So far, we’ve looked at physical, fine motor coordination skills, phonic knowledge and orthography, which includes spelling conventions. All of these play an important part in learning to write and spell in English. Another aspect that is particularly useful in English is morphology.
English vocabulary has been influenced by many languages over the centuries, which adds to the apparent irregularity in spelling and pronunciation. For some learners it may be especially helpful to understand the origins (etymology) and composition of a word.
A morphological understanding of pluralisation can avoid e.g. cups but mugz. This is not to say that young learners need to be overburdened with overt metalinguistic terminology. Concepts can be taught without labels (though these terms may appeal to, and help, certain older students during intervention).
Many words can be modified using affixes such as -s, -ed, -ing, er, -est. Knowledge of common prefixes (e.g. un-, im-), suffixes (e.g. -able, -less) and their meanings can help with spelling and comprehension.
The teaching of phonemes (sounds in words) is now embedded in early education where reading and writing in English is concerned. An argument for also teaching learners about morphemes (parts of words) can be noted from the spelling and pronunciation of the word ‘fixed’. Phonetically, it would be read à la Chaucer, with two syllables fix-ed. Phonetically it might be written fixt.
As with any part of language, the introduction of the concept, and the use of terminology should be guided by the learner’s age and stage, but this kind of knowledge can be really helpful when trying to make spelling choices, e.g.
This demystifying approach to language can start very simply and gently in whole class teaching, as soon as words with affixes are being taught for spelling or e.g. in science and humanities topics in the primary classroom. Common prefixes, suffixes and modifying endings can be taught explicitly, discussing how they change the root word, and what other/longer words have the same root.
Of course, this should happen with regard to age appropriateness, confidence levels, etc. This morphological approach can be helpful in building comprehension and vocabulary skills as well as improving spelling and writing skills.
You can make your own, buy or download games to reinforce this:
This article is based on lectures presented online and to undergraduate students.
Wyse, D., Jones, R., Bradford, H. and Wolpert, M.A. (2013) Teaching English, language and literacy. Routledge