download Suffix Spelling Changes Rule Charts

Syllabication, or the breaking down of words into each uninterrupted unit of spoken language, is often taught in such a fragmented manner in materials that students are unable to pull all components together into a viable word analysis strategy. Research indicates that readers generally use sounds to determine syllable division. If this is the case, students must already know what the strategies are intended to teach.

Students who need to use syllabication to decode words must be taught syllabication rules holistically. When they apply basic rules in steps, they begin to recognize patterns and break down unknown words. Initially, the rules are applied to two-syllable rules. Once students learn the patterns, the same rules are used to break down longer words. Even those students who read words with ease in context generally improve spelling accuracy if they become more cognizant of word structure and syllabication patterns.

Step 1 - Assure that students have prerequisite phonics skills
Students should possess certain prerequisite skills and concepts before being taught the syllabication rules. Frequently, it is necessary to review short and long vowels, as well as prefixes/root words/suffixes, before proceeding with syllabication. You will see why as you review the following foundation concepts.

  • Each syllable must contain a sounded vowel. It can be a single vowel sound (i•de•a) or used with one or more consonant sounds (be•gin).
  • There are two kinds of syllables: open and closed. A closed syllable ends with a consonant and the vowel is usually short (or a schwa). An open syllable ends with a vowel that is generally long (clo•ver, e•vent). The vowel may be a y pronounced as /e/ (fun•ny) or occasionally /i/ (my•self).
  • Since the first rule deals with dividing between root words and affixes, students must be familiar with prefixes, suffixes, and root words.
  • Digraphs, or two consonants that make a single sound (ch, sh, th, wh, ng, nk, ng, ck, .), cannot be divided (buck•le, noth•ing, cash•ier, bush•el, fur•ther).
  • In some cases, blends are not divided (se•cret, mi•grate, ze•bra). Do not preteach since students discover this when identifying open vs. closed syllables.

Step 2 - Teach syllabication rules and apply in order
The Reading Manipulatives Syllable Sorts manipulatives have students sort two-syllable words according to these division rules:

  • Prefix/Root/Suffix - Check the word for prefixes and suffixes. The first step is to divide between affixes and the root word because this rule overrides the others.
  • VC/CV - Check for multiple consonants between vowels. Divide between consonants.
  • V/CV or VC/V - If the word has one consonant between vowels, decide whether the vowel before the consonant is short or long. If vowel is long, divide after the vowel leaving an open syllable. Otherwise, divide after the consonant leaving a closed syllable.

Syllabication Tips for Teachers issue
Learn how to teach syllabication holistically so students will actually apply the rules for decoding. A resource list with 67 examples for each of the 4 syllabication categories is included.

Download Syllabication Rules Tips
Download Syllabication Resource List